by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune
---- — The radio playing in the garage, the cloud of paint fumes thick in the air, Brad Foster stood in his driveway before two tables.
One was covered in cans of spray paint, a putty knife and other necessities while the other was modified to hold the swiveling mechanism of a bass boat seat, which he used to turn the glossy sheet that was his canvas.
The 41-year-old applied several layers of different colors of spray paint to the paper, one on top of the other, juggling through cans at a pace of someone who has been doing this for a while. At times he would spray the ones he'd forgotten to mark onto the table to see what color they were, their inconvenient lids long gone.
Then came the putty knife, which he used to make careful incisions, remembering the exact order he applied the layers in and applying just the right amount of pressure to scrape away all but the color he intended.
With a rubber-glove-covered hand, he smeared the colors together in areas, creating the subtle movements of calm water and storm clouds forming in the distance.
After carving away all but the oranges and yellows in the center of the paper that became the skyscrapers illuminating the sky above and the water below, the Indiana Department of Transportation employee by day, artist by afternoon and night, had finished.
The whole process took about 20 minutes.
When Foster was surfing the web a few years ago and came across a video of an artist using spray paint and unconventional tools to create vivid paintings, he thought to himself, "I can do this."
His genes and his childhood helped prepare him for the new undertaking. His father, Elmer Foster, painted vehicles. His mother, Marjorie Foster, painted for fun, whether it was flowers on outhouses or peoples' soapbox derby cars. His uncle, Harry "Hobby" Elliott, painted signs and billboards in and around Logansport.
"My dad would give me a spray can, there would be an old, rusted-up lawnmower, and I would paint it not one color, but 10 colors," he said, smiling fondly, standing in his own garage and looking at the floor as if the multicolored machine was right before him.
After being inspired by the Internet video, Foster said it took him about a year to get a handle on the technique as he experimented with his own designs and color combinations.
"I'm still learning," he said. "I learn something every time I paint."
To date, Foster has completed 18 paintings. He avoids things like people, animals, cars and houses; instead preferring natural elements like water, rocks and outer space. He breaks away from this style only to do urban skylines, driven by his affinity for New York City, which he hopes to visit one day.
The moons and planets call for special tools of their own, like the toilet paper rolls and various lids he uses to create the circles before filling them in by smearing paint with wadded up newspaper to create the texture of rocky terrains.
He may not have people in his paintings, but he relishes their presence when he creates them. At Art on the Avenue earlier this month — his first exhibition — a crowd could often be seen in front of his booth, applying a new meaning to the phrase "about as exciting as watching paint dry." Attentively they watched him spray, scrape and smear an image to life as he interacted with a patron who had picked out one of his nearly 20 works to recreate before their eyes.
"I'm there to entertain people," he said. "As long as someone is there, enjoying what I do, I don't care."
He said he enjoyed the experience so much that he gave a couple of his paintings away for free to people who couldn't afford them.
"I didn't care," he said. "I had fun doing it. And it was practice for me."
Foster said he plans to continue his artistic pursuits by coming up with new ideas for paintings and entering into more festivals. He's even taken on a couple proteges from the neighborhood kids who often see him painting in his driveway and stop by and said an area school has expressed a desire for him to come out to an art class as well.
"I'm looking forward to doing more in the future," he said.
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or email@example.com.