We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Chris Cott a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Chris, thanks for joining us today. We’d love to hear about the best boss, mentor, or leader you’ve ever worked with.
When I applied for my first job in the art field, my future boss Lee Puckett asked me what I would do with the money if I was hired. As it was almost 5 times what I was making working at the 2nd Wendy’s then and I REALLY wanted to save up and move back to San Diego from Columbus as fast as possible, I contemplated fabricating a story for a second. Honesty is the best policy: When I told him, he said WOW! I was stationed there in the Navy and love Coronado and San Diego! I started making patterns and learning the sign business the next day and put in my resignation 3 years later on April Fool’s day. I moved back to California shortly after. With what he taught me, I ran a sign company and then ended up airbrushing at fairs and car shows before opening and running my airbrush shop in Mission Beach for 24 years.
We are still friends over 45 years later and speak weekly.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My journey has been a good one, from getting hired and learning the skills of lettering and airbrushing, to opening a shop and airbrushing at the beach for 24 years. When I got my first job airbrushing T Shirts at fairs and car shows for Roach, after my sister said “You can do that!” , I went to the interview and saw the pile of 29 awesome airbrushed pictures of a ’57 Chevy that the previous artists were asked to paint, as well as their impressive resumes. I thought even though I wasn’t going to get hired, I drove all that way and started airbrushing what I was better at: Lettering. When the manager came in, he said ” Did you do these?”. I thought he was going to be upset that I used a pile of felt squares and their paint. When I admitted it, he told me I was hired! I thought he was kidding. When I pointed out how good the others were, he told me none of them did more than they were asked and I’d get better quick. He also pointed out at least 90% of people want their names, as the total design or added. I started 3 days later. That lesson stuck with me as it changed my life for the better.
I The first years working my shop airbrushing on the boardwalk were a bit lean. It’s very important to save what you make in the summer to get you through the winter. I would airbrush surfboards and murals in the off season, Including working with Wyland and restoring his murals. I made and painted more signs and lived on a sailboat for 17 years to cut expenses. Someone once said ” Make more or spend less.” I tried to do both. It wasn’t always easy, but I was my own boss and was having fun.
I went to Antigua to airbrush for a month and ended up staying for a year!
I was making signs and painting for Moose McGillicuddy’s and was offered a job doing décor for their Mexican restaurant here, Fred’s. Coincidentally, the owners name is Lee, same as my first real boss. This was an amazing opportunity, and eventually decorated his 3 locations here in San Diego, doing everything from sourcing fun decorations to painting more murals and signs. They gave me the task of decorating Big Bertha’s and Typhoon Saloon as well. I was sent to L.A., then to Hawaii, decorating the Fred’s on Maui and then the Moose’s there in Kihei, then adding to the location in Waikiki.
They hired me to decorate 2 more awesome restaurants here: Marble Room & then Tamarindo. They even let me bring my dogs! I got to do their logos, pick lighting, colors, fabrics and decorations. It is great to walk into a restaurant you decorated and watch people admire your efforts honestly as they have no idea who I am.
I will never forget this opportunity.
I have since painted murals and signs in Rockin’ Baja Lobster and Café Coyote with my talented friend Ira.
I still airbrush shirts at parties and airbrush people every year for Halloween with my buddy Tom.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
As I was given incredible opportunities when I was starting out, I strive to do the same and pass on the lessons I have learned. The young artists I work with are incredibly receptive and appreciative, as I think they know they are on a great journey. They also lament the fact that some of the people their age are more concerned about money first, than they are about doing a good job and being happy. The fact is, the former usually comes from the latter! I would like to see more public art from local artists and have the process simplified, to the benefit of the communities as well as the artists.
I am working on it locally.
How can we best help foster a strong, supportive environment for artists and creatives?
As stated, I think the process for public art can be simplified. We need to get art back in schools! Instead of cutting programs, we as a society should focus on cutting waste.
The teachers who supported my artistic interests and encouraged creativity changed my life.
I doubt I would have been happy being a fast food manager!
I’m lucky to have had the support from my girlfriend, Liz. It’s not always being an artist or living with one, but it’s worth it!
- Website: www.airbrushchris.com
- Instagram: chriscustomairbrush
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Chris-Custom-Airbrush-184191344964943