"Drawn and Quartered and Nickel and Dimed."
"My Life as a Big-Time Commercial Artist"
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Mike and Elvis share a tender moment.

Greetings, bio lovers.

My goal, even as a tiny kidling, had always been to one day support myself as an artist. High school was encouraging, though woefully inadequate in preparing me for the task, so after graduation I enrolled in the liberal arts program at the local JuCo.

I paid the bills, not to mention tempting fate, by working in a machine shop at a place called Media Valve. The money was good but it was a lethal environment that sent me to the infirmary more than once. Broken fingers, shards of metal in my body, toxic substances, all kinds of unpleasant experiences I won't soon forget. I worked the 3PM to midnight shift which proved providential to my artistic fortunes. As I returned home late one night, I heard a radio conversation which changed my life.

A local commercial illustrator, who turned out to be the nationally-known Don Punchatz, (Remember the game DOOM? Don did the cover art.) was being interviewed by our local lefty FM station. He said he was looking for artists to showcase in a new fantasy magazine he was hoping to produce, ala Heavy Metal. As it happened, I'd been working on just that very sort of thing in my spare time, so I visited Don the next day and presented my modest portfolio. He was impressed enough to hire me as one of his many flunkies.

Don liked to to hire art graduates and pay them a modest wage to do the grunt work on his copious illustration assignments. Almost every single person he hired eventually left his employ to become a major player in the commercial art scene, so it was a very fertile environment. I, personally, was only allowed to do the most menial of art tasks but I learned more there than I ever learned from the public educational system.

After six months in Mr. Punchatz's employ it was mutually agreed that I should leave and henceforth spend as much time in the East Texas State University art system as humanly possible. I managed to last an entire year before deciding to join the hordes of other freelance illustrators in quest of the elusive art dollar. I haven't looked back.

The magazine was never printed but that's okay with me. I was able to get out of the machine shop with all my limbs intact. Life is good.

Don Ivan Punchatz, King of Illustration

The extraordinary man almost single-handedly responsible for my career as a starving artist died 10-22-09.

Back in 1970 Don Punchatz started a modest artistic enterprise called The SketchPad Studio. From this cluttered space deep in the southern end of Arlington, Texas, he grew to be nationally recognized as one of the best in the commercial illustration business and his artwork has graced the covers of almost any magazine you name to choose. One of his paintings hangs in the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. He was the go-to guy for modern sci-fi illustration and was, in fact, the man responsible for the artwork on the box of Id software's "Doom". Yes, that Doom.

He was in such demand that he started hiring art graduates eager to apply their skills to the Punchatz method. Don was a great teacher and an even better inspiration as almost everyone who spent any time at the Pad left to begin successful careers of their own.

I first heard of Don Punchatz in the summer of 1977 when I returned home late one night after my shift on the turret lathe at the machine shop, where I slaved to make a living. The radio was on as I entered the apartment and the midnight DJ on my local left-wing public radio station was interviewing some weirdo who turned out to be Mr. Punchatz. Don was there putting out a call for new art for a Heavy Metal-ish magazine he intended to publish. By some quirk of fate I was working on just that very thing and hustled down to his studio the next day with my modest portfolio in tow. (Sadly, the magazine was never published.)

He liked my artwork well enough to hire me basically as a gopher and doer of menial art tasks, though he tossed some lesser assignments my way, too. Most importantly, even though I wasn't contributing creatively I was able to see how the commercial art process worked from close up. To put it simply, the commercial art business wasn't quite what I thought. It was better. A lifetime of personal exploration in the craft couldn't have taught me any better lesson than the five months I was in Don's employ.

After a few months Don encouraged me explore formal art training at East Texas State University, the place to be in North Texas for commercial illustration study. And so I did. Who was I to argue?

I didn't see him again until about three years ago at a friend's art exhibit. I was stunned that he remembered me and even more astonished when he exhibited a bit of pride in my career. I misted up as we briefly hugged and clapped each other on the back. Sad to say, I never saw him again.

Don was an amazing human and there is much sorrow in the arts community with the passing of this fine man. But in his wake he left a staggering artistic legacy, two wonderful children and a legion of talented people touched by his creativity who will continue to carry on his mission not only in their art but in their hearts.

Thank you, Don. For everything.

You can read the New York Times obituary here.

Mike Stanfill, Private Hand - 2330 Jonesboro - Dallas, TX 75228 - 469-279-0317