Joe Surf: Brophy puts it all out there for his art

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Sorry for going all "artsy" on you, but when you really think about it, surfers are artists. You could say the board is their paintbrush, and the wave is their canvas.

For Drew Brophy, the whole surfer-artist thing is more literal than figurative.

He's a surfer first, but also has a deep passion for art, hence the "surf lifestyle artist" tag he proudly wears. It's not just a hobby for Brophy—it's his livelihood, his life.

Brophy became a surf lifestyle artist 20 years ago by creating designs for surfboards. Now he and his wife Maria run their art agency, Son of the Sea, Inc., a business in which Brophy's art is created not only for surfboards, but also for t-shirts, skateboards, wakeboards, bikes, motorcycles, even cars and vans. You name it. If you can imagine it, Brophy can do it.

Brophy has an art studio in San Clemente where his surf lifestyle paintings are created and sold to individuals, companies and manufacturers who put his work on their products.

"My inspiration comes from a life of surfing and being on the water," said Brophy, 40, who learned to surf growing up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "I try to put that lifestyle onto products created in Southern California. Everyone wants a piece of the Southern California surfing lifestyle.

"In the early days, I was a professional surfboard painter. I wanted to be able to use my creativity any way I could. It was the only thing I could find as a consistent job, and it allowed me to have a career as an artist. I figured out a way to make my living in the genre that I liked—it was surfing."

Though surfing and art have been a part of Brophy's life since he was little, it wasn't so easy to make a career out of it. A high school counselor once told him that he couldn't surf and paint forever.

Oh yeah?

"It's a funny story, because as a teenager, you're forced to deal with what you're going to do," Brophy said. "Unfortunately, the things I was good at, nobody thought was important or valuable. It's a hard thing to hear as a kid. I didn't like it. I told myself this is what I'm going to do."

And that brings us to Brophy's latest venture—television. If Brophy is the talent in the operation, Maria is the brains. Maria noticed that some of Brophy's YouTube videos were popular, "especially one of Drew painting a Fender guitar," Maria said.

So the logical next step? Reality television, of course.

Drew and Maria have created a reality show, "The Paint Shop," a behind-the-scenes look at their business and the process through which his art is created and sold.

It debuted in February and is gaining momentum, now showing on cable networks with a viewing audience of 3.2 million. Cox Cable and Time Warner carry the show in various parts of Orange, L.A. and San Diego counties.

"We thought if we had a TV show, we could reach so many people," Maria said. "But we knew it was a long shot."

They pitched their idea to various networks and even had a potential opportunity with one big cable network, which Maria declined to identify.

"But they wanted me and Drew fighting," Maria said. "We didn't want that kind of show. Drew is a brand. His art is a brand. If we put him on TV looking like a jerk, it's something he'd have to live with the rest of his life."

It took three and a half years from the time Maria first launched the idea, but the Brophys finally were able to hook up with Brian Ill of Crystal Cove Media in Newport Beach. Ill, a producer-writer-director who was a fan of Brophy's art, said yes and a reality television show—a clean one—was born.

The show is described as one that "gives viewers an unscripted peek into the working life of surf artist Drew Brophy, along with guest artists and professional athletes that appear in each episode."

But Drew wasn't gung-ho from the get-go.

"I was a little scared. I'm not too comfortable on camera," Drew said. "But I understood I had to put myself out there."

Both Drew and Maria are hands-on in the process of creating the show. It's their lives, and they want to make sure they're presenting the right message.

"We don't want to be fake," Drew said. "It really is authentic. We show the interaction we have with companies. Maybe somebody wants something that I don't think is a good idea, and I try to steer them in a different direction. We had one client who ended up not wanting the art, and we showed that too."

They are now in the process of shooting their sixth episode, four of which have already aired.

"We don't sensationalize anything," Brophy said. "We really want to help artists understand, and the public to understand, that art is a viable career."

Drew wasn't a bad surfer himself, and in fact it was his surfing ability that brought him to Southern California. He came to Huntington Beach from South Carolina as a teenager to surf in the NSSA nationals and later moved here. Maria came to Southern California from Maryland. The two have been married 11 years and have one son Dylan, who is 9.

Ah, the life of a surf lifestyle artist.

"I've been able to go to some of the most beautiful places on the planet," Brophy said. "I've experienced the energy of the ocean and the wildlife of the ocean. All my paintings reflect that, the simplicity of that—the wave, the sun, a beautiful place."

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at jhaak922@aol.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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