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Paul Frank helps others discover their creative side with workshop at Laguna Art Museum

Cartoonist Paul Frank, top left, leads a character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach.
Cartoonist Paul Frank, top left, leads a character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach on Sept. 17.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

About two dozen people — enough for a classroom — sat at four tables, fully engaged in a creative activity at Laguna Art Museum, guided in their artful pursuit by Paul Frank, the local cartoonist who became known for his whimsical characters, most notably Julius the Monkey.

As an industry veteran, Frank has taught classes on occasion, including at Orange Coast College and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The opportunity has not always been there, though, so Frank took to conducting workshops. The Sept. 17 event in Laguna Beach saw his participants making clocks using the likenesses of some of his characters.

“Because I’ve had 25 years or more work experience, I don’t have to have a teacher’s credential to teach design classes,” Frank said. “What I like to do is teach a class at Orange Coast or Art Center, where I teach people my methods.

“I kind of taught myself how to construct handbags, and I taught myself patternmaking for handbags, and that’s not a class you can take. I think it’s fun to share my expertise that way, and there’s this ‘aha’ moment when the students start to get it. There’s something really cool about it that makes me feel really good, like I was able to pass on something that’s positive.”

Linda Banks works on her Julius the Monkey clock during a character clock building workshop at Laguna Art Museum.
Participant Linda Banks works on her Julius the Monkey clock during a character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum on Sept. 17.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Frank, 55, grew up in Huntington Beach, where he said he and his friends were in no hurry to grow up. In the fair weather of Southern California, the kids could focus on being in a band or go surfing or skateboarding after school, rather than worry about shoveling snow.

“I think we had a prolonged adolescence,” Frank said.

The Ocean View High graduate had a penchant for being different.

“I always wanted to paint my bicycles,” Frank recalled. “The color it came in was never good enough for very long. You had to customize stuff.”

Cartoonist Paul Frank, top, helps guide participants during his character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum.
Cartoonist Paul Frank, top, helps guide Ben Chan, second from left, his wife, Jennifer, far right, and sister-in-law, Sarah Eum, bottom right, during his character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum on Sept. 17.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Frank said he had grown accustomed to do-it-yourself projects, often creating rather than buying what he wanted. In his mid-20s, he asked his mom for a sewing machine.

“I wanted to be able to alter clothing and possibly even make my own clothes,” Frank said. “Back then, everybody wanted to wear, at least in my circle of friends, we all wanted to get the cool thing at the thrift store.

“We were like, ‘You found that sweater,’ he reenacts in a disappointed tone. “‘I missed it.’” … In those days, people were using messenger bags, and I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t want to be the 20th guy to wear the same messenger bag.’”

Julius the Monkey, a character created in 1995, was a sort of spin-off on a sock monkey his grandmother had made, Frank said. There are now between 60 and 70 characters that Frank and his design team have created, many coming into being during humorous moments.

A participant works on a Mika the Cat clock during a character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum.
A participant works on a Mika the Cat clock during a character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum on Sept. 17.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“One of my newer characters, his name is Heavy Eyeliner Cat,” Frank said of the character that has yet to be released to the public. “It was just an accident because I was redrawing him. I draw them rough first, and then I clean them up, but I happened to make the eye shapes, I overdid it with a pencil. It just looked cool, like he was wearing eyeliner.”

Those who attended the workshop at Laguna Art Museum had the chance to create clocks featuring a handful of Frank’s characters: Clancy the Giraffe, Aku the Alligator, Mika the Cat, and of course, Julius.

One of the participants showcased her fandom in wearing a Julius sweater, but the workshop featured budding new artists across three generations, including grandparents working alongside their grandkids.

Kate Dell and her grandfather Tom Johnson participate in a character clock-building workshop.
Kate Dell, 5, of Aliso Viejo, and her grandfather Tom Johnson participate in a character clock-building workshop at Laguna Art Museum on Sept. 17.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“Often, our workshops tend to have either an older crowd or a much younger crowd, so this was special because it was a mix,” said Daniel Stachowski, public programs coordinator for the museum. “I think it just really goes to show how universal the brand of Paul Frank can be.

“When I was growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, it was really popular, and it’s nice to see it resurging again with some of the younger kids, and I think that’s why the class was mixed. As we’re getting older, we’re sharing our loved things from the past with our new generation, so it’s nice to have grandparents, parents, kids all working on the same project. At the end, you could really see everyone’s personality show through with their clock.”

Stachowski added that Frank will be holding workshops at the museum in October and December, with those projects being themed for Halloween and Christmas, respectively.

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