A day in the life of airbrush artist Paul Forakis – news – the Destin Log

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In this occasional series, the Daily News offers insight into the daily lives of people in various jobs.

OKALOOSA ISLAND – Paul Forakis stood in his studio, an area approximately 4 feet by 5 feet cordoned off in the corner of the Surf Style store on Okaloosa Island.

Above him, rows and rows of fantastic fluorescent T-shirt designs took up every square inch of wall space. Designs ranged from alligators riding surfboards to octopuses and jellyfish holding hands, sometimes with a superhero and a gymnast in between.

He held an airbrush firmly in his hand while glancing at his phone every now and then, carefully drawing the lines on the faces of a cartoon character who was his next work of art, a T- shirt stretched on a blackboard.

“The key is to make it look dramatic,” he said as a splash of hot pink came out of the airbrush. “Make it look like a silhouette and put it on a background and it pops. “

Learn the trade

Forakis has been airbrushing on the Emerald Coast since 1980. A native of Wisconsin, Forakis said his family vacationed in the area every spring and summer when he was little. He recalls that the Fort Walton Beach gang was “the place to be,” and it was there that he first fell in love with airbrush design.

“We would go to the big city of Fort Walton Beach,” he said. “And there were airbrushes everywhere, and it was like being at Disney World in the summer. I saw these people painting KISS faces and I was like a man, how did they do it?

After his family moved to the area in 1977 and bought several local stores, Forakis said he intended to become an airbrush artist. But his goal was ambitious at the time: airbrushes were on every corner and they were competitive.

“The other airbrushers didn’t want you to learn their trade,” he said. “The less competition the better. … At that time, there were a lot of stab wounds in the back.

But Forakis persevered, settling in with a “crappy” air compressor and an early airbrush model in his garage with a buddy and painting until his fingers were smudged.

“If you wanted to survive you had to get good,” he said. “I continued to paint and paint and paint.”

Beach themes

Today, Forakis estimates that there are only about fifteen professional airbrush artists in the region. The heyday of airbrushing art is over for now, but Forakis continues to pump thousands of designs from his tiny boutique to a store every summer.

He said the key to selling a great airbrush is knowing your customer.

“Come up with an idea, something you know will sell,” he said. “Beach themes here are our # 1 seller. And then there are always trends that arrive. For example, ‘The Punisher’, in recent years that one has gotten really strong. With the superhero stuff because of all the movies.

He said he mainly sells to girls and children and does a lot of business when there are cheerleading competitions at the nearby Emerald Coast Convention Center. But he said one of his most popular creations is the silhouette of a gymnast doing a handstand on a balance beam, with a fluorescent sunset behind her.

Forakis said he also does custom designs and has received some strange requests over the years.

“One of the strangest things I painted, there was a woman who was really proud of her big butt, and she wanted the design of the boy and girl holding hands (face to face) but she wanted me to do her big butt, “he said. “I also do a lot of side character fan art and darker stuff for myself.”

Transmit knowledge

Forakis said that unlike his early days in airbrushing, he welcomes anyone with a steady hand and an eye for art to try the field. He has mentored people who grew up in the company and who are now his friends.

“A great airbrush artist is one who can hold out and take care of whatever comes up,” he said. “A great artist has no attitude. Back then, everyone thought they were better than each other. … There is no attitude here. I know there is always someone better than me.

Forakis said one of the things he loves most about his job, besides art, is getting to know clients.

“What do I like about my job? It’s the people. Interact with people, ”he said. “Sometimes they come year after year. They’ll come up to me and the daughter or son will be 13 or 14 and they’ll say, ‘You’ve been making t-shirts for her since she was 8.’ “

He also enjoys seeing little children’s faces light up in the same way his own face when he was younger and in love with the bright, vibrant patterns.

“I take it for granted that this has an impact,” he said. “Especially the younger ones, they really love their airbrushed t-shirts. I remember when I was a kid I thought it was the coolest thing there was.


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