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A Day on the Job: Man trades security work for paintbrush

After working in the military and night security, a longtime art lover turns a hobby into a living.

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 20, 2002


Harlan Kershaw, 49, independent artist, St. Petersburg

Have you always been interested in art?

When I was a kid, I used to always draw. I remember in sixth grade at Tyrone Elementary, some people from NASA came and took pictures of rocket ships from the schools to display at Kennedy Space Center, and mine was one of the ones that went.

Is this your full-time job?

I worked security for 12 years at night in Tampa, private in-house security with my own guard dog, but I've been doing strictly this now since February.

What kind of training do you have?

I got out of the military in '76, so I took my military education and went two years of art school, in commercial art, at Miami Vo-Tech. I'm mostly self-taught though.

How did you get interested in the murals?

Back in '84 I read an article about (marine artist) Wyland, and I thought I could do what he does. I did some fine art, sold some paintings now and then, but I had done no outside mural work at that time.

What was the first mural you painted?

It was a pod of 17 orcas and a split scene of Alaska outside the gym (former Iron Works, 4224 28th St. N.). That was a 163 feet by 12-foot wall. They were almost life size. That took me, on and off, a couple of weeks.

What was your biggest mural so far?

The biggest one I ever did was about a block long and about 30 feet high on the side of a plumbing supply warehouse. It's a humpback followed by a bunch of dolphins and manatees on the bottom. That took me about a week.

What is the life expectancy for one of your paintings?

They're good for, like, 10 years. Inside your home, it will last a lifetime.

What kind of paint do you use?

It's outside latex enamel paint. I use Glidden, an upper brand from Home Depot. If you don't use good paints, you're just going to short-change yourself, because after a couple years, it starts fading out.

How much do your home murals cost?

A typical wall that a person wants is generally 7 or 8 feet high and 10 to 15 feet long. A starting price for a wall like that will run about $500. If they want a tropical reef with a lot of fish in it and a lot of detail, it could run $1,000 or more.

How does this compare to previous jobs?

Well, with this, I can make in one day what would take me all week to make working security. Plus, people respect what you do.

How much money do you make in a year?

There's no reason why somebody like me can't make $30,000, but I haven't even made that yet. I'd like to make $60,000 -- that would be a good year.

What is the oddest mural you ever painted?

When I did my truck with the black Rhino and had the horns on the front. It was an African safari scene, but I never got any work from that, because everybody thought I was from Busch Gardens or Park Zoo.

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