Mixing it Up
by Marilyn Anthony
East Mount Airy visual artist Paul Carpenter’s art teacher once described him as a weird mashup of an artist and a jock. Carpenter’s most popular T-shirt design, a Phanatic-inspired figure elaborately decorated with a richly imagined Philadelphia landscape, surely proves his point.
Carpenter, 30, grew up in Springfield Township relishing many aspects of Philadelphia: pro sports teams, Wissahickon trails, the urban mix of architecture and open spaces. Chris Houston, Carpenter’s high school art teacher and mentor, appreciates the way Carpenter’s illustrations on screened tees tell a story infused with characteristic humor and energy. His cartoonish imagery “brings you close in to look at the details,” says fellow artist Adam Lovitz, and his “skateboardish cool” makes Carpenter and his work very approachable.
Fresh out of the University of Delaware visual communications department, Carpenter landed a job in a beachfront skate shop. He taught himself screen printing, eventually purchasing the store’s printer. Carpenter moved it to Philadelphia where he continued to work for shore clients but began developing Philly-centric designs for apparel, prints, notecards and pint glasses. He wanted to look beyond Ben Franklin, cheesesteaks or soft pretzels to find fresh images depicting richer aspects of his beloved city.
“Technically exquisite” is how Barbara Allen, Fresh Artists founder, describes Carpenter’s designs. His illustrations of sports themes and streetscapes are rendered, as Carpenter says “with flair and care.” He began selling his work at street fairs and craft shows, careful to offer a variety of price points so everyone can afford to purchase something. He now sells at 30 street fairs annually, enjoying the opportunity to interact with customers. Quoting another of his teachers, Carpenter sums up the life he has crafted for himself, “If you’re not having fun when you’re doing art, then you’re doing it wrong.”