In the hands of some people, paint translates into art whether it is on a beautiful automobile, a traditional canvas or a piece of furniture. Darrin Butler is one of those people, translating the techniques and knowledge he acquired as a car painter into innovative methods of creating art on furniture while emphasizing the wood's natural grain.
In only three years, Butler's Colors In Wood (by appointment, 269-3601) is gaining an expanding following, and he won the Most Unique Work citation at Congo Square during the 2001 Jazz & Heritage Festival. Recently, he was commissioned by the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee to design two large end tables for the participating bowl team owners as well as 40 other small tables, designed as gifts to thank all the NFL team owners and other supporters for awarding New Orleans the Super Bowl for the ninth time. To top it all off, he was selected by American Style magazine to participate in a special craft show in Philadelphia in July.
Although he can create paintings on canvas or other objects, he currently is focusing on one-of-a-kind tables, which he designs, builds and paints according to the moment's inspiration and any stated desires of the customer.
"Right now, the coffee tables are my niche; they're the hot items right now," Butler says. "I have been doing this for the last three years, but it really was this last year that it took off, and I actually quit my day job to pursue it on a full-time basis." His adventure into a new career was not totally by chance. After being laid off his 3-year job at Whitney Bank, he entered vo-tech school and learned how to paint automobiles. After finishing school, he worked at Sewell for five years before branching out into the world of furniture design.
"I guess my artistic skills kicked in as far as painting autos," he says. "After about five years ... I combined my artistic skills with my automotive skills to make these tables." He doesn't use brushes to paint on the pictures; instead, he twists the ends of rags to avoid the texture of brush strokes. Next, he applies polyurethane paint to the tables with a spray gun, then buffs the surface to a glass-like sheen.
"After I spray the polyurethane on (the piece), you can spray it off with a hose," Butler says. "You can tap dance on it without damaging it." The durability never gets in the way of the art, however. He paints sometimes abstract designs, often depicting humans and especially women, then buffs out paint lines to allow the wood grain to come through.
"My whole main focus is to see the wood grain coming through the colors," he says. "I don't use paint brushes; I use rags. Paint brushes leave marks; I buff it so you don't see any brush strokes. It's really staining; I don't prime the wood (to keep the paint from seeping in), then the buffing is the key. That's what makes them look like glass and inlaid."
By avoiding brush strokes, the lines of the artwork are so clearly defined that customers often mistake them for inlaid wood works. In addition, he designs the tables so customers can transform them from table tops to wall hangings if they want a change.
"Most of my pieces are made so you could take the top off and put it on the wall if you get tired of it as a coffee table," he says. "It's functional art. I try to make it something that will last you for years and not get tired of it. It's art."
Although he likes abstract designs, he also has a penchant for the human form, which often finds its way onto his tables. "The designs are whatever hits me at the moment -- something hip and cool or what hits my eye," he says. "I like to paint women on the tables because I'm more in tune to the shape of a woman's body. I guess I really love people."
Butler counts Mignon Faget among his customers and donated pieces to be auctioned off during a Channel 12 fundraiser. He now is experimenting with applying his artistic skills to metal and inducing the grain from that medium; one of his metal creations is on display at Ariodante Gallery. Other works can be viewed at his home studio and range in price from $400 to $8,000, depending on the size, shape and type of design involved.
"You pick the colors and I'll build it -- any shape and size. I can make it for you," he says. "What's more enjoyable in life than doing what you love to do? It's made me a happy person."
- Artist Darrin Butler shows off the small table he was commissioned to make as a gift to those who helped land Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. The larger table is what he creates for other customers.