Texas Artist Creates Masterpieces in Dust

American Artisans, People
on April 20, 2008
Jules Alexander Scott Wade pays homage to Sandro Botticelli with his re-creation of the masterpiece The Birth of Venus.

Artist Scott Wade was leaving a grocery store in San Marcos, Texas (pop. 34,733), in 2005 when he noticed a pickup truck parked behind him, blocking his exit. Startled, Wade looked around and saw the trucks driver stick his head out of the window.

Hey, the driver yelled, Could you wait just a minute? My daughter went in to buy a camera.

The girl wanted to take a picture of the back window of Wades car, which was adorned with The Nag, a detailed cartoon of a woman pointing her finger at a sullen man that Wade had drawn on the dusty window.

While most people choose to draw smiley faces or write wash me on dirty car windows, Wade uses them as canvases to express his creativity in what he calls dirty car art.

Using techniques similar to those in drawing and painting, he has created more than 50 exquisitely detailed pieces, including cartoons, portraits and re-creations of famous paintings. He and his wife, Robin Wood, still are surprised by the attention the unique artwork generates not only locally, but around the world.

Discovering dirt
Ive been drawing on dirty windows all my life, says Wade, 48, of Wimberley, Texas (pop. 3,797), who works as a graphic designer.

But he didnt take his art seriously until 2003, while living with his wife and their daughter, Marley, 13, on a dirt road in San Marcos. One day as he chewed on a Popsicle stick he wondered what effect the frayed end would have if he dragged it across a dusty canvas. Curious, Wade gave it a try and was so pleased with the results it seemed only natural to try a paintbrush for better control and more precise detail.

I was amazed that I could produce detailed artwork as if it were charcoal on paper, Wade says.

The Nag was one of his first pieces with the elaborate detail for which he is now known. Since then he has created even more fantastic images, some of which were originals, portraits of people, and even copies of famous works such as Sandro Botticellis The Birth of Venus and C.M. Coolidges A Friend in Need, which depicts dogs playing poker.

Jacqui Mohr, 62, of San Marcos, is perhaps Wades biggest fan. She works with Wades wife at the San Marcos Public Library and has witnessed the evolution of his art.

We just noticed these great illustrations on the back of Robins car, Mohr says. In the beginning, they were simple, like an Aztec sun. Then the one that just blew me away was (da Vincis) Mona Lisa with (Van Goghs) Starry Night in the background.

Wade likes to copy the masters because its a challenge, and it helps people to see the art form and recognize its potential.

Making a masterpiece
Although Wade generally allows a canvas to develop naturally, it takes up to two weeks for the proper amount of dust to collect on his car window, and if the weather doesnt cooperate, it can take even longer. In the event the dust doesnt develop naturally, Wade rubs the window with almond oil and then uses a hair dryer to blow dust on the window from a tray or through the spout of a watering can.

With the canvas before him, Wade takes a moment to determine the best composition, then begins to create a sketch in the dust with a photograph as his guide. He uses a rubber paint shaper, a tool used by painters to apply paint, draw lines and contours, or to carve into paint to create a variety of textures.

Once the sketch is complete, he employs different brushes to add detail, often using a fan brush to get the desired tones. The process requires a delicate touch, and Wade applies various pressures to the brushes to create different shades of gray to black. Occasionally he uses his fingers, which he describes as natural squeegees, and he also uses a straw to blow the dust, giving a wispy effect that can be used to make clouds. It takes from one to four hours to complete a piece, depending on the images detail.

Anybody that can draw can do this, Wade says. Its the same basic thing, just on a different canvas.

Appreciating the impermanence
Jules Alexander, a friend of Wades, regularly photographs his work. This is just funny and neat and cool, says Alexander, 62, of San Marcos. The detail is just stunning. Its neat to see one right after it drizzles. It does wild stuff.

Immediately after a work is complete it begins to change. More dust accumulates on the surface, giving the piece greater depth; morning dew creates a patina, as does a sprinkle of rain, whereas a downpour can completely wash the image away.

A piece usually lasts about a week, but its temporary nature is Wades favorite aspect of the medium. All the fruits of our labor are temporary, so its a good spiritual lesson, too, Wade says. Wildflowers are here and then theyre gone. Are they any less beautiful because theyre transient?

His wife knows too well how easily the images can be erased. At her request, Wade created a portrait of Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman on her car window prior to the 2006 election, but before the image naturally faded away, she accidentally turned on her rear window wiper.

Wade, who happily accepts these mishaps, just turned what was left into an entirely different piece.

Because its temporary, its easier to be lighthearted and not take it too seriously, he says. It also lets the creative spirit flow.

In 2006, Wade had his first dirty car art showat the Courtyard Gallery in Cuero, Texas (pop. 6,571)which featured three large photographs of his work. But his philosophy and unique talent have found fans around the world.

Following a 2006 story in the Austin American-Statesman, Wade was the center of an online frenzy. His story and images of his work were posted on the Internet, and he quickly accumulated thousands of letters and e-mails from admirers, many in foreign languages.

Wade wont name his favorite piece. He jokes and says the next one. Due to his arts temporary nature, there isnt time to marvel over a past masterpiece. Wade just looks ahead to the next dirty canvas. Theres always going to be more dust on glass if you live on a road like ours. H