Fresh paint: Inside Colossal’s Painter Apprentice Program
Poll a thousand people and ask them if they’d like to spend months learning to mix paints, tie knots and hinges, operate rigs and lifts, and practice lettering outside on a damp Brooklyn winter day — 999 of them would reply hell no.
And for the one who says hell yes, tell them to give us a call.
Everyone knows our painters are crazy talented — and when you see them outside in the sweltering heat or driving snow, you might call them just plain crazy. The reality is that our team has some of the most uncompromisingly creative, fabulously artistic people for whom an email job simply cannot compete with practicing their craft.
Meeting new team members is one of our greatest joys: seeing the skill and enthusiasm that each person can bring to our culture and to our walls. But it’s a long road to becoming a certified walldog. Through our comprehensive apprenticeship program, we’ve put hand paint’s word-of-mouth heritage to paper. It’s a systematic approach to training that imparts the generations and decades worth of knowledge that goes into every Colossal brushstroke.
Pictured (left to right): Brandon Jenkins, Giles Kelsch, Chistophe Michel, Jason Juarbe, Demetrius Felder, Regina Soza-Padilla, Liam McWilliams
We had the chance to catch up with a few of our apprentice painters, learning about their journey into hand paint and experience learning alongside the Colossal team.
What were you doing before joining the Colossal team?
Demetrius Felder: Before I joined Colossal, I worked for two non-profit mural organizations, Groundswell and Creative Arts Work, teaching mural arts to inner city school kids ranging from ages ten to eighteen.
Christophe Michel: I’ve been in New York [for] three years. Before that, I was in Paris… running a web design studio.
What made you decide to pursue a creative career path?
Jason Juarbe: I wanted a career path that would let me create and use my hands. Painting in particular is not only work for me but a passion.
Demetrius Felder: I have always been into the arts. From a very early age I knew I wanted to be an artist, and I have never wavered.
Pictured: Jill Henson
Are there any times when you weren’t sure if a creative career path was right for you, and what changed your mind?
Michael Garcia: Since day one I knew this was what I needed in my life and I’ve never looked back. I’ve had great mentors along the way to help.
Brandon Jenkins: There was never a time I didn’t think it was right for me, it was more about what opportunities I came across and if they would fit my creative direction. Having a paying job as an artist is a blessing and not that easy to come by.
Jason Juarbe: Yes there were plenty of times. Creative career paths usually are hard to get because of how competitive it can be. There were many times where I failed… but I never gave up because I knew I wouldn’t be happy at a regular job.
What has been the most challenging part of Colossal apprenticeship?
Christophe Michel: If you don’t stay positive, that could be a problem.
Brandon Jenkins: It’s very physically demanding, but I don’t mind the hard work. For me it would be the travel, which I love but it also means time away from personal relationships which are very important.
Michael Garcia: I wouldn’t say “challenging,” but there’ve been multiple nights I’ve spent practicing how to letter and paint, all on my own time. It was a sacrifice, but a good one.
Jason Juarbe: The most challenging part is just learning everything and applying it real time. I thought I was the shit coming into this job but you realize you don’t know shit! I felt like a kid in school again. Luckily, I practiced a lot and I’m able to do way more things without any help now.
What would you say to a friend thinking about becoming a Colossal apprentice?
Brandon Jenkins: Get ready to hustle and work hard, keep your eye on the prize.
Michael Garcia: You gotta eat your wheaties, bro. And save your complaints for the end of the shift!
Jason Juarbe: I would tell them that it is definitely a lot of work. I even call it a way of life. You really have to be dedicated.
Christophe Michel: You have to be a good scaffolder — and I really love scaffolding. I didn’t know I’d discover [that] passion.
To close the interviews, we asked the apprentices to reflect on their journeys and share any final thoughts. Brandon Jenkins shared that, “ If you want to grow as an artist and like to work hard, then this is the perfect place.” We got the stunning statement from Jason Juarbe, “I feel like I leveled up in life,” which is a joy to hear. But it feels most appropriate to conclude our story with this from Michael Garcia: “Where’s the next wall?”