A 12-foot by 40-foot mural inside the corporate headquarters of Farmer Brothers Coffee.
Always an Artist
Talent, imagination fuel fine arts alum
Story by Robbie Goodrich '82
Ever since he was "a dorky little kid with buck teeth and glasses," Brent Hale '81 wanted to draw.
"Since I stunk at sports, most of my spare time was spent drawing. I drew hot rods and cartoons on everything — notebooks, church bulletins, the bottom of my tennis shoes. I did some of my best work on my blue jeans. I couldn't help myself. I loved to draw," he said on his Brent Hale Illustration and Design website.
Among the lucky ones who discovered how to turn a passion into a career, Hale is a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, art director, muralist and product designer based in Tyler. His website explains that he works with some of the best companies in the world. His client list includes Nike, Pepsi, Mercedes Benz, American Airlines, Louis Vuitton, AT&T, Wall Street Journal, Hilton and more. He's had children's book collaborations with LeAnn Rimes, Billy Crystal and Steve Martin.
"I get to work on stuff that challenges me and allows me to draw inspiration from the very things that made me want to be an artist in the first place."
But to get where he is today, Hale tried and took a lot of different paths, all involving art. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in commercial art from SFA followed by studying industrial and transportation design at the Art Center College of Design in California, Hale worked in outdoor advertising with Spradley Sign Company in Nacogdoches. He worked off and on for various design firms in Tyler and East Texas, tried some stints as a freelancer and worked for Brookshire's advertising department.
By 1996, Hale decided to take "a leap of faith" and start his own company. He focused on larger markets like Dallas, promoting himself to major agencies doing whatever they couldn't handle in-house. He soon became known among agencies as the go to for quickly cranking out presentation comps, marker sketches and storyboards. "An agency would call on Thursday night and ask if I could do 20 illustrations by Monday morning," Hale said. "I replied, 'All things are possible at Brent Hale Artography.'"
Initially, agencies would give Hale's concept drawings to a finishing artist who would recreate his work, transforming it into finished ads or commercials. "In a roundabout way, you would see some of my stuff actually on the shelf. I did a lot of Chester Cheetah." As he honed his illustration style, Hale began to pick up more finished illustration work, things that would actually get produced, such as an illustration for Nike Town New York, a holiday tin for Moon Pie and the first hotels.com logo.
Experienced in many forms of illustration and graphic design, Hale's murals may have more of a "wow effect" for the general public. He painted the mural inside the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as many others in Nacogdoches. His detailed work adorns buildings throughout Texas, including the Farmer Brothers Coffee corporate office, Stanley Marcus mural in Dallas, Louis Vuitton's corporate office and The Arcadia Live in Kerrville, which he described as "one of the biggest and scariest" he's worked on.
He credits "really cool old sign men who taught me the ropes, literally" for his success in mural work. "We would hand paint billboards from old stages with hemp ropes, wooden pulleys, no safety harnesses and fighting wasps," he said.
One of Hale's first large-scale works was "an illegal mural on the wall of my SFA dorm." Hale had one more semester living on campus when the housing director found out about the mural. He called Hale into his office and told him he had to paint over it or he would be kicked out of school. "I said, 'OK, I'll do that, but would you mind looking at it beforehand?' So, he came to my dorm room, looked at the mural, and said, 'OK, you can keep it. But you have to paint over it when you leave.'"
Hale said the friendships he formed at SFA remain strong. He and his wife loved being in the university's atmosphere. "And I had some really great art teachers who taught me good basics."