Steve Lee, who feels his calling in life is to ‘wow’ people, considers himself part of a last generation of “old-school” artists. Lee said he does not rely on computer graphics to aid in creating signage and oversized images such as murals painted on the side of businesses.
Lee also considers himself fortunate for finding his calling at a very young age and with the help of an episode of “Sesame Street.”
“Today, this is an obsolete trade,” Lee said. “I saw a part on ‘Sesame Street’ as a small kid. I saw a highway man spray paint a No. 5 on the highway. I (was) just a little boy, but I realized then that I wanted to do that. I actually had the seed planted in me from ‘Sesame Street.’”
Fast forward to today and Lee works solely on commissioned jobs in locations such as Auburn, Tallassee, Wetumpka and Montgomery.
Some of Lee’s latest work can be found at Copper House Deli in Wetumpka and other locations in the city’s downtown area.
He said what keeps him going is “the unknown.” At one point in his life, Lee said was ready to put down the brushes until an inner voice told him he was made to make people say, “Wow.”
Lee said when his clients’ eyes light up he knows they are satisfied with his efforts.
“That’s what keeps me going,” he said. “I’m always getting surprised and I always learn something new every day. That’s the feeling that keeps me going.”
Lee said he is carrying on a legacy for the “awesome people” who trained him who are no longer living.
“All the people who trained me in all the old-school stuff are just about gone,” he said. “Most of them are dead. It is sad, but it is true. I’m kind of carrying the torch.”
Lee said he tried to encourage younger generations to pick up where he will leave off to no avail.
“They are not really interested in that kind of stuff,” he said. “Millennials think it’s silly.”
He said while the art is dying, it is more present in larger cities like Dallas, New York and Houston.
“Those places are too expensive for me,” he said. “In the early days, I had a shop so the work always came to me. Today, I have people wave me down in my car. My car is my fishing pole.”
While most the work he’s done in Wetumpka, Tallassee and Auburn are large murals, Montgomery clients request artwork for their motorcycles.
“I get more motorcycles from Montgomery than graphics, signs and murals,” he said. “I do a lot of biker bikes — skulls and flames, pinstripes, things like that.”
He opened his first shop in southern Georgia in the mid-1980s.
“My first shop was old-school painting — lettering and murals, pinstriping, airbrushing and that kind of stuff,” Lee said.
While he owned the shop, his work was featured on the big screen.
“During all this I had a subcontracting job with an Amish fellow that did old school stuff for cowboy movies,” he said. “He would always paint the wagons and give the wagons to me to pinstripe. The wagons would go from us to the production company.”
His professional work reaches back to the days when he was in high school.
“When I was in 10th grade, I started out sweeping floors at a graphic arts studio,” he said. “The man who owned the place asked me one day if I knew how to paint a go-kart. I painted it, and he took the broom away after that.”