In a long, thin drawer in Joseph Craig English’s all-white art studio, technicolor snapshots of local history emerge from layers of paper and plastic wrapping.
In one of his screen-printed pieces, the bright red brick wall of Gaithersburg’s historic train station stands behind a green, 1970s-era Pontiac sedan.
A local artist with local subjects, English will be one of 10 Montgomery County-based artists at the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival at Gaithersburg’s county fairgrounds Nov. 16, 17 and 18.
The artist said his work is “driven by color,” which becomes clear as he flips through 40 years of prints in his studio. He painted the train station piece in the 1970s.
“Sometimes I only have to go a block” to find a subject, he said.
English occasionally paints tight-cropped scenes from his neighborhood of Washington Grove. In one piece, the red tin roof on a home shines through the leaves of an overhanging tree. In another, thousands of small shapes make up the flowers and bushes of a neighbor’s home.
He said he started printing on silk screens in a ninth-grade art class.
“It just captivated me,” he said.
English said he and his parents were always involved in art, but his parents “flipped out” when he said he wanted to do it professionally.
“Everybody said you can’t make a living,” he said. For a few years, he worked as the art director at a Chevy Chase ad agency. When office politics became overwhelming, he broke out as an independent artist.
“It turned out to be one of the pivotal things in my life,” English said.
He started out by showing some of his prints at shopping centers, including Walnut Hill Shopping Center and Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. He sold his first piece for $35 in 1972, he said.
English said he started with small pieces because he wasn’t sure if there would be buyers for his work.
“As demand for my work increased, I’ve increased the size of my work,” he said. Now, his largest pieces are 22 inches by 16 inches.
He also created a mural recently for a shopping center on Monument Wall Way in Sully, Va. The wall is stylized to look like grouted tiles with large images of a man on horseback and bicyclists.
The development company that commissioned English to do the mural, Fairfax, Va.-based The Peterson Companies, is known for its local philanthropy, according to Joanna Ormesher, a spokesperson for the City of Fairfax Commission of the Arts.
Her own organization supports local artists, mainly in Northern Virginia.
“There’s a number of exceptional artists in the area,” she said.
English said he enjoys working with development companies who create new communities where people live and work.
“What it does is create a lot of blank walls,” he said. “And I’m hoping that when people see blank walls, they’ll think of me.”
English said he has had success selling his pieces at events around the country, but he sells the most in the Washington, D.C. area because of the local subjects, he said.
“I did some of the very first Sugarloaf shows 40 years ago,” he said. After a long hiatus, English said he returned to the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival during the last few years. Sales often depend on good weather, he said, though he continues to find fans at the festival.
“I’ve been very fortunate to find my way to something that I’ve loved to do for so many years,” he said. “I get up every morning knowing I’m going to be working on a project I’m excited about.”