After spending many years away from Colorado painting commercial billboards and murals, Patrick Kane McGregor is back in his hometown of Denver honing his style and developing his commission business.
Patrick can still be found in cities like New York and Miami working on commercial projects, but his reputable standing as an artist, work ethic and solid network of collaborators are gaining him the artistic control he desires.
Often you’ll find Patrick working alongside his son Tristan, on the lookout for new clients who allow him artistic freedom and painting portraits or murals of his favorite muses, dogs.
In our conversation, Patrick shares:
- Why he has liability insurance and safety training for his mural work
- How collaborating with other artists boosts callbacks
- Why it’s imperative to understand how to ship your work if you want to make money
Can you give us a quick overview of your background in art and how you got started?
I started drawing when I was really little. I was inspired by comic books and Frank Frazetta. Then I got into graffiti a little bit about the same time I got into hand painting billboards in the ‘90s.
I kind of left graffiti behind in the early 2000s and just focused on brushes and rollers. And now since I’ve moved back home I’ve focused more on my own art, but I’m using all that experience — I paint like a graffiti artist but I have a style like a billboard artist with traditional brushes and rollers. I don’t really use spray paint.
How much time do you spend on your personal art versus client work?
Not enough. I’d say it’s like a 30/70 split. So 30% personal and 70% for money.
What does your creative process look like?
As I’ve gotten more of a name for myself I can kind of stick to my guns now and I tend to stick to portrait work. A lot of portraits of dogs.
But I used to just do whatever they wanted and then work with them on building my style. So doing a portrait of some sort but trying to incorporate some meaning, like where it’s at geographically or maybe who lived in it. If they can’t think of anything then I’ll paint the owner’s dog on the side of it.
Do you do sketches beforehand? And if so, where do you do those?
I do sketches. I’ve been using Procreate a lot more lately, the last three years. It’s just because it’s easier to bring my iPad around and it’s easier to use the tools and send photos to people that way.
What does your process look when you land a client? Do you send them a contract, get a deposit?
Yeah, we usually come up with a price and I’ll try to get half up front and then half on completion. I’ll send them an invoice and that always goes through Esoteric Art, so I have the business name on there.
And how do you keep track of your invoices? Do you have a system for that?
I use QuickBooks and my wife helps me a lot actually. She’s my unofficial bookkeeper. She keeps me in line.
Does she also help with administrative tasks like paperwork and emails or do you do all that?
She just helps me with the invoicing part and QuickBooks. She makes sure all the money goes through there.
As far as emailing and all that, I hate it. I can’t stand it. I would love if somebody would be my agent but I haven’t found that person yet. That’s the hardest part for me ‘cause it takes the fun out of it. Somebody like Thomas [“Detour” Evans] is really good at it because he went to business school, so that’s how his mind thinks. I don’t want to look at the computer screen. Even when I’m drawing on it, it gets old fast. I’m all analog.
Do you have many clients that give you a lot of creative control? Like with Nike where you did the Jordan Wingspan piece, did they have an idea of what they wanted?
Yes, that’s a good example. And the last one I did was at the Jacquard Hotel over in Cherry Creek. It’s kind of swanky in the fashion district.
At first I was trying to do some something dog oriented but they said, Well, maybe let’s see about models. And I said, Okay, a model with a dog, and they go, No, no. [Laughter]
We were thinking of old school models and started throwing a couple of names around. Brigitte Bardot was on the list and I was like, Oh, I’d love to paint her doing something funny. So they’re like, Okay, let’s figure that out. We also wanted her to be doing something futuristic because she’s from the sixties and seventies so we just kind of came up with this quirky idea of her holding a cell phone taking a Selfie of herself.
So it’s kind of a back and forth and usually I’ll do a design fee before I do any of this, especially if they keep going back and forth too much. You want to get paid for that work too. Or I get half up front if they know they’re going to hire me.
That’s usually how it works. Usually it doesn’t take too many passes before they like one of our ideas, so yeah, I just work with the client as much as I can unless they’re a pain in the ass.
Do you ever have to fire clients or walk away?
Yeah. Actually there was one that had a really nice wall, a lot of good money. It was me and another artist and they gave us a deposit of a third upfront, which was quite a bit of money. We went through all these ideas but I wanted to do what I do — I wanted to paint my bulldog up there.
So we had all these mockups and then they didn’t want the bulldog. So we just kept the money and they said, All right, see you later. They had wanted me to paint a rhino and I’m not painting no fucking rhino in RiNo [an arts district in Denver]. I did that once and that’s it. I have my limit. The line I’ll draw. I can do that a lot more now too because I have a style and try to keep it. I want to at least do something that portrays my skill rather than some stupid rhino for RiNo.
Esoteric Art is an LLC and kind of sits above your Patrick Kane McGregor art. Can you tell us why you choose to be an LLC?
I still do work for Colossal Media as a freelancer and some of the jobs that me and my son [Tristan] do require that. And it’s just kind of a broad overhead company name, so I have a license and insurance and all that stuff.
Actually the name came from way back when I started to graffiti and me and my friend did signs for Tribal Gear. Tribal Gear is from San Diego and back in the ‘90s we did foam-cut signs and Esoteric Art was the name of our company. So I brought it back, just something to call the whole conglomerate.
These guys [other artists he’s sharing a studio space with] all want to make Esoteric Art a movement and be part of it so it might grow into something else. But right now it’s just a cool name. [Laughs]
How did you learn the business side of art?
I’m still learning it but basically just being around other artists. Robin [Munro, artist + founder of the Crush Walls mural festival in Denver] especially, he’s been in it for 10 years. And that’s why we all hang out because we don’t want to have different prices and fight for walls. It should just be what the client wants and who the right artist is for that.
But I have a ratio. I do a price per square foot and if it’s smaller than such and such it’s this much, and for a bigger wall there’s a price for that. It’s kind of structured so I can just look at a wall and do a little adding up and give them a ballpark. And it depends on if you need insurance for the job or whatever. Also working in the billboard industry helps with that as well.
With the pricing?
Yeah, seeing what they charge for painting walls and what that entails.
And does it differ for your own stuff?
Yeah, it’s different when I do commercial stuff than when I do my own stuff.
So the murals are more your own stuff?
Yeah, the ratio for a big normal wall is roughly 20 bucks a square foot. And then if it’s under 10 feet I do 30 bucks a square foot.
Then canvases are a whole different thing and it depends on what I’m painting.
Does that include materials or is that additional?
Usually it does. I have a little leeway. Sometimes I’ll tack it on top, but if it’s for somebody who doesn’t have as much money I’ll work with them or I’ll do a lot of bartering. I’m down to barter. You have a restaurant, I like to eat, so.
Yeah, we all gotta eat.
Yeah. So I have a lot of barters around town that are nice to have. I can just go somewhere and have a drink and eat for free. Well, not for free, but it’s like, Put it on the tab!
For your insurance, we talked to one muralist who told us their lift broke the sidewalk. Have you run into issues like that or do any clients say you need a certain type of coverage?
I think the coverage that I got is about $600 a year. It goes up to a million dollars and it stipulates two stories of work. So if I’m doing six stories I would probably have to get extra insurance for that.
I just keep that coverage all the time and then if I do a big project, I’ll just add it to my current coverage and pay more. They usually let me do that because it’s a one-time thing.
Is that liability insurance?
Yeah, liability. And then usually when I go to New York the company I work for is insured already, so I don’t have to pay for that stuff.
They also put me through safety classes that got me a card.
What kind of card is that and where do you go for classes?
They’re just safety courses that you can take through probably OSHA or through the city. I think there’s a 12-hour safety scaffolding class you can take and it costs 300 or 400 bucks I think, but you get a card and it lasts for I think 5 years.
Luckily through the billboard industry I know not to break through certain parts of sidewalks like some people do and it helps a lot. One artist I know went over a part of the sidewalk that was hollow underneath the lift and she had to go to class. Now she has the card that I got.
So the safety class is something you would recommend?
Yeah, definitely. If you’re on lifts for sure, especially boom lifts. Boom lifts are pretty dangerous if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.
I read that at one point hand-painted ads were your bread and butter. Is that still the case?
Yeah, that’s where I make a lot of money so I can fund my art. I just got back from doing 2 weeks of work for [Colossal Media] and made a good chunk of change so then I can kind of take the rest of the month off and focus on those canvases out there [in his studio] that are all blank.
How are your clients finding you? Is it just word of mouth at this point?
It is mostly word of mouth at this point. And my wife helps out a lot actually, she lets me go to Art Basel. It’s on my own dime but usually when I get there I’ll get a gig that pays for the trip. I’m still gambling on it but when I go on these trips I meet people and then it just kind of snowballs. That’s how the Bushwick Collective thing happened.
So it’s definitely word of mouth and painting in places as much as you can. Collaborating with other artists really helps boost the call backs for sure.
My dobie girl “Kita” immortalized in the alley at 11th and Broadway. My beautiful muse pictured here with me. Oils on brick 20’ x 12’. —Patrick Kane McGregor
Do you have a certain approach to networking or staying in touch with clients or potential clients?
I usually just have to go through my email and make sure I answer them all. I don’t really have to go knock on doors anymore.
I’ll get a lot of people who want to do commissioned portraits and then I’ll stack those up for the wintertime and do all that in December and January and February when it’s really cold. Then in the summertime I do all the mural fests I can.
I also work with Crush Walls, helping to curate that. So that keeps me in touch with all the Denver artists. This year we had 500 applicants we had to go through and we try to get everybody paid.
So collaborations have come about from just being out in the art world basically, and through the people you meet?
Yeah, and doing festivals. The RAW Art Works project that came through here, they do work with schools, I met a lot of artists through that. That’s all volunteer work so none of the artists are getting paid, they’re just doing it to inspire the kids and it really works well. They have pretty big artists doing that so I was rubbing shoulders with these artists that I’ve been “Liking” for five years. It’s pretty cool.
The last one I was at there was this guy Mr. June. He’s from Europe, but we became friends here and then I went there and I said, Let’s collab on this one. So we collabed on that and now whenever I want to go to Amsterdam, I’m going to paint with him.
It’s just kind of a camaraderie thing that goes on between artists.
And then with Colossal Media, the billboard company, are they finding the brands and companies that you paint for?
Yeah, they have their own sales team and office. It’s pretty crazy how big it is now. It started with just me, Paul and two other dudes and now it’s 30 painters.
Basically they procure the walls and pay the building owner such and such a year. Then they sell that wall to whatever brand wants to buy it. At this point they have their own ad agency I think.
So they’ll sell five walls to Evian and then they’ll hire me to come out and paint two of them or whatever. They just show me what they want me to paint and I just go out there and paint it. They have everything I need there so it’s all inclusive. They have a whole shop and everything. So it’s pretty easy, easy money for me.
Yeah, and my son works there now too. I got him a job painting and it’s a good place to learn how to paint just because you have to paint everything — letters, realism, graphic stuff. It’s all over the board and good practice.
But I was in New York working and drinking all the time. Working hard, playing hard. And that’s kind of why I moved away to come back home because I didn’t have time to do my own art. I told my wife, I’m glad to go. So 2012 is when I moved to Denver and actually dived into my art.
And it’s been good so far? Good to be back?
Yeah, it was hard at first but yeah, it’s definitely good to be back. That was a long trip. I’m still pretty tired. [Laughs]
For that Bushwick Collective job, you weren’t sure initially if you were even going to do that, right?
Yeah, it was good getting my foot in the door with those guys. And then what we’ll do is bring some Brooklyn artists here and we’ll do a little trade.
We do that with Miami already. A bunch of Miami artists come here and then we go there for Basel. So it’s just a good networking thing to do with all these street art graffiti guys.
You mentioned you work with your son Tristan. Do you hire other people too?
No, it’s usually just me and him or I’m by myself, unless I collab with other artists. That’s kind of what Esoteric Art started as, just me and my son’s projects. We still do them together, but he wants to do every project that comes along and I’m done saying yes to everything. I want to focus on my own stuff. So we’re kind of butting heads there, but that’s just me and my boy.
Do you have any cost-saving tactics that have helped you to survive as an artist and sustain you during any slower periods?
The portrait work I save for the wintertime because it’s slow on both spectrums, the advertising and the art. So I try to save those like a squirrel for the wintertime.
What about in the earlier years. Did you ever have to worry about bridging a gap between jobs?
I mean, I’ve always worked. I’ve been doing the billboards since ’94 and have always had steady work doing that so I never really had to worry too much.
There’s been hard winters, but I always saved enough money to get through them. I’ve only been almost homeless once, and that was because of a woman, never because of the money. [Laughs]
I also think it’s because I had my son early. I had him when I was 21, so instead of thinking of college I did blue-collar work right away. And I think that’s why my work ethic is better than most people’s. Some people just go straight into art and say, What do I do? I luckily don’t have that because of that experience. And my dad was a carpenter, so he instilled that work ethic into me too so I never thought about not working. I’m kind of a workaholic, I guess.
For your commissioned work, are those usually private clients who want portraits of their dogs?
Most of them, yeah. They’re people who love my dog portraits. I’ve painted peoples’ relatives or their kids before but I’ll do that mostly for people that I kind of know. I don’t really want to take all of those commissions but the dog ones are pretty easy for me so I usually do all I can.
The only part I hate is collecting the money and shipping but it’s getting easier now. Some people want a big old painting and sometimes I say, It might be cheaper for me to just come to your house and paint it there and leave it rather than shipping it. So still working out the kinks.
How do you price those pieces since they’re different than a mural?
It’s kind of sizing. I generally do about $500 to $1,000 for a 2’ x 3’ up to a 4’ x 4’, the general doable size that you can ship. Once it gets bigger than that it goes up a lot more.
But as long as it’s easy to ship I try to stay under a thousand to keep it affordable. Because I’m pretty fast at it so I don’t feel like charging more. I could charge more but I don’t feel comfortable doing it because it’s easy for me. And plus it’s their dog, you know, so I give the dog portraits a little more leniency.
Do you ever have any that are damaged when shipped? Because we’ve heard that can be an issue when shipping.
No, I got it down. I go to U-Haul and buy those mirror boxes with those corners. You just have to reinforce it with some really tough wood or plastic. The only thing that’ll happen to it is if literally a pole goes through it.
But that’s why I don’t like to do the big ones ’cause the big ones cost a lot of money to ship. I did one that cost more to ship than I charged them.
Have you actually flown out to do someone’s painting?
Yeah, yeah, I did one in Miami and I’m doing another one this year. This woman wants a portrait and I said I’ll be out there, I’ll just do it when I’m there, it’ll save you 500 bucks. Then she said, I’ll just give that to you. So it works out.
When you do that, how do you handle other expenses like lodging?
I usually try to piggyback it. I’m not to that point where they’ll pay me for everything so I’ll usually try to piggyback it on the backside of going to Basel or something like that.
What are your biggest challenges or hurdles?
I’d say the clerical work, the administrative stuff. Sometimes if it keeps going back and forth too much and I’ll just throw my hands in the air and say, I give up! [Laughter]
And I think some of the problem we have here in Denver is other people trying to bid on walls, getting the real estate. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass.
How about biggest successes?
Jobs when they’re in cool places and they give you the freedom to do what you want to do.
This last year I got a thing for the Burton U.S. Open up in Vail and it was during me and my wife’s anniversary. They paid for my lodging, which was right on the mountain, and it had to be 500 bucks a night. And then they gave me 4,000 bucks and I painted a 10’ x 10’ under a shelter right under the ramps.
Just super chill, fun, good energy jobs like that, those are the best. When the client is cool and not stingy. They just want to take care of you and get the best art out of you as possible. That’s always the best job for sure.
Is there any one thing that you try to do every day?
I try to draw on my Procreate every day or paint every day at least something. Even if it’s just a doodle or something like that. I don’t always do that but I try to.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Just to keep this ball rolling that I got going now and have it get easier.
I feel like I’m in a good space now but if I can do this all the time and not have to hustle as much, try to just be totally free and solo, not have to rely on the billboard industry to pay my bills, that’d be the pinnacle, I think.
What’s your ideal mix? Would you like to be full time with your own stuff or would you like to keep some of that commercial work?
It’s a tough one, ‘cause top of my head I would like to just be my own artist all the time. But I do have a love for that job and I have a lot of good friends that still do it that I like to be around, you know what I mean? So I still want to keep a little bit of it but I don’t want to rely on it for all my money.
Any advice for other artists?
Don’t give up. Hone your skills. Just keep getting better.
Interview edited for length, content and clarity. Artist’s work (images, audio and/or video) courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted. All other photographs by Kim Olson.
- Art Basel, Miami — art fair
- Brigitte Bardot — actor + singer
- Burton US Open in Vail
- Bushwick Collective — street art gallery in Brooklyn, NY
- Colossal Media — outdoor, hand-painted advertising murals
- Crush Walls Art Festival — Denver mural event
- Frank Frazetta — fantasy + science-fiction comic book artist
- The Jacquard Hotel & Rooftop Mural in Denver
- Mr. June — muralist + painter
- RAW Art Works — youth arts organization
- Robin Munro — muralist + painter
- Thomas “Detour” Evans — muralist + painter
- Tribal Streetwear
- Tristan McGregor — muralist + painter
List of tools + resources Patrick uses:
- Apple iPad*
- Procreate – digital illustration app available for iPad
- Quickbooks – Accounting + invoicing
*ArtisticAllies.com is free resource we love creating, but one way to help us keep the site going is to use links on this Resources page if you need to buy something. Links with an asterisk denote referral programs we belong to, which means if you use the link to buy something you need, your price is either the same (or cheaper) and it’s a no-cost way for you to support the site as we may earn a referral for purchases. We really appreciate it + thank you! : )