A local artist has lived a life that most would only see in the movies. Running away to the circus, traveling the country painting elaborate murals, Dave Letterfly has developed a enviable skill set. Now he’s training others.
Dave Letterfly has spent his life chasing his passions. It’s led him around the world and allowed him to develop a skill set most could only dream of possessing.
He’s spent the last several years offering an outlet for artists to learn his craft. At the start of each year, he
hosts a five-day workshop in Plant City that teaches everything from old school pinstriping to airbrushing and gold leaf. Each day is a new topic and attendees are welcome to sign up for their day of choice or for the entire week.
“My life has been full of twists and turns and I’ve been lucky enough to have had opportunities to learn so many different skills,” Letterfly said. “These workshops are for anyone, but I created them with young people in mind. They don’t have the situations available that I had to learn how to do this, how to create this type of art. I’m creating a place where they can benefit from my years of experience and get hands-on, detailed instruction on the craft.”
Prior years have seen attendees range in skill from complete amateurs who are merely interested in learning more and paint experts that wish to perfect a specific skill. Letterfly keeps his classes at around eight students to ensure it keeps the intimate ambiance that fosters creative growth. There are already students from as far away as Maryland and Indiana signed up for the upcoming class.
As great as Letterfly’s knowledge is, his colorful history adds an irreplaceable charm to the course.
“I’m an idea guy and one day I had a brilliant idea that I should join the circus,” Letterfly said. “I was young and I just took my set of drums and joined an old-fashioned big tent show. I was fascinated with the animal trainers and soon I took up horse training… the circus has some way of finding what you’re good at and using it.”
Soon Letterfly was adding painting and decor creation to his other duties under the big tent. With no formal training h,e was creating awe-inspiring sets that wowed the thousands of attendees.
Letterfly has been surrounded by art his entire life. His favorite memories revolve around waking up in the morning and hearing his mother — who was an opera singer — running through the scales. He started the day with a smile and by the time he was in kindergarten, his mother realized he had a talent for drawing far surpassing his peers.
Instead of coloring books, he was given sketch pads and by the time he was old enough to see out the window, he was recreating the world around him. Pinstriping became a passion and he’d slowly sketch out designs on his pad before eyeing his wagon and bicycle and recreating the design on their surfaces. His playmates were in awe and soon began requesting he jazz up their bikes, too.
“At the time I remember thinking, ‘Why can’t they just do it themselves?’” Letterfly said. “It never occurred to me that they didn’t have the skills to do it. I was just happy to help so anytime someone asked I was there. That’s part of what this workshop is about, teaching those skills to others who have similar passions.”
With a lifetime’s worth of experience, Letterfly has been able to have a successful career pursuing his passions. He’s mastered sign painting, pinstriping, airbrushing and even painting the elaborate backdrops that were so prevalent on RVs. When he tackled a new medium he didn’t stop until he mastered the skill.
Now he’s hoping to pass that knowledge on to the generations behind him.
“Not only are their fewer and fewer people that have these skills, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for younger generations to learn them,” Letterfly said. “Art is like everything else, to get better you have to kind of do it on a daily basis. The skills I teach, well they aren’t the kind of thing you can learn on Youtube or at the library. Hopefully, by the time the week is over they have the skills they need to go on and begin perfecting the craft in their own lives.”
A one day class is $225 and the week is $850. The syllabus for the course can be found on letterfly.com. It is a first come, first serve basis and spots are already beginning to fill. The classes will be held from Jan. 30 until Feb. 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Though he’s now in his 60s, Letterfly said there will never be a day when he is not creating. Of everything he’s accomplished over the years he said the highlight has undoubtedly been his love of people and the lives he’s been able to be a part of over the years.
“When you’re passionate about something, it means there’s some sort of reason, some sort of link between you and that passion,” Letterfly said. “It’s like finding out why you were born. There’s no explaining why you’re drawn to one thing over another. And it’s something you will never stop pursuing.”
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