By Chris Easterly,
David Reed found his passion drawing cartoons in seventh grade.
“The only reason I got into art is because people encouraged me, plain and simple,” Reed said.
Reed, originally from Pennsylvania, kept drawing, and eventually graduated from The Art Institute of Atlanta in 1983 with a degree in visual communication.
His journey has taken him through 20 different schools, professional work in the graphics industry and a proposal for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
It was on a vacation to Destin, Florida, during a total eclipse of the sun, that he met his future wife, Natalie Lile, now a Frankfort attorney. She was pursuing a career in law. He was an artist. They didn’t seem a perfect match, but he was inspired by her ambition. “She really helped me learn a whole lot,” Reed said.
Reed followed Lile to Washington, D.C., where she studied at Georgetown University. They married and had two children, Emily and Kyle. Reed mostly raised the children for their first five years. “I cooked all the meals, I did a horrible job of cleaning the house,” he said. He taught his children sign language so they could communicate without crying.
Lile was from Frankfort, so after her graduation, they moved to Kentucky.
“I moved to Frankfort with an outlook that this could be a good place to raise my children, even though I was divorced,” he said. Reed stayed in Frankfort because of his children.
“I love telling stories,” Reed said, noting his lifelong fascination with visual storytelling. Storytellers tell stories wherever they are, and Reed soon found stories to tell in Kentucky. “When I first moved here, I went to the public school and asked if I could paint a mural for them.”
Reed painted murals at Collins Lane Elementary, Bondurant Middle School and Western Hills High School, where his children attended. He is a member of the Lexington Art League and has done shows of his paintings in Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Virginia and Louisville. Most recently, Reed is painting murals at Rebecca Ruth Candy for the store’s owner Charles Booe, a fellow local artist.
Reed has been working as an artist in Frankfort for 10 years now.
“I’m really glad that the arts community has welcomed me and been so nice,” he said. “I’m impressed with the other artists in the community. It’s a growing thing. It’s nice to see these efforts by other people.”
Reed paints local scenery in oils and murals in acrylics. His desire is to bring artistic flair to the Frankfort community. Noting certain drab downtown buildings, he said, “Why don’t we go ahead and paint flowers on it and backlight it and every night when you come into town it would be powerful?”
Reed has also found inspiration in the many bourbon distilleries throughout Kentucky. In the past two years, he has painted 12 local distilleries. He draws the image with a Sharpie for about 2-3 hours, then returns to his home studio and fills it in with oil paint. Because oil paint must dry at different stages, the whole process for each painting takes around 25 hours over a one month period.
“It was really a good idea to not get so caught up in creating the next great work of art, but to work on a project where each one was a piece of the puzzle,” he said.
Reed’s hope is to have the 12 paintings turned into U.S. postage stamps. In order to fund the project, he has applied online for the Creative Capital Award, a philanthropic venture that helps working artists realize their visions.
“Each painting has at least one little problem and in solving those problems I get more confident,” Reed said. “A problem is it’s looking too muddy, there’s not enough contrast. I like color. A lot of times instead of doing details, I’ll go ahead and capture my feeling of my painting not with details but with color.”
Reed credits his growing understanding of the principles of spirituality with a newfound artistic vigor. “Finally, at this point in my life, I realized that in order to be a really happy person I need to take care of the mind, body and spirit,” he said. “I feel better than ever and totally psyched about my kids being so terrific, and totally psyched that I’ve recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind.”
His daughter Emily performs in theater productions and has taught herself to play the ukulele. His son Kyle earned a scholarship to the math and science program at Morehead State University.
“Everything you learn in life you learn through modeling generally because until you see that it’s possible or that it can be done, you’re really hesitant to try new and different things,” Reed said. “So it’s really inspiring to know that other people have gone through the same problems as me. Alone we cannot survive and fear is our biggest enemy.”
Reed said he has found encouragement in collaboration. He enjoys being part of a creative team rather than claiming he achieved success on his own.
“The truth is you’ll go crazy with a thousand people around you if you don’t learn how to trust people, and I trust people have better ideas for my art than I even do,” he said. “So, I want to meet these people, I want to help out their projects, I want to grow myself.
“If I was gonna make a million dollars, I would’ve done so already. That’s not my goal. All we want is what’s best for our community.”