Dave Santia, Speed Painter and Accidental Altruist
Dave Santia didn’t set out to become a philanthropist, it just happened by accident and he has “accidentally” donated over $600,000.00 to charities since his career took off.
American Snippets had the opportunity to speak with Dave, and he shared his story with us:
Art is not something Dave Santia chose to do. Rather, it chose him.
He’s been drawing and painting as long as he can remember, first burning through sketch pads his mother brought home, and now with custom made easels. He’d always known his life would involve art, and pondered careers in animation and illustration. Then he stumbled upon videos of Denny Dent performing speed painting to music, and knew he could teach himself that. So he did. “Frustrating,” is how Dave Santia described the initial process.
The paint sold at art stores was too thick to be flung on a canvas, and the commercial easels didn’t quite meet his needs – even though they spun. You see, Dave starts most of his pieces upside down. It is not until well into his performance that he spins the easel right side up, revealing the subject to those who have not yet discerned it.
For the non-artist, or maybe even to the artist, the upside down approach can seem unusual. For someone like me who barely manages to get more paint on a wall that I do on myself, asking me to paint upside down would produce the same look I get from my teenagers when I tell them they don’t need to spend so much time on their computers – “Huh?”
But to Dave Santia it just makes sense. He almost shrugs it off as inconsequential – just part of his process. “Like a child coloring in a coloring book,” he will paint upside down without even noticing because the image remains the same in his mind. He is simply filling it in. Okay, Dave Santia, if you say so. But I still think it adds an extra splash of cool.
Over time Dave solved his paint problem by using interior house paint and finding someone to build him custom easels. He videoed himself painting and watched the videos back to hone his technique. His early paintings, he says, were not quite high caliber. His first attempt at Michael Jackson is hiding somewhere in storage and I could almost hear him cringe over the phone as he described it to me. It looked more like the “Thriller” version of Michael Jackson than real life, he laughingly remembered. Back to practice he went.
Before long he was asked by a friend to perform at a charity event. His paintings were to be auctioned off. He openly admits he was not giddy with excitement about that event, but went anyway. And it changed his life.
Before he had time to realize what was happening, Dave Santia was in demand.
One request to perform came in. And another, and another. Dave’s calendar filled up so quickly he no longer had time to work with his family business. Without flinching, he took the leap and committed himself to painting full time. “It wasn’t a difficult decision,” he told me. “I wasn’t nervous. I had no choice but to leave the family business because speed painting took off and got so busy. It wasn’t my decision to make.”
With a talent he does not seem fully aware of, Dave paints in a variety of venues. From a quiet spot in the woods, to a studio, to a stage, he paints alone or in front of crowds. Sometimes the crowd is energetic and excited. Other times – not so much .He can feed off the energy of a crowd but never lets himself be distracted. Well, almost never.
Every now and then someone breaks through Dave’s zone and creates unintended audience participation. Like the occasions when inebriated attendees enthusiastically enter the spotlight on his tarp for a closer look. They can be inches from him but Dave becomes so immersed in his work he won’t know anyone is there unless they grab his shoulder, at which point he escorts them off stage.
Asked about his most memorable interruption, Dave Santia laughs as he recalls the time a toddler snuck up behind him. Once again fully absorbed in his work, he didn’t realize the tiny intruder until his six foot, nine inch frame was falling backwards, on top of the child. He was horrified, he remembers, and apologized as he returned the paint-drenched boy to his father.
Regardless of the venue, the experience is always fun for Dave. His live feed performances have become so popular he now offers weekly polls where fans can vote for that week’s painting subject. This began as an attempt to please his fans but has not exactly yielded the definitive answers he sought; a write in option allows fans to deviate from the offered options to cast an original vote, and he will often wind up with over two hundred different requests. Still, he firmly follows the majority decision and paints the subject with the most votes. The rest he files away as inspiration for future performances.
Today Dave Santia has a manager who keeps track of the requests and keeps Dave on schedule.
His paintings can be purchased through his website and his live performances can be caught on his Facebook page. To date, he has donated over six hundred thousand dollars to various charities and has no intention of stopping. Like his paintings are sometimes improvised, Dave’s altruism was, too. “It was an accident,” he says. “I didn’t plan on it….it just made me feel good so I stuck with it.” He notes that he does not always have the ability to grant each request, and he avoids political fundraisers. But he or his manager will respond to each request as time allows.
We love the way speed painter Dave Santia followed his own path to success, never wavering from what he knew was the right decision for himself. But what we really love – in addition to his art and performances – is the way he uses his gift to give back – whether through the charitable donations or simply inspiring others to do the same. Check out his work, and let him know how awesome he is!