Professor Ross Chowles Paints Faculty in a New Light

Ross Chowles, Professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences, Paints Portraits Displaying Faculty from ComArtSci

Creative advertising professor and ad industry guru Ross Chowles painted a collection of 16 portraits featuring fellow faculty members. His twist on the project? Painting on an unlikely canvas: wallpaper. 

Chowles coins himself as a portrait painter. Whether it be weddings, kids, or in this case, colleagues, he loves painting people. 

The exhibition will be on display Fall 2019 in the ComArtSci lobby area. 

Inspiration Behind the Series

Chowles knew he wanted to create a portrait series totaling a minimum of 16 portraits. His inspiration began with a painting entitled Nevermore by Paul Gauguin, a famous painter and a friend of Vincent Van Gogh. The piece of art features a beautifully painted wallpaper backdrop. Aware that painting wallpaper into his portraits would be highly time consuming, Chowles thought: “Why not paint directly onto wallpaper?”

After successfully testing the effects of oil paint on the wallpaper, Chowles sought out his portrait subjects. Fellow AD+PR professor Lou Shiavone was the first volunteer.

“I painted Lou, and then thought, okay, I can paint the people that I work with,” said Chowles. 

When asked how he went about choosing the 22 faculty members he painted, Chowles jokingly commented on his reasoning. 

“Some were chosen because they wanted to be painted in my series, some because I like them, or simply because they have a great face for a portrait.”

22 faculty members and a student assistant on the project were photographed for Chowles to paint on his own schedule, professor Karl Gude was one of them. 

“Ross captured my physical likeness, but also my inner brain, my spirit. Which is insane. That’s pure talent,” said Gude.  

Gude is comically depicted below wearing the exact outfit he was photographed in whilst holding his finished portrait by Chowles. 

Partaking in His Own Passion Project

The project in its entirety took just over a year. Chowles developed a system to finish the paintings in a timely manner, producing three per month. The process included buying wallpaper, obtaining board and mounting the paintings to dry, then tracing the three portraits and color blocking. Each weekend, he would pick one portrait and finish it. 

During the summer months, Ross conducts a class called “Passion Project.” 

“Apart from teaching advertising and design, I try to get the students to experiment with pure creativity. These Passion Projects are an example of a creative idea devoid of a brief or a purpose,” said Chowles.

While students conducted their own projects, Chowles was no passive onlooker, participating in his own class by painting his series. And just like it was for his students, the process was no walk in the park. A few troubles he ran into included only being able to purchase wallpaper online, painting over the unique textures and being mindful of his brushstrokes as to not unintentionally age his subjects on the textured wallpaper.

Chowles is a 36 year veteran of the advertising industry. Chowles is a founding partner of The Jupiter Drawing Room in Cape Town, South Africa, board member for The One Club for Creativity and is a Professor of Practice at Michigan State University. He loves teaching the advertising process and bringing real-world creative insight to the classroom. 

Explore the full series

By Brooke Fredrickson