Late in life, Bacliff artist discovers talent for painting sea life
Bacliff artist Daniel Leggett can turn a fence, garage door or porch ceiling into a nautical wonderland with the creative strokes of his paint brush.
Leggett, who late in life came to appreciate his artistic talent, has been commissioned to paint whimsical underwater scenes around pools, inside porches, covering garage doors and across the ceilings of indoor and outdoor living spaces. He has never been happier, he said.
“I didn’t expect this to be so popular,” Leggett, 55, said. “But I am starting to be able to make a living doing this.”
The murals feature birds, fish, sea turtles, plants and mermaids. Leggett consults with his clients, finds out what they want and puts together his ideas. He doesn’t, however, draw them on the mural — he just paints them. Leggett “sees” them in his mind and can transform that vision to his canvas, he said.
The process for the painting of the murals begins with his friend Mike Dame priming and painting the background and surface.
“I am not a painter,” Leggett said. “I don’t know about priming, or the different paints needed for different types of wood or concrete. So, I hire my friend Mike to prep the surfaces for me and then I do my artwork.”
Leggett hasn’t had formal art training, although he took two classes in high school, he said. But he always enjoyed drawing and signed his papers in school with a graphic of comic strip character Snoopy.
He met some artists when he moved to Texas in 2003 and learned from them, he said.
“I hung around artists and started watching how they did things,” he said. “I learned a lot, but I still had to get better and I kept practicing. I taught myself how to draw a person’s portrait by looking at them or off a photo.”
His introduction to selling art came less than two years ago when he began picking up driftwood near his home and painting the pieces with nature and nautical scenes. He set up a tent on a busy street corner in Bacliff and started selling to passersby. Someone from Maas Nursery in Seabrook saw his work and invited him to the nursery’s annual open house. His work was quite a hit and he received invitations to sell at the Elks Lodge celebration of the Blessing of the Fleet in Kemah, at Soulfreak Studio Café in the Clear Lake area, at an art festival in Jamaica Beach and ArtWalk in Galveston. He erects a Texas-flag tent and hangs pieces of driftwood, siding, paneling or anything with a smooth surface that will hold paint.
These small sales led to requests for larger pieces — fences, garage doors, porch walls and ceilings.
The ceilings are interesting. Looking up at them, you see the underside of the turtles, the belly of the dolphin and underneath the waves. Leggett paints while standing on a ladder, reaching up to the ceiling, which is about 8 or 9 feet high.
“I had to rethink everything because looking up is like walking through an aquarium,” he said.
Because of previous injuries, he can only paint in this position for a short period of time, he said.
Leggett acknowledged he has endured several setbacks in his life, but he has put them behind him. He hurt his leg at work as a corrections officer in Louisiana. He fell from a horse and then became dependent on pain pills, he said. He later hurt his back and was hospitalized and diagnosed with a neurological condition that made him “see things,” he said. Rather than dwell on it, he used his disability to his benefit, he said.
“I discovered that when I paint, I can look at what I want to paint, think about it and I can actually see it on the surface I am painting.” he said. “Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. But I am learning how to use it to my advantage.”
After the background is primed and prepared, Leggett blends the colors to make a sky or clouds or the ocean. He uses acrylics for these details. He paints the fish, sea life, turtles and creatures as close to their actual images with details and elements unique to those creatures. Once the artwork is completed, he seals it with an oil-base clear coat that won’t yellow over time and “will last forever,” he said.
“It will last until you paint over it or the house falls down,” he said.
He loves painting mermaids, and this is when his experience as a portrait painter comes in handy.
“I paint the client’s face on the mermaid,” he said. “Recently I did one of the homeowner and her friend. They loved it.”