Editor's note: This story was written as a part of the Observer's Explorer Post program, which gives high school students the chance to learn about journalism.
If you walk into any home on Woodland Street in Davidson, there’s a good chance you’ll find a portrait done by David Wilgus displayed on the wall. His colored pencil portraits depict the subject’s smiling faces in so much detail that at first glance, it appears to be a photograph. However, Wilgus’ incredibly realistic portraits are just one of his many achievements. His artistic talents have been highlighted in jobs ranging from illustrating children’s books to creating graphic designs for the first Disney cruise ship to working for major companies such as Delta Airlines, Playboy and Texaco. As a teenager, Wilgus was more interested in sports than art, but after a car accident that damaged his thumb, preventing him from being able to pitch, he decided to take up drawing. After attending school at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio – where he’s originally from – he found himself working in retail advertising, a career that lasted 18 years. He made designs for many different department stores while traveling around the country and working with photographers.
Wilgus left retail advertising for a career that focused less on business. He found himself designing for Nintendo, the Charlotte Hornets, and his favorite, Disney cruises. He couldn’t believe that he was now designing the characters he had watched on TV as a child.
In between jobs, Wilgus drew portraits of his children for fun in his home art studio. This was a hobby that eventually turned into part of his career after people started wanting portraits for themselves.
“My job is doing something that I was doing for fun anyways, so I guess that’s a pretty good job,” Wilgus says. Out of all the projects he’s done throughout his career, he feels that the portraits are his biggest accomplishment. This is because the work he does for advertising goes away in a few weeks, while the portraits go into a family’s home and get passed on through generations. “Even though there’s only a few people involved, I think it has more meaning,” he says.
Davidson resident Phillis Cardwell agrees. She has had two of her children’s portraits done by Wilgus.
“They’re so alike to the kids, and he captures the fine details that sometimes I didn’t even see,” she says about the portraits.
Wilgus’ artistic career inspired his son Drew, who is now an architect. Drew Wilgus says that both his parents encouraged creativity in his life and credits his dad for “planting the architect seed.” He admires his dad’s work. “The vast majority of imagery produced in architecture firms these days is computer based, and so when I look at his work I am reminded of how evocative his illustrations can be,” he said.
Wilgus’ advice to aspiring artists is that since there is so much computer illustration now, it’s important to learn to draw first in order to know what looks right. He is currently still working on portraits and loves his job.