DMACC airbrush instructor paints a portrait of his career

Airbrush instructor Shawn Palek poses in Building 10 with some of his artwork.

Shawn Palek is a local airbrush artist of 33 years who has taught at DMACC for over two decades.  He has completed around 42,000 paintings since the beginning of his career, including everything from public murals and vehicles to portraits and specialized series.

“I’ve done almost 170 murals. I have had motorcycles on the covers of national magazines … I won at the Iowa State Fair so many times that they changed the rules because of me. And I’ve created several series that I’m really proud of, especially within the last couple of years,” Palek says.

His collection includes several series of portraits where Palek paints artists on objects which represent their respective media. He has an “Authors on Literature” series where portraits of literary authors are painted directly onto hardback book covers; his “Painters on Pallet” series depicts famous artists on wooden pallets. Palek also created the “Reel Portrait” collection of actors and directs on film reel canisters, the “Cast Iron Chef” series, and more recently his “Local Painters on Pallets” series.

The largest project Palek painted was a 7,000 square foot building for Skate North in Des Moines. The project took an entire summer to complete.

For the first 25 years of his career, he would accept every job that came his way. If he did not know how to paint something, he would teach himself.

As Palek has grown in recognition, he is now able to be more selective in the jobs he accepts.

He explains, “I don’t do t-shirts anymore. I probably get five to ten calls a week from people wanting me to paint t-shirts for them — and I just don’t do that … I don’t want to be known as a t-shirt artist anymore. I’d like to be taken seriously as a fine artist.”

For anyone hoping to become an artist, Palek advises, “You have to push yourself to get better. You have to practice. No one is going to do it for you. You have to put the time in and you have to make that commitment. You have to be dedicated to it.”

While teaching at DMACC does take time away from his painting, bringing the artwork he creates from on average 1,000-2,000 pieces a year down to around 500, Palek states that he still enjoys helping students learn how to create art. “I really enjoy teaching. I like the aspect of sharing my knowledge and watching people grow as artists and better their skills.”

Palek says some of his major artistic influences are H.R. Giger, Boris Vallejo, and Frank Frazetta.

Palek says, “I want to be infamous. I want my name to be on people’s lips for years after I’m dead.”

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