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Dogs, The Grateful Dead, Murals—What can’t Will Munford paint?

Artist Will Munford relaxes in his studio with two of his furry models/companions. Will Munford photo.

Every artist experiences a pivotal turning point in their career. It’s a moment that shows them to keep fighting the good fight, and that the things they create have meaning and value. For artist Will Munford, he never expected that source of confidence to come from an Adirondack chair. You know, those lounge chairs you can buy at Home Depot for relaxing on the porch with iced tea? Munford was asked to use one as a canvas, as part of a local fundraiser for the new senior living center in Jackson, Wyoming. Elated by the challenge, he grabbed his acrylic paints and transformed an everyday chair into something stunning. The final scene is a cutthroat trout animated with splotches of bright color that’s weaved its way through the wooden slats. 

Munford's finished Adirondack chair. It almost feels wrong to lounge on such a beautiful work of art. Will Munford art.

His painting feels ready to leap from the frame and bite the fisherman’s lure. The finished chair was presented at an auction and buyers had the opportunity to either bid for it or buy it right away for $10,000. Two minutes into the bidding process, a buyer put down the full price. When Munford heard this, he was floored. At this point, he was trying to be a full-time artist but struggled with the looming uncertainty of whether he could make it something viable. This was a sign that he could.

RELATED: From Armada Skis to Fine Art, Joseph Toney’s Artistic Evolution

Moving forward, Munford has kept himself busy with more than just chairs, although he’s painted a few more of those! Most recently he collaborated with us to create our latest Grateful Dead t-shirt design. It’s a cheeky take on iconic Jackson and Deadhead culture that we’re sure you’ll love. More and more his art is leaving its mark within the Jackson community and beyond. Whether it's a giant mural in one of our favorite restaurants—Basecamp—or portraits of beloved pets, Munford seems eager to create as much as possible. We caught up with the artist to hear more about his breakthrough year, and what he’s been up to as of late:

Munford designed our newest Grateful Dead-inspired tee. This shirt is hotter than fresh Corbet's waffles, so get it before it sells out!

Purchase the "Corbet's Station" Tee Here

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

WM: I am a Jackson, Wyoming based artist and I’ve been out here since 2014. I’m originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and also went to school in Charlottesville—so I’ve basically lived my whole life in Virginia. Following graduation, I couldn’t wait to get out to the Wild West. I actually moved to Wyoming a day after I got my diploma. My degree was in architecture design, and college was pretty stressful and intensive. I wanted to give myself a breather before jumping into an architecture “desk job”, so I ended up working at a ranch in southeastern Wyoming. When I made my way to Jackson I got my footing in the food industry so I could spend my free time hiking, skiing, and learn things I wasn’t able to do in Virginia.

As you were getting settled into life in Jackson, were you making art as well?

WM: Yeah, eventually I picked up art again. I was working for the Fine Dining Restaurant group at the time, and I would make these chalk drawings on the walls of the Bodega, which is a grocery/convenience store. I was just doing these fun drawings to label different things in the store and it actually led to more opportunities with Fine Dining. Friends and co-workers kept encouraging me to sell my work, which I never really thought about. Prior to this, I didn’t believe that someone would ever want to buy my art. It was always just a hobby for me, and it was around then I started to realize that it could be something more.

I ended up getting a job at Teton Signs as a way to use my art and design experience. My work consisted of creating custom signs, and doing everything from hand painting to digital design. Then at the start of 2019, I made the decision to pursue my art full time after a friend reached out for a commission. They liked it so much that it gave me the confidence to dive fully into my artwork. I’ve been doing that since.

Congratulations! What are some highlights from your first year as a full-time artist?

WM: Thank you! It’s certainly a process with a long road. There have been a few milestones this year that have given me the confidence to keep at it. The biggest highlight was my involvement with the Sage Living Rocking Chair fundraiser for the new senior center at the St. Johns hospital. When I got the call that mine was the first one bought for $10,000, I just felt my world shift. It told me: You can do this. You can be a real artist—not just a hobbyist. Since then I kept painting Adirondack chairs and was able to raise $13,000 for the Sage Living Center.

Another exciting project was getting asked to do a few beer can labels for Smart Mouth Brewery in Norfolk, Virginia. They had me create two different Grateful Dead-inspired designs for limited edition cans they were releasing. I’m such a big Deadhead, so that felt pretty special. Plus, a beer can is probably the coolest place you could display your art. Maybe the second coolest would be skis—which I was lucky enough to do a ski design with Powwater and sego that year as well! They’ll be released for the 2020/2021 season. The top sheet was inspired by the power of water, which coincides with POW Water’s goal of supporting clean water projects.

Be sure to check out more of Will's work on his website.

One of Munford's beer can designs. Will Munford Art.

You also do a fair number of pet portraits. How did this come to be?

WM: It started with Christmas gifts for friends and family. I think it’s more meaningful to give a gift that’s handmade. Rather than something off Amazon. That eventually turned into people asking me to do portraits of their dogs. It became so consistent that every time I posted a picture of a dog, I would get a message from someone else wanting a commission. It became a regular source of income by accident, but it’s allowed me to be a full-time artist.

I love being able to honor people’s pets. I’m personally a huge dog freak too, so painting portraits of pups certainly feels fun. At the end of each portrait I do, I feel like I’m successful only if I have a sense of who that dog is by the time I’m finished. You can really get to know their personalities by painting them.

Can you tell me more about your collaboration with TGR?

WM: I’m so thankful for the art community here in Jackson, I’ve been able to do gigs I would have never imagined—like the Grateful Dead T-shirt collab and original painting with TGR. Brian Francis reached out and asked if I could paint something that blends Jackson Hole and the Grateful Dead. Those are my two favorite things, so I was thrilled. His idea was to mesh together Corbet’s Cabin with the artwork on the Terrapin Station album and he just let me run with it. The finished product infuses design elements from the album and my life here in Jackson—specifically skiing at JHMR.

TGR has done a great job of incorporating that culture into their apparel and branding. I think it’s the perfect fusion for this community.

Munford's design is the perfect blend of Jackson and Grateful Dead culture.

Why does the Grateful Dead resonate with you?

WM: The Grateful Dead embodies freedom, following your own path, and making sure you’re having a hell of a time doing it. There is a consistent theme of kindness and treating people the way you want to be treated. That’s how I like to live my life. I appreciate the lack of boundaries they promote. It’s a lifestyle and mindset of complete openness and allowing yourself to be who you are unabashed. Art gives me that same freedom.

Also, their music encourages this notion of going out and experiencing new things. I felt myself chasing after that lifestyle when I hit the road to move out to Jackson. Ever since I have picked this path it has led me to some pretty cool things. Sometimes when I question my lifestyle—especially choosing an unconventional path like becoming an artist—I like to listen to the Dead. It reminds me why these things matter and that I’m doing the things I should be doing. Life is too short to spend time doing things you don’t care about, so if I can keep doing projects like this I’ll be really content with my day to day work.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt the band to have one of the greatest guitar players on the planet too. But that’s just my opinion. [Laughs]

How do you balance your creative aspirations with the need to make money?

WM: I’m always wrestling with the duality of sufficient income versus freedom of expression. Right now, I think it’s extra important to commit to the kinds of projects that I want to be doing first. That means figuring out the income part afterward. I don’t have as much experience with business per se because in college I focused my studies on design and history. So a lot of this career has been learning on the fly. I’m finding to be successful you have to force yourself to talk to people and learn from other artists. Overall, it’s a work in progress, but I find it comforting knowing that it won’t stop being a work in progress. I can always find ways to improve my career.

On top of being an artist, I also teach varying media to kids ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade for the Art Association of Jackson Hole. The contagious creative energy the kids shamelessly release inspires me to do the same in my day-to-day life and my artwork. It is important for me to remember that you can be a kid your whole life if you open your mind to it. It’s a great daily goal to try and manifest.

Pet portaits are favorite of Munfords. Will Munford art.

One thing that’s pretty interesting about your work is there isn’t one cohesive style. You’re dabbling in all kinds of mediums and subject matters, which is rather playful. Why is this?

WM: Yeah, playful is a word I like to use when describing my art—which is also a common term people use to describe their skis. Sometimes I feel like I should narrow down my “style”, but I also find it refreshing to keep it as wild and unpredictable as possible. I work with my clients to figure out what they want and then I create that vision. There isn’t a particular medium I try to stick with. I mostly paint with acrylic paint, but I also enjoy drawing with chalk on walls. Now that I have an iPad I’m doing more things in the digital realm—which is really useful for beer cans, stickers, or t-shirts. I find variety exciting, and rather keep pursuing new ideas.

My background is originally in architecture, so I spent days drawing buildings and architectural renderings. I think that bleeds into my work, especially my watercolor paintings that have a layer of micron pen drawing. That’s a tool I used to use all the time in school.

Have you been busy with art projects during these strange COVID-19 times?

WM: The owner of Basecamp, a local restaurant in this renovated gas station, contacted me a little while ago asking me to do two murals for their bathrooms. They’re 3.5 feet by 4 feet, which is actually the biggest paintings I’ve ever done to date. I asked what he wanted, and all he said was, “something with foxes and wine.” So I ran with it and came up with this idea of using recognizable pop culture pieces of artworks—and giving them a twist. The first painting is “Drunkle Sam”, which is Uncle Sam but as a fox and he’s got knocked over liquor bottles, there’s a sloshies, and a wine bottle in his hand. I don’t know what it means...but I like it.

Drunkle Sam wants YOU to eat more Basecamp (we suggest their burgers). Will Munford Art.

The other one is called “Wilson Gothic”, which is a take with American Gothic. Instead of the American Midwest, we’ve got these two foxy characters outside of Basecamp holding a glass of wine. If anything, they’re just meant to make you giggle while you’re relieving yourself in the bathroom. There’s something about making someone’s bathroom experience better that is oddly exciting to me.

About The Author

stash member Katie Lozancich

TGR Staff Writer and photographer. Fond of bikes, pow, and dogs. Originally from Northern CA, home for me has ranged from the PNW to a teepee in Grand Teton National Park.

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This post is very relevant to me as I like artworks very much. Will Munford has great talent. I admire it. It is very much interesting to explore this site. Keep drawing. Hopes to see more of your works.  check this out