Becoming Wise: Artist Ed Arnold Learns As He Goes

Ed Arnold went by his given name before he became Wise. We're not talking a literal name change here, but a transformation of a different sort. Arnold paints under this name because, as he says, "I find myself learning, or becoming Wise, from the paintings I do. I'll start with a drawing, and a story will come from it." Other times, the Huntington Beach native has a story in mind, illustrates it, and has a revelation of what it symbolizes. "It's almost like figuring out an equation," he tells us.

It all started with his love of comic books in grade school. Before Arnold ever experienced painting, he taught himself to draw by replicating characters like Spider-Man. His friends and family instantly recognized and encouraged his talents. Arnold took a break from art until midway through his high school career. It was around 1996 when he moved from HB to Washington state. His new high school offered a more advanced art program with more course options. He began painting, and later enrolled in Northwest College of Art & Design. He majored in Art & Design, focusing on portraiture using oil paints. After painting hundreds of portraits of friends' kids and other commissioned work, he graduated in 2003.  

Fast-forward to today, Arnold, who hasn't completely discarded oil painting, has taken to acrylic house paint. Its quick-dry element makes it accommodating to frequent changes, as he paints over his work several times while changing focus. Under the name Wise, he has created a cast of characters that appear frequently in his work.

"[The] idea of having the name was that it was a total shift in what I was doing as far as painting," says the soft-spoken 34-year-old. People knew him for portraiture, his oil painting skills partially publicized by his mom.  

His current, more surreal style and characters were inspired by cartoons he watched with his college roommates. "I have two main characters: One's my wife, and one's me," Arnold explains. There's a great deal of storytelling in his work, but he prefers not to explain it in full. He wants viewers to reach their own interpretations. Arnold's work is characterized by bright, uplifting paint hues, a street art-inspired cartoon style, and painting on found and upcycled wood. He also uses birds heavily in his work.

Ed Arnold (Photo by Allie Foley)

Arnold cranks out his gorgeous pieces in his detached home garage/studio in Long Beach. The space is organized chaos. Lots of trinkets to inspire creativity sit in the garage's small window above his desk. Every vibrant color of paint imaginable is neatly lined up on a shelf on the wall. Chill music plays, and Arnold's dog, Sully, checks in frequently. Of this space, Arnold says he feels pampered: "It's kind of like having your own clubhouse."

His creativity and painting have an outlet at his workplace as well. He works at AoSA, a print shop/coffee shop in the Huntington Harbour Mall. Arnold has been friends with owner Mike Hill since 1994. The company began as AoSA Image, printing large banners and displays for companies and surfboards. Arnold works as the head of production at AoSA Image. He explains, "It's more than a 9 to 5. Sometimes it's 7 a.m. to all hours." Recently, AoSA Coffee opened in the front of the print shop. Arnold's paintings hang for sale on the cafe walls, which is how we caught wind of his extraordinary talent.

As if Arnold isn't busy enough, he also features his art on seven skate decks by Riviera Skateboards in Costa Mesa. Additionally, he designed the trophies given out at Riviera's annual downhill competition on Catalina Island for the past few years. More skate deck collaborations are in the works. Arnold is currently creating a body of new work for the 56th Annual Catalina Festival of Art, which takes place September 19-21. His goals for the coming year are to be more prolific with his work, self-promote more consistently, and score more gallery shows. To that end, we'll give him a hand!

Follow Wise on Instagram and Facebook.

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