Paintings and Pick-me-ups

Local artist Erin Dobbins paints a mural on the side of Common Grounds’ taco truck in September 2012. Dobbins had to paint at night with a light over the truck to avoid the summer heat.
Courtesy Photo

By Holly Renner


Most people don’t decide what they want to do in life at age 3. For others, the course of their life is decided as soon as they pick up a pencil, put it to a piece of paper, and realize, in that instant, that being an artist is what they were meant to do.

“I’ve been an artist since I was 3. I remember sitting there, drawing Jessica Rabbit from Roger Rabbit saying, ‘I am an artist,’” Waco resident Erin Dobbins said, casually sipping her coffee. “From then on, I knew I was going to be an artist.”

At age 5, Dobbins’ parents discovered her advanced artistic abilities when they saw a perspective piece she drew that represented the objects exactly. “It freaked my mom out – she was shocked,” Dobbins said.

During middle school in Navarre, Fla., Dobbins found inspiration through her eighth-grade teacher and artist, Debra Chinery.

“She had this ability to articulate what was happening in paintings and in art in this really creative, fun, hilarious way,” Dobbins said. “It made me see that artists are not these rigorous, disciplined people, they got really excited about the past and future of art.”

Dobbins said seeing Chinery do artwork and hearing her encouragement as an artist made her want to continue to pursue that passion, which led to her art career. Dobbins said there was never a question whether art was her dream in high school.

After Dobbins graduated from Baylor in 2009, she illustrated Baylor’s children’s book, “B is for Baylor,” which was published and made available in Baylor’s bookstores and online in 2010.

Currently, Dobbins paints in her studio at the Croft Art Gallery located in downtown Waco. In May, she presented 23 pieces of her art at a show.

Dobbins’ latest artistic creation is the mural on Common Grounds’ new taco truck.

In August, Common Grounds owner Blake Batson asked Dobbins to paint the mural before the taco truck’s grand opening in September.

“I think my first reaction was laughing that I would be painting a taco truck,” Dobbins said. “It was just a really creative surface to paint on.”

“When he asked me to paint a mural that was depicting the essence of Waco and Baylor — and everything Waco is — it was funny because I wasn’t painting objective material at the time,” Dobbins said as she laughed. “I got really excited about it and saw the potential for illustration.”

As Dobbins began sketching ideas, she realized she wasn’t just illustrating the town — she was illustrating the true essence of Common Grounds.

Dobbins saw something more than just a newspaper, coffee cup and sketchbook.

“East of Eden,” the book on the far left of the truck, is Batson’s favorite book. Dobbins said the book is significant for her because it takes on the heart of Jesus, In the world, but not of the world.

Behind the book is a sketchpad with Dobbins’ drawing ideas for the mural.

She said despite the numerous ideas she had for the mural, her friends encouraged her to challenge herself artistically.

The half-filled coffee cup depicts a day in the life of a morning Common Grounds customer.

Next to the coffee cup is a Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper with the date Sept. 1, 2012, the day Batson became owner of Common Grounds. On the cover is Waco’s suspension bridge, which is a famous Waco symbol.

Once this vision was set, Dobbins began working in the blistering, mid-August heat with only red, blue, yellow and white paint — and a paintbrush — in hand.

“When I first started painting during the day, I realized I would die. Everyone at Common Grounds was both concerned and humored when I would walk inside pouring sweat with my red face, looking like a nasty person,” Dobbins said.

It wasn’t long before she realized the 105-degree weather would be impossible to bear. Dobbins decided to paint the mural at night with a light on top of the truck.

“The experience was a very sweaty one at the beginning,” Dobbins said. “When I would miss out on the night before andw had to paint the next day, I would drink lots of water and just bear it.”

Dobbins said people would stop and stare every night to see what she was doing.

“The first 20 days, people were really confused about what I was painting and would ask me,” Dobbins said. “I thought, ‘Am I really successful in this? Will it come out right?’”

She said watching the developmental process from everyone else’s perspective gave her incentive to finish so they could see the final product.

Through dedication, long summer nights and massive amounts of water, Dobbins completed the mural on Sept. 3.

“As an artist, where I’m going, I’m not sure,” she said. “I know that I’m in Waco in this season of life, and I’m so thankful and excited to see it grow with all the efforts being put forth.”