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By Jennifer Mosbrucker
For The Sentinel 

Artist creates paint product

 

Jennifer Mosbrucker

INGENIOUS SOLUTION: Goldendale artist Felicia Gray holds her invention, Paint Plates, that she is now marketing nationwide.

Local veteran graphic artist Felicia Gray has been sharing her artistic talents with the Goldendale community for the past few decades, but her desire to pursue art professionally began as a child. "I was in kindergarten drawing a frog and I thought to myself, 'I want to be an artist for the rest of my life,'" she recalls.

Gray took as many art classes as she could through grade school, and was hired as a silk screen graphic artist her sophomore year of high school. When she began her college coursework after graduation, she took classes at Yakima Valley College before starting an 18-month graphic art program at Perry Technical Institute.

With her strong art background, coupled with the experience she gained in layout, design, and technique in silk screen printing, Gray's abilities exceeded the curriculum being taught in the classroom. "It was really hard to be taught. Pretty much all the instructors put me on my own independent study," says Gray.

Six months into the program, one of her instructors offered to place her in a job at Heath Northwest in Kirkland. In this position, she created sign designs and architectural renderings. The company eventually sent her to Seattle to learn a few more techniques, but just as before, she was told she could be teaching a course rather than participating in one.

The experience led her back home to Yakima where she started her own business and began teaching classes at Perry Technical Institute. Gray stayed in Yakima for five years until the opportunity to move to Seattle and become a visual merchandise designer for Display Products emerged.

Carving a new path

"You know nothing about me, and you don't know my qualifications, but I'll show you," said Gray to her new boss.

Starting at a base pay of about $12 an hour, Gray worked diligently to exhibit her qualification for her new job. As a visual merchandise designer, she created window displays for large companies.

"They would call me and say, 'Felicia, Neiman and Marcus needs 10,000 yards of this type of fabric.' Maybe they would give me a rock, or some pattern they found, and I would have to produce all the artwork and everything for their store to have it as fabric for displays. That was a lot of fun," says Gray.

By the time she left the company, Gray had worked her way to a $65 an hour salary and had won the top award for her visual merchandise skills, three times in a row.

"I won that award and it was like I topped out. I couldn't really go any further. I was single still, and then the good Lord put Scott back into my life," says Gray.

Transitioning to Goldendale

When Gray first came to Goldendale, she worked with Deb Clark to create a Christmas home tour for local artists. Then in 2003, Gray founded the Golden Art Gallery. The gallery was home to artwork of nearly 80 artists in its first year alone.

"We got people from all over the world here in Goldendale seeking out small galleries and art. I thought it was really successful, and they left on a good note," recalls Gray.

In 2008, Gray left the gallery and has since been teaching art classes and creating pieces of her own. Paint parties are one way Gray can teach art in a fun and stress- free environment. Often consisting of between 15 to 25 participants, the paint parties typically last two hours and feature a painting that the class will learn to create in a step-by-step process. It was from these paint parties that Gray developed a solution to a constant problem.

"I usually start early in the day, pulling things and getting ready for my paint parties. I'm putting a full day in, and afterwards I'm usually tired. I'm pooped! Then I would have to clean pallets, paint pallets, because I don't like using paper plates," says Gray. "I just thought, there's got to be something out there better than a paper plate."

The closest Gray could find to a quick solution was an egg carton. However, egg cartons are not water resistant. This proved to be a problem when mixing paints so Gray decided to create her own product.

The development of Paint Plates

For two years, Scott and Felicia Gray worked together with a company out east to create her paint pallets. The company did Market research and promised to help with the creation of the product, from start to finish. After spending over $13,000 with the company, the time limit on the patent was running out and the product had still not been created. The two decided to cut their ties with the company and began searching for a manufacturer close to home.

A company in Washington state was able to produce the pallets from 100 percent post-consumer pulp product and a water-resistant material. The pallets feature shallow wells along the outside, and two larger wells in the middle to hold key colors, water, or to blend colors.

"I think pretty much any teacher or art instructor can see the benefit of the plate," says Gray.

The Grays created two companies: a wholesaler named Toss Products LLC, and an ecommerce business named Paint Plates. They are selling plates in packs of 10, 25, or 100 pallets per pack on their website, tossproducts.com. The two hope the company will eventually bring jobs to the area as they grow.

Jennifer Mosbrucker

HOW IT'S DONE: Felicia Gray demonstrates the use of Paint Plates.

"One of my goals is to bring a business in Goldendale where we can hire people," said Gray. "I want to be able to work with kids [in Goldendale] with disabilities to have a career."

Toss Products held a launch party on Saturday. The launch celebrated the products beginnings by featuring a paint party. During the event, participants were able to test out the newly developed paint plates while learning to paint a landscape piece. Luckily, neither Felicia or Scott were left to clean pallets after the party.

"I jumped on it because I thought, 'Okay, there's so many times that I go out and I have inventions in my mind and five years later I see it,'" says Gray. "You have to jump when you get those ideas."

 

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