Captured by cartoons: Dave Shelton shares his sense of fun, love of art

March, 2017 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community

Dave 1By Mary Owen

Cartooning has always been an integral part of Dave Shelton’s life.

“I began drawing from the age of 5,” said the Gates artist. “I remember winning a poster contest in kindergarten and receiving 10 cents as a prize. I was the one in class the teacher asked to draw on the chalk board for special occasions.

“I was influenced by Archie comic books in my styling and content,” he continued. “I would make up my own characters and draw comic books on notebook paper. I always knew I would be an artist when I grew up.”

Shelton entered art school in Portland the summer following high school. He learned about different mediums – watercolor, oils, pen and ink. He attended two years and then became a sign painter through what he calls “a fluke of fate.”

“My first sign business was in Hillsboro in 1977,” said Shelton, who celebrates 40 years in the sign business this year. “I was 19 and knew very little about business. I tried to use drawings and cartoons in my sign designs. Over the years, I have painted some very challenging murals.”

One such project entailed painting full-sized scenes of buildings and people on the 30-foot cement walls of a warehouse own by John and Susan Davis of Stewart Stiles Trucking Co. Their warehouse houses their 120 custom and vintage automobile collection in Cornelius, Ore.

“The mural covers most of the interior walls from floor to ceiling and has 10 or more auto-related scenes, such as a drive-in movie theater, a Mobile gas station, and a hotel with the American Bandstand show filming Elvis live in the courtyard,” Shelton said.

Shelton has been the sign maker and artist for Oaks Amusement Park in Portland for more than 25 years, painting numerous murals and creating a colorful backdrop for families to play. In 2013, he painted a space-themed background on the walls of the bumper car building.

“The inspiration was The Jetsons TV show,” said Shelton, who owns White Water Signs & Graphics in Gates. He offers vinyl lettering, logos, cartoons, banners, truck/car decals, large format printing and T-shirt screen prints, and other design work.

Shelton’s signs can be seen on businesses throughout the Santiam Canyon and beyond, including Mehama Ace Hardware, Mountain Café in Mill City, The Hoop in Salem, Anthony Hall in Sublimity, and on vehicles such as Power GMC of Corvallis.

His customers give positive testament to his talents: “Dave is the most professional sign maker! I always know that he’s the one who did them because they always look great.” And “polite, professional and quick. Love the service!”

Signs may be Shelton’s bread and butter, but cartoons remain his passion.

“Cartoons are something everyone enjoys and gives a playful feeling to signs and advertising,” he said. “Not to mention the history cartoons play in politics as well as humor in general. You can convey so much information and emotion in a single drawing.”

In 1980, Shelton put his talents to work creating a cartoon strip called Bernie, loosely based on his life and loves. Stonewall Features Syndicate based in San Francisco picked up the strip, and Shelton drew four strips per month for almost 10 years.

“My cartoon was carried in a number of weekly and bi-monthly periodicals across the country,” he said. “It was a great experience, and helped me to hone my writing, drawing and inking skills to a professional level.”

Through Santiam Hearts to Arts, Shelton will teach basic cartooning in a two-hour class on two consecutive Saturdays, March 18 and 25, 10 a.m. to noon at the Canyon Arts Center in Mill City. Fee is $25.

“Dave enjoys working with all ages and welcomes families as well as individuals,” said Cheryl Gribskov, with Hearts to Arts.

Students are asked to bring a drawing tablet, pencil, felt-tip pen, eraser, and  photo to turn into a cartoon.

“I hope to foster a love of cartooning in my students and encourage more people to draw!” said Shelton.

To register or for more information, call Gribskov at 503-949-8071 or send an e-mail to

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