From doodles to logos to murals, David Mercer is putting his creativity on display.
If you look closely while exploring Topsail Island, you’ll undoubtedly spot some of David Mercer’s artwork on display.
What started out as a hobby to help bring in a few extra dollars is fast becoming a serious side hustle. While most of Mercer’s time is spent working at his family’s business, General Rental, with its two locations in Holly Ridge and Jacksonville, he spends his off hours creating custom artwork for clients.
As a young kid growing up in Jacksonville, Mercer says he “doodled everywhere,” and his parents provided notepads to deter him from drawing on the walls of their home. He now gets paid to paint murals on the walls of various businesses and town structures.
Mercer never planned to become an artist. He attended East Carolina University and didn’t pursue any formal art training. Instead, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geology.
Over the years, he continued to dabble in different art media — acrylics, aerosols, spray paint and digital software.
“As my day job got busier, I had to put up the paints and fit in artwork where I could,” he explains. “The digital stuff — using an iPad and Apple pencil — has improved my flow and opened up new doors.”
Mercer believes that his style is just now becoming recognizable but is still evolving.
“I’m always trying to figure out what I like to do,” he says.
Approximately 10 years ago, Mercer and a friend who owned a boutique in Wilmington developed a recurring art show.
“We hit it pretty heavy for a little bit,” he reflects, and while he considered the shows fun to do, they also took up a lot of his time. Eventually, he bowed out. But he never stopped talking about his artwork, and before long, the customers who came into General Rental began asking Mercer if he could help them revamp their branding.
“I said I could try to help with logos; let me doodle something up. And then it just took off from there,” Mercer says.
He values the organic growth his artwork has experienced both on and off the island, and he enjoys the work. Yet as a recently married man with a new baby at home, his time is more limited now than ever, making him more selective about the projects he takes on.
In 2020 a business owner approached Mercer about painting a mural at his restaurant, and he said yes. The owner was so pleased with the end result that he came back to Mercer, requesting three murals for his Surf City hotel-turned-Airbnb studios, Key West. This time, Mercer was given creative license for their design.
“Anytime I hear Key West, I think of the chickens,” Mercer says, smiling. “It took a little convincing for him to get on board with my idea of painting chickens on the sides of his building. But in the end, he let me paint three chickens up there. It was a blast; by far the most fun I’ve had yet.”
The digital art process began by uploading a picture of the building to his software. Mercer then sketched out his design directly on top of it, and once that was complete, he went to the wall and “hoped it would go up the same way I had put it on the computer.” It did.
On January 15, 2023, Mercer will begin work on a new mural, this time for the Town of Surf City. He estimates that it will take approximately a month to complete the 40’ x 9’ project on the pump station near the town’s water tower.
“It will be the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” he says. Although unable to go into detail about the design — he doesn’t want to ruin the planned unveiling ceremony — he does describe it as “a very artfully done colorful craziness” that you’ll be able to see from far away.
The project was supposed to have occurred in September of 2022 but was postponed due to water tower repairs taking place at that time. Now the completion of the project will largely depend on the weather this winter as cold temperatures will impact both his movement and how fast the paint comes out of the cans.
“It will be a challenge,” Mercer admits, “but I hope the exposure from the new Town of Surf City mural will open up more opportunities to do even larger art projects.”
When asked what he hopes to evoke in people as they look at his artwork, Mercer’s response is immediate: “Laughter. At the very least, I hope somebody looks at it and smiles a little bit; that they dig it.”
Unlike the reverence paid to masterpieces of old, Mercer hopes no one takes his artwork too seriously, especially since he doesn’t take himself too seriously. “I want people to know that I had as much fun conceptualizing it as I did painting it. I do it for fun.”
He particularly enjoys hiding at least one element in each piece of art.
“I joke that on my deathbed, I might reveal a key of what I’ve hidden and where,” he says with a chuckle. “But honestly, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve hidden in my paintings.”
At this writing, Mercer was busy developing a series of one-of-a-kind paintings for the upcoming Locals Art Gallery & Wine Bar opening in 2023 in Surf City, which has selected him as a featured artist.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait until then to view and purchase his artwork. Be sure to check out his current online gallery at davidmercerart.com and follow him on Instagram (@Davids_not_home).