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Crotts' doodles on a page: A dream 'side hustle' job

Local artist Cody Crotts painted the new SoCo District mural in downtown Corinth.

Staff photo by Mark Boehler

By Rebecca Lewis

If Picasso had had scrap paper and cans of spray paint, he might have been the inspiration for young artist Cody Crotts.

Although the young man appreciates the classic artists, teen-aged Crotts found a unique influence from Kaws's (American artist Brian Donnelly) graffiti, which inspired him to think of art as more than doodles on a page.

When asked when he discovered his passion, the 24-year-old Crotts responded, "I cannot remember a time when I didn't love art. Even as a kindergartener, I constantly looked for paper to doodle on." He admited his desire to doodle wasn't something that disappeared as he got older.

Cody's mom, Ruth Anne Crotts, agreed, "Cody was always excited to get plain typing paper, boxes of crayons, colored pencils, and any and all office supplies. He never was a fan of coloring books because he always wanted to draw what he colored."

Like most parents, Ruth Anne and Johnny Crotts thought their son was the most talented child in the world, but it wasn't until Ruth Anne's client, the late elementary teacher, Kim Lake Green, saw Cody's art displayed in the salon and shared how impressed she was that a child in kindergarten had drawn the pictures that the proud mom realized Cody's talent might indeed be above average.

As a student at Alcorn Central, the young doodler took every art class offered, but when he became a teenager, he began to find inspiration in other mediums. One day he discovered some spray paint in his dad's barn and decided to go test his skill on the back of the building so no one could see. It was only when he ran out of room on the back and sides that he asked his dad's permission to paint the front.

"I would literally get off the bus and start painting, no matter how hot or cold it was. My dad had to take me to buy the spray paint because I was too young to buy it myself. He spent a fortune on my supplies."

During his senior year, his classmates entrusted the young artist to help create the backdrop and other set pieces for Senior Sounds. However, the Northrop Grumman employee stated that it wasn't until he was contacted by Alcorn Central's Beta Club sponsor four years ago that his "side hustle" career took off. "That was the first time I took one of my pencil and paper designs and painted it on a building. I was glad that I could give back to my alma mater during the Revive for $25 project, and it also gave my art some exposure."

The Alcorn County resident said there is something to be said about living in a small town because one of his biggest opportunities arose from an overheard conversation. According to Crotts, The Alliance had been meeting at Smith restaurant to discuss some beautification projects. When the waitress overheard them mention they needed to find an artist to paint a Coke mural, she recommended Cody, and it went from there.

Two Alcorn Central graduates were tapped for the mural project, and they only had two weekends to get it completed because The Alliance wanted it finished in time for the Coke 10K Race. Meaghan Thompson and Cody worked tirelessly and finished the painting to the delight of all in the downtown area.

Once again, the painter's talent was on display, which led Emily McGrath to approach Cody about another big project. She contacted him almost a year ago about a vision the SoCo shop keepers had for a destination mural. "I gave Cody a general direction to go in, and together we came up with what you see now. It has been a wonderful and exciting process. Cody is a master at his art."

It was in the spring the young entrepreneur realized he needed to find a workshop that would give him the space and inspiration to create. He recalled his visit to Joe McKewen Studio for senior portraits. "I remember being fascinated with the studio and knew that I wanted to find a space downtown one day so I could have room to create."

With the demand for his work growing and five more jobs lined up, he realized the need for his own storefront. One afternoon, he happened to see an empty building next to the former Waits building and called about it. "I looked at it one day, signed the lease the next, and FTC (Free to Create) was set in motion."

The 24-year-old businessman had found the perfect small space that will eventually provide a place for him to meet with clients to discuss their ideas before moving to his office area to create a digital design of their vision. "I take measurements and pictures of the buildings and use those to superimpose my design onto their location. That gives them the ability to see how it will look before I pick up my paint brush."

The in-demand artist said he has not advertised yet -- his business has come from referrals and social media. "Three years ago, if you had told me someone would pay for my art, I would have doubted you." He does admit he has no plan B. "I have to do something creative because I don't want to let my five-year-old self down."

When asked about his vision for the future, Cody's plans include a variety of creative outlets, including digital media. He also wants to challenge himself to move outside of his comfort zone, saying he wants every mural he paints to give him a chance to grow artistically.

The community-minded man would eventually like to establish an organization where he can give back to kids like him who think creatively. "I want to give them the space to develop their talents whatever they may be and to remind them that creative talent does not belong solely to artists."

The artist who was always excited to get blank paper has managed to doodle his way into his dream job and encourages others to follow their passion. As he shared, "Create the world that surrounds you, or someone else will."

(Rebecca Lewis is a freelance writer for the Daily Corinthian. She is a retired English teacher from Alcorn Central High School.)