Arts & Culture

This artist found the perfect medium all over campus. His latest inspiration? The janitor

Artist draws tribute to ‘wonderful janitor’

Western Washington University artist Brandon Doak honors Jose Diokno Ono with dry erase board illustration. Video by Evan Abell, evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com
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Western Washington University artist Brandon Doak honors Jose Diokno Ono with dry erase board illustration. Video by Evan Abell, evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

His temporary masterpieces take hours to create, seconds to erase and make a lasting impression.

Brandon Doak, a sophomore at Western Washington University, is bringing a new medium to a century-old art form. Call it, Dry Erase Pointillism.

For more than a year, the 20-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, has been painstakingly mastering his craft on whiteboards around campus. Using the tip of dry erase markers, he creates patterns of dots to form his interpretations of landscapes, movie posters, album covers and superheroes.

The art quite frequently leaves students and other passersby in awe, not sure the dry erase images could really be what they are.

One of Doak’s biggest fans is Jose Diokno Ono, the popular 83-year-old janitor who works in Western’s Mathes Hall.

Ono came across Doak in January when he was outlining a piece on a dry erase board. The two struck up a friendship. Ono told him about growing up in the Philippines, overcoming poverty and finding happiness.

Ono took a picture of Doak at work and told him how much he appreciated the dry erase art he’d seen around campus the year before.

9 Hours it took for Brandon Doak to create the dry erase pointillism work he calls “The Janitor.”

As of Thursday, the men have not seen each other since. But, a few days later, while cleaning the residence hall, Ono came across the whiteboard and the completed 2-by-1.5-foot image exploding with color and depicting a path through some trees.

Scrawled across the top was a message: “For Jose Diokno Ono, our wonderful janitor.”

“I am so honored and I am happy he did this,” Ono said.

Doak called the piece “The Janitor” and says he chose the colors to represent Ono’s “spirit and happiness.”

“He is a really nice man and I really appreciate him,” Doak said.

Midnight Waterfront
“Midnight Waterfront” by Brandon Doak. Doak, 20, has made a name for himself at Western Washington University with his dry-erase pointillism art. His white board art takes hour to created and only seconds to erase. His art has adorned dozens of whiteboards on campus. Reece Budinich Courtesy

Ono has been more than a janitor to some students. A sign on his door says, “Custodian, grandpa away from home, friend and ally, counselor, reminder and helper.”

“I might talk to them (students) when I’m cleaning,” Ono said. “I want to share with them what I’ve learned. I love them all.”

Ono has watched as Doak’s artwork has evolved. “It is so meticulous,” Ono said.

It started last year, when Doak noticed doodles and political messages on whiteboards around campus. As an aspiring graphic design major, he loves to draw, so he decided to contribute.

His doodles slowly progressed into something more artistic. Then he took an art class where he studied pointillism, a neo-impressionist painting technique that uses tiny dots to create an image.

Brandon Doak said the pointillism technique he uses is the only way to blend colors with dry erase pens.

As he dabbled with pointillism, he soon discovered that it allowed him to blend colors with dry erase pens. The potential for his whiteboard art expanded.

A fan of Star Wars and superhero movies, many of the projects he posted around school depicted images from those popular genres. But he also created landscapes, some based on pictures he took on campus.

At first, he tried to remain anonymous. He loved to see the reactions when people saw his art for the first time. Groups huddled around the whiteboard, trying to determine if the art was really created with dry erase markers.

Often they’d touch the corner of the art and express their wonder as the ink smeared.

I shouldn’t complain, I mean, erase is in the name.”

WWU student Brandon Doak on people erasing his dry erase art

Some, weren’t so kind. Doak heard the story of a student who announced, “What if I do this?” and then ran his finger across the artwork. “It hurts,” Doak said. “It’s probably best that I don’t know who that person is.”

That’s not to say that he expects the art to last forever. Or even very long. Although, he says, “it sometimes seems like people are afraid to erase it.”

He sometimes accidentally erases parts of his art himself thanks to a misplaced hand. He stopped wearing a hat while he worked because he got too close several times and smudged the art with the bill.

Wonder Woman
“Wonder Woman” by Brandon Doak. Doak, 20, has made a name for himself at Western Washington University with his dry-erase pointillism art. His white board art takes hour to created and only seconds to erase. His art has adorned dozens of whiteboards on campus. Reece Budinich Courtesy

“I shouldn’t complain, I mean, erase is in the name,” Doak said.

Doak says the temporary nature of his dry erase art is part of its appeal and makes the art seem more valuable.

Maintaining his anonymity soon became impossible. The art takes hours to create. “The Janitor” took nine hours. Inevitably, people have stumbled across him while he worked. They stop to watch, maybe pull up a chair or strike up a conversation.

“It’s almost a performance piece,” Doak said.

Doak’s not sure what’s next. He sells photo prints on Etsy and displays them on Instagram (@rebel_whiteboardart). He likes the idea of someday attempting a mural-size project.

On Jan. 30, Doak applied to Western Washington University’s Department of Design. His portfolio includes several samples of his dry erase pointillism.

He hopes the professors are as impressed as the janitor.

“He is a special talent,” Ono said. “And he is friendly, courteous and humble.”

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