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Stroke of genius

Catonsville man has living his dream down to a fine art

Created date

September 22nd, 2014
artist sits at his desk in his home office

Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” But if you ask Bill Wilson, he would tell you the opposite is true. A lifelong artist, Bill is inspired by the people and places around him—inspiration that comes easily living at Charlestown. 

“I paint watercolors every day,” says Bill. “My apartment faces west, so I get a lot of great sunsets.” 

Bill uses the second bedroom in his apartment as his studio, where he often has five or six paintings going at the same time. But Bill also takes advantage of Charlestown’s scenic setting. 

“I’ve painted the chapel and different spots around campus. I’ve also painted events like the kite fly that was held here in the spring,” he says.

Bill moved to Charlestown 13 months ago from Knollview Court in Catonsville, where he lived for 35 years with his late wife Bonnie and had an in-house art gallery and studio. 

“We watched Charlestown grow,” says Bill. We knew a lot of people who lived here and talked about moving. After my wife passed away, I decided to take the burden off of my sons and move in myself.” 

Bill’s sons followed in their father’s footsteps with successful careers in art—Will, the eldest, is an award-winning painter based out of San Francisco, and Jeff is an active member of the Baltimore Watercolor Society and art director for a local advertising agency.

“I’m so proud of them both,” says Bill “They are terrific artists.  My wife and I encouraged both of them to pursue a career in art. To have them follow in my footsteps is the greatest joy of my life.” 

Comic relief

But painting isn’t Bill’s only passion. Shortly after moving to Charlestown, he became a regular contributor to the community’s in-house monthly newsletter, the Sunburst, with his original comic strip: Penny & Ed.

“Penny & Ed was inspired by someone I used to work with,” says Bill, part owner of Wilson & Peck, a Baltimore advertising agency that closed in the early 2000s. 

“One of our partners, Ed, would tell me these funny stories about his dog Penny,” says Bill. “I secretly began doing these drawings of the dog’s escapades. I did dozens of them, and one day, I assembled them and gave them to him as a gift. When I came to Charlestown, I had some ideas for a series of different comic strips, but after running one of the “Penny & Ed” comics, the response was so good I decided to stick with it.” 

Bill began drawing at a young age, duplicating many of his favorite comics.  

“When I was young, I wanted to be Walt Disney,” says Bill. “I would copy Popeye and Prince Valiant from the newspaper.  My mother used to introduce me to people and say, ‘This is Billy, my artist son.’ She would display my art in the dining room of our row home, and whenever someone stopped by the house, she would drag them in there and insist they look at my drawings.” 

After graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1947, Bill spent six years in the Navy during the Korean War and returned to study art at the Maryland Institute. In 1957, he took a job as an artist at the Baltimore News American, and he worked as a cartoonist for The Evening Sun in the 1980s.

Dream come true

“While I was the art director at Wilson & Peck, I saw that the cartoonist for the Sun paper had died,” says Bill. I called the paper and said, ‘I can do that.’ I ended up doing illustrations for the op-ed page until the paper went out of business in 1995.” 

Now nearly two decades later, Bill is still doing what he loves. 

“I’ve joined an art group here at Charlestown and sell my work during the art shows,” says Bill. “I also make giclee copies of my work, which are high-quality prints. I’ve found that people are more apt to buy a $50 print than a $2,000 painting. 

In addition to his artwork, Bill is currently writing a how-to book on watercolors and his life as an artist. 

“I love being an artist!” says Bill. “Being able to do what you love is a great way to make a living.”