Mural artist Eric Henn takes his talents to new Destin water tower
Most artist work on their craft in a studio or at home. But for Eric Henn, his craft has taken him to new heights -- about 200 feet high.
By now many folks have seen the rendering of a giant sea turtle and dolphin on the Destin Water Users water tower that reaches up to 169 feet in the air off Calhoun Avenue in Destin.
“We’re proud of the work he is doing,” said DWU General Manager Lockwood Wernet. “Hopefully it will be something the community will enjoy in the years to come.”
Wernet said instead of just putting a DWU logo on the tower, they decided to use it as a “canvas to bring joy.”
Henn, of Dayton, Ohio, is the guy up in the lift making the sea creatures come to life.
“It’s hard to make a living with art ... so there’s not a lot of people that like to hang in the air 200 feet, so I kind of got the niche,” Henn said.
Henn started doing murals when he was 19. He started out small doing motorcycle tanks and then surfboards. From there he graduated to a billboard and then eventually started doing larger scale murals and has been at it for 33 years.
“I got my first big break doing a big tank down in Texas,” he said.
Although it was marine life, he said he has done all types of murals, not just aquatic themes.
He painted the Emerald Coast water tower at the foot of the Brooks Bridge in Fort Walton Beach in 2012, plus he did another one in Destin with a beach scene with beach chairs.
“I just travel around the country doing water towers and storage tanks,” he said, noting most of his jobs come by word of mouth.
Henn started the Destin water tank off Calhoun on Feb. 17. He makes his own patterns and then puts them up using magnets and duck tape to get his outline.
“It’s pretty primitive how I do it,” Henn said. “I just basically need to know where the eyeball is and just some prominent features and then I go from there. I just need the basics.
“It kind of comes natural and I feel blessed that I can do a business that I love,” he added
However, working that high up in the air can be a bit dicey at times.
“I have close calls and mishaps,” he said.
While working on a tank in Texas he had to get down when he saw a tornado on the ground about 200 yards away. Plus he had lightning hit where he was perched on a tower in Kentucky.
“When I see a storm, I look at my phone to see what direction it is headed. I’m always safety conscious. Safety first or you’re not going to be there for your next job,” he said.
A couple of other safety precautions he takes is to make sure the lift is level and inspected and that he has a proper harness.
Then there are the natural elements such as the wind.
“You know the wind can be calm on the ground but 150 feet in the air it’s 20 mph and sometimes when they are calling for high winds, its even higher up there,” he said, noting he can’t really work when it’s 35 mph.
However, he said the weather in Destin has been good and the view “beautiful.”
As for the paint, he uses a special kind and the conditions have to be right or it will dry flat.
“You have to make sure the dew point and humidity is at the right level ... once you’ve got that, you’re good,” he said.
Henn, who has a couple of months yet to go on the project, said it will take about 50 to 60 gallons of paint to complete at $400 a gallon.
“I make sure I try not to waste a drop because it’s pricey,” he said.
Henn does all the painting with a brushes or rollers and has different techniques where he rolls colors into each other.
In the dolphin, he has used eight different colors of aqua switching between brushes.
“It’s just all learning throughout the years what works,” he said.
In addition to the turtle and dolphin, Henn has more planned for the tank. There will be other fish, the species he wouldn’t divulge, scenes from the ocean floor and a coral reef and some bottom fish.
Henn’s day starts around 8 or 9 each morning with the mixing of the paints before heading up in the lift.
“I try to go up and stay up there for most of the day. I bring snacks up there and everything. I just camp out up there until I’m done for the day,” he said, noting that’s usually around 6:30 or 7 p.m.
Henn has the perfect job during a time when most businesses are shut down due to the coronavirus.
“I’m pretty much isolated,” he said working 169 feet in the air. “Not to much of a difference for me work wise. I feel very fortunate that I can keep working.”