When he was a kid, Jake Knapp, now a design partner at Google Ventures (and occasional Co.Design contributor), used to paint murals on his bedroom walls, with the blessing of his mother, a high school English teacher. The two of them would also collaborate on elaborate art projects, and one day she brought home her overhead projector from school. Knapp realized that if he projected an image of his choosing onto his wall, he could paint more elaborate, precise murals by following the projection's lines.
It was the memories of making murals and doing art projects with his mother that inspired Knapp to start collaborating on paintings with his 10-year-old son, Luke. Knapp is a self-described art school dropout—he studied painting at University of Washington before leaving to do web design. Painting with Luke lets him revisit his old passion—but "it’s not so much about the paintings as it is about wanting to do a project together," Knapp tells Co.Design. The collaboration would be adorable regardless of their output, but the paintings just so happen to be pretty damn good. Now, the father-son duo’s paintings, featuring everything from Lego robots to blue whales to soft-serve ice cream cones, are on view in an intergenerational art show at Heartbaker, a San Francisco café.
Their technique is the same Knapp mastered as a kid painting murals in his bedroom. They project an image they choose together—Lego instructions that Luke likes, portraits of friends, airplanes ("Luke has an encyclopedic knowledge of airplanes," Knapp says)—then they essentially paint within the lines of that image onto a canvas, using latex house paint. "Luke does most of the foundation painting—the background, the first colors, then I do the final brushwork," Knapp says. Then they decide if it’s any good. "Luke has a good eye for that," Knapp says. "He’s brutally honest. He’ll be like, ‘Sorry dad, this doesn’t work.’"
Does Luke have any plans to become a designer or visual artist? "I might like to design airplanes," he says, "but before that I’d want to become a pilot." If his airplanes are as good as the Lego spacemen he paints, future fliers will be in good hands.