Christopher Tower of Upper Yoder Township is an artist who makes his mark by drawing in a stream of consciousness.
He labels his work a surrealistic cartoon style similar to the work of fellow surrealist Salvador Dali.
Tower’s work is on display through March 22 at Bottle Works, 411 Third Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johns- town.
“The Tower of Dabble” is a collaboration with fellow Allied Artists of Johnstown member Duane Webb, who does caricature art.
Tower has 16 pieces that he framed himself in the show.
He estimated his works in the show date from 2011 to January.
“I work with brush pens, which are fancy markers, and use Bristol paper,” Tower said. “I took a class in framing. I start off a project in pen, using broad lines to get a general shape. It turns out different in the end than what I saw in my mind.”
He compared his artistic style to a puzzle, saying he has to let a piece sit when he can’t think of where to go with it.
Tower, 41, has always liked to draw, starting out copying characters from Dr. Seuss books and Mickey Mouse.
Originally from North East, near Erie, he credits his Aunt Carol with giving him a toy drafting set so he could graduate to designing cars and spaceships.
Tower attended college at Penn State, where he majored in English and doodled in class.
“I drew off and on in college,” he said. “Art has always been my dream.”
Tower also served in the National Guard for eight years, from 1991 to 1999, in Pennsylvania and Oregon.
He worked in a combat unit with wire-guided TOW missiles, which are anti-tank weapons.
Tower attended Officer Candidate School in Oregon and was commissioned an officer.
The summer after he was finished with the National Guard, Tower was doing seasonal work on a passenger train in Alaska, spending his off-time mountain biking or painting in the style of abstract impressionism done by Jackson Pollock.
He then came back to Erie to work in the machine shops for eight years because he missed his family.
Tower also worked as a supervisor at a customer service call center in Erie before taking tests to qualify for a state job.
He worked for the Pennsylvania State Department of Vital Records from 2011 to 2012, when he moved to Johnstown, where he has worked for the state in social services for three years.
“Now I’m doing the job I wanted to do, helping people,” Tower said.
He has spent most of his free time drawing since 2007, and his Johnstown exhibit is not the first time his art has been displayed.
His work was one of 600 submissions in a spring show at the Erie Art Museum last year and was one of 90 entries that were accepted.
Tower also participated in an exhibit at the Erie Art Museum in 2011 and showed his art at an Erie microbrewery that featured artists and musicians.
In addition to being a member of Allied Artists, Tower is a member of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Artists Association and participated in four exhibits with them.
He is collaborating with a fellow artist from Erie drawing on wood, a medium he has never worked with before.
When not drawing, Tower enjoys hiking in state parks and finding images in the clouds.
“On some level, I think that transfers to my art,” he said. “I love Laurel Ridge State Park, it’s so peaceful, and Stackhouse Park. I like walking in the neighborhood. The outdoors are beautiful here.”
Tower also spends time watching favorite shows on Netflix, taking trips home to Erie and writing the newsletter for Allied Artists, where he serves as vice president.
A fan of the outlaw country music of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Tower said his current favorite band is the country rock of Lucero.
“I think it has a big influence on what I do,” Tower said. “It affects my art. I always play music when I draw.”
Tower has his own studio set up at home with a drafting table, framing table and hundreds of drawings he needs to find a better place to store.
He said he is more likely to start a new project on a weekend morning when he can work for one to two hours uninterrupted than when he comes home from work.
Once a drawing is started, Tower can relax with it after work to get it completed.
“When I draw, if I like certain aspects, I can take a general idea and redo it a second time,” Tower said. “The longer you look at one of my drawings, you see more, something new. There is a lot of detail. I try to end up balanced, which feels good. The more colors you have, the harder it is to balance. I always say I draw what I draw.”
Many of Tower’s creations end up as family presents, and he also has donated some of his pieces.
Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.