Don Breeden’s success in advertising and marketing has a lot to do with his lifelong passion for art.
“That’s how I make my living,” Breeden said. “I am an artist and I used it to sort of lead into advertising. And I still do. I get a lot of clients off of it. I mix the commercial aspect with the fine arts aspect.”
Breeden spent much of his youth outdoors hunting and fishing, activities that still inspire many of the paintings he creates and sells today. But finding his way as a young artist was not always easy, and he is quick to credit his teachers.
“I was not very good at it,” he said about his childhood efforts. “But I think there were teachers that always encouraged me to do stuff. But it really wasn’t until I got into college that I was able to get some instruction and help myself along. Most people are under the misconception that they don’t have any talent for art. You are never born an artist. They never equate the fact that somebody has got to teach you.”
Breeden paints for a few hours every morning from a small home studio, balancing his art with his responsibilities as a partner in the Brownsville advertising and marketing firm Breeden McCumber.
A stickler for detail, Breeden paints realistic scenes depicting Rio Grande Valley wildlife inspired by his own experiences. “When I do hunting and fishing scenes, I have seen it,” he said. “I have been there and I have done it. I think people who follow my work like it because I am fairly accurate in everything I do.”
Achieving that attention to detail requires keen observation in the wild, and in some cases a lot of research. When a commission from a bank in the early 1990s came to Breeden to paint some of Brownsville’s most historic buildings, his mission became to learn everything he could about his subjects before ever starting to sketch what would become some of his most popular pieces.
“I started studying and reading up about it and finding out about all the old buildings that had been torn down, and the ones that still existed,” he said. “I researched the heck out of those buildings and I would talk to a lot of historians about what building was where and when.”
The historical photographs of Robert Runyon became an important resource. Breeden learned about buildings long torn down, or how others looked in the early 1900s. The photos also captured daily life in old Brownsville that provided context for the paintings.
“I just started studying more and more, and from that original 15 or so that I did for the bank, I probably have over 60, 70 different historical sites that I have done. I have done a whole lot of projects with historic significance.”
When the pavilion at Brownsville’s Dean Porter Park was renovated, Breeden created a mural depicting the city’s path through history. “I remember sitting down with historians and getting the timeline down,” he said. “That took me a good six months to a year to research that enough to get it down. Then I actually painted it and they transferred it onto tile for the pavilion.”
He also worked with TxDot to design wildlife and historical reliefs. These adorn the sides of overpasses on the Brownsville expressway.
More recently, Breeden designed a mural telling the history of the Port of Brownsville, which is on display in the new administration building dedicated last year.
And his name is in close association with Charro Days, whose festival posters have been his creation for more than 20 years. And, again, history plays an important role in the subjects he chooses. “Everything has a story to it,” Breeden said. “Just about every one of the posters has got some sort of background or story.”
For a number of years, Breeden ran an art gallery in addition to his work with Breeden McCumber. He displayed and sold his art there, did framing for customers and taught art classes to children.
“Little kids up to about 8 or 9 just draw like crazy and color,” he said. “And it was a good experience for me because it really opened up for me how people look at art. I would tell the kids, ‘You can’t do anything wrong with art, you just do it.’”
Breeden said he eventually closed the gallery because it became too difficult to manage that as well as keep up with his work at the advertising firm. Today, he sells his art primarily online. He also travels to big art exhibitions in places like Rockport, and sets up his wares at hunting and fishing expos around the state.
As he completes new art projects, some are sold as originals and others are printed in limited editions and sold on his website. “If I have a limited edition, pretty much when I have gone through the edition I don’t offer those for sale anymore. I don’t reprint them. Like the one I did of the old Fort Brown, it was rather extensive and detailed showing the mobilization of the troops in front of the fort, and that one sold out really quick.”
Breeden’s art has a more whimsical side as well. He created a series of jalapeno characters wearing sombreros, serapes and other border garb. Breeden would post them on his Facebook page and his followers would name them.
He also painted a series of animals with bright folk art colors and symbols associated with Dia de los Muertos. “That was just sort of a joke but it was fun to do,” he said. “It was all animals basically, so I wanted to bring that wildlife aspect into it. So instead of just doing skulls and everything I did all types of animals.”