Ruben Marcilla tries to make soda cans sweat, sandwiches look scrumptious and letters pop. He’s an artist. His canvas is an outfield fence. His palette is sometimes his car.
Marcilla’s paintings sit in a 7,000-seat gallery that’s open several evenings a week in the summer. Opening night is tonight - the Spokane Indians vs. the Yakima Bears.
“He’s kind of the man out here,” said Todd Doolittle, spokesman for the ball club. “He does a tremendous job.”
For the past six years, Marcilla has painted most of the signs, all of the 45 billboards and almost any lettering at Seafirst Stadium. Many billboards, he’s painted many times.
“It’s like you’ve got to be a bit of a philosopher to be a sign painter,” said Marcilla, as he brushed white paint onto a billboard. “Nothing’s permanent. Everything fades. That’s kind of like the story of life. The billboard of life is constantly being painted over.”
On Thursday, Marcilla stayed busy doing touch-ups to get ready for the first home game. It was crunch time. Marcilla still had skyboxes to fill in, “No smoking” signs to paint and banners to fix.
“This is kind of like the nervous time,” Marcilla said. “It doesn’t matter what I do, how soon I start, it comes down to the wire at the end.”
Marcilla wore white jeans splattered with a rainbow of paint. They matched his gold 1967 Chevrolet Bel Air, which serves as his carrying case for his paints, brushes and lunch. It’s also a ladder of sorts.
Marcilla stands on scaffolding perched on the dented car roof to reach the high signs. He mixes paint wherever he can. The underside of the trunk lid looks like scrambled eggs with a dash of sky.
“It’s kind of messy,” Marcilla said. “This is the end of the season.”
His season started in April. Since then, he’s worked every day. At night, Marcilla often strung an extension cord out to a projector that shot outlines of his designs onto the fence. Marcilla traced them in marker and pencil. He’d sometimes stay until 2 or 3 in the morning.
In the daytime, he painted in the designs, in bright pastel colors.
Up-close, the outlines are obvious, the painting sometimes sloppy. From far away, the paintings look good enough to drink, eat and drive.
“His signs are so precise and very realistic,” said Otto Klein, assistant general manager of the Indians. He liked Marcilla’s rendition of a sandwich. “It looks like you can eat it off the wall.”
Marcilla, 38, grew up in New York City and started painting commercially after high school. He married a woman from Arkansas whom he met in Idaho, and they moved to Little Rock, Ark. Six years ago, the couple and their three children moved to Spokane. Marcilla moved first, to find a job.
He started as one of the sign painters at the stadium and never left. He’s painted at least 400 signs there. Marcilla also paints the billboards for the Chiefs’ hockey team. In the off seasons, he paints odd jobs.
At the stadium this year, Marcilla painted about 30 billboards and 20 other banners, skyboxes and designs.
“It’s not nice to brag about yourself. But no brag, I do them fast,” Marcilla said.
Most signs and billboards nowadays are vinyl mass-produced prints, Marcilla lamented. He said he’s probably a member of the last generation of sign painters.
Yet in a field that’s dying, Marcilla’s making a living. He has no plans to leave the ballpark.
“I’ve been painting 20 years,” Marcilla said. “The oldest thing I have is this car, which I bought 10 years ago for $700. All the other money’s gone. But the talent lives on. That’s worth it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo