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His illustrations may have appeared on the editorial pages of several major newspapers and he may have briefly played his banjo with the rock band Weezer, but Woodside resident Johnny Coughlan never knows what he will take on next.
“It’s as if it just comes out of the sky,” said Coughlan, 41, a commercial artist who has played music at venues like Caroline’s on Broadway in Manhattan and Southpaw in Brooklyn’s Park Slope.
Coughlan, who was adopted at age 3 and grew up on 55th Street in Woodside, got his break in illustration much the same way.
After two years in the U.S. Marine Corps and about five years working at odd jobs along with the occasional art commission, he enrolled in the Parsons School of Design. After graduating, he gradually found work illustrating editorials for the New York Daily News, the New York Post and Newsday, among others.
But the commissions were not coming steadily, so Coughlan took odd jobs as a workman renovating commercial retail interior spaces. It was there that he met staff from designer Ralph Lauren’s retail operation, who liked his work and brought him on to contribute sketches and paintings to adorn their showrooms.
“One of the senior directors said to our group, ‘If you have something you think you can bring ... tell me about it,’” he said, noting he brought in some material a few days later. “The first thing she said is, ‘How’d you wind up here?’”
Coughlan said he was predisposed toward art at an early age, recalling an evening he spent doodling on the sidewalk with a piece of charcoal when he was around 11 years old at a block party in the Rockaways.
“People were taking notice, and then my little mural started getting bigger,” he said. “They wound up taking my hat off, passing it around and putting money in it.”
But while Coughlan nurtured his artistic and musical skills as a teenager, his ambition pointed him elsewhere. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17, spending two years in the service before deciding against making it a career. Coughlan does not regret his time in uniform, though, noting it helped prepare him for demanding and aimless clients.
“They had us playing games that would drive anybody out of their mind, and you weren’t allowed to snap,” he said. “Any kind of thing that they have here with whatever client I’m working with is never going to be comparable.”
In 2008, Coughlan, who has been playing the banjo since age 16, sent recording to a local radio station that won him a spot on stage with Weezer at Madison Square Garden, adding his frenetic banjo fills to two of the band’s best-known anthems.
“It was the best crowd I was ever in front of because everybody was smiling and it was just a wall of people going all the way up to the ceiling,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m definitely doing something like this again.’”
Coughlan next plays April 24 at Vox Pop Café in Brooklyn from 8 p.m. to midnight. For more glimpses of Coughlan’s work, visit johnnyjackpot.com.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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