Chuck Roach had been focused on painting Western scenes and personalities like John Wayne until he came across an intriguing new subject – Starbucks baristas.
Roach, a retired middle and high school teacher in Abilene, TX., who began painting fulltime six years ago, is a regular Starbucks customer in the West Texas town. After the renovation of his favorite Starbucks café on Buffalo Gap Road, he was asked if he would like to share some of his artwork for the walls of the store.
“I knew that Mr. Roach was a painter,” said Starbucks store manager Sharon Brooks. “He’s such a faithful Starbucks customer, I thought it would be great to feature some of his work in our store, along with other local artists.”
“At first I provided my signature Western artwork, but then I decided that sharing portraits of the baristas who work in the store would be more popular,” said Roach. “After I brought the idea to Sharon, five partners stepped up right away wanting their portraits painted.”
Roach follows a specific process to produce his paintings. First, he photographs baristas in the store, capturing them in their work environment. Then he develops the portrait in his studio using acrylic paint and a technique that uses a series of lines to create depth and texture. Depending on the size of the piece, it takes him two hours to two days to complete a painting. Roach has provided more than 40 portraits to the Abilene store’s art rotation over the past three years.
Isaiah Johnson and Holly Isaacson, both Starbucks baristas in Abilene, had their portraits painted by Roach and feel fortunate for having the experience.
“It was so cool to have my picture at the store,” said Johnson. “Customers were happy too. It made them feel good to see pictures of me and other baristas that they know hanging on the wall. It made the store more comfortable and welcoming for them and for me.”
“I was floored when I saw my painting because it was amazing,” added Isaacson. “I have never seen someone capture me so well. I was so honored to have a talented artist like Mr. Roach paint a portrait of me and it was so wonderful for friends and customers to see it hanging in the store.”
Roach has been creating artwork since childhood.
“I won first place for my age group at an art contest during the West Texas Fair and Rodeo in Abilene when I was nine years old,” he said. “After that, I began to define myself as an artist.”
Following graduation from high school, Roach attended Tarelton State University and pursued a degree in history.
“I figured that I knew how to paint already, so I studied other topics,” he said. “I still painted for fun all throughout college.”
Roach worked as a “roughneck” in an oil field directly out of college and began teaching economics and geography for middle and high school students in Merkel, Texas, when he was 25 years old. All the while, he painted on the side. Ten years prior to retiring in 2011, he began thinking about how to make a living solely from his artwork.
“It took me a while to build up my business, but now I regularly sell my art at four galleries across the state,” Roach said.
Reuniting with students
While Roach was busy painting in Abilene, one of his former students was starting her career with Starbucks at a store in San Angelo, Texas, 90 miles away.
“I had a variety of retail jobs, but I was getting burned out,” said Carmen Holden, now a Starbucks store manager in Odessa, Texas. “I looked at where I spent most of my free time and money and that was Starbucks. I decided that would be a good place for me to work.”
After eight months in San Angelo, Holden transferred to a Starbucks store in Abilene. While visiting a sister location in town, she noticed painted portraits of baristas on the walls. To her surprise, the artist’s signature was familiar.
“I told the baristas in the store that Mr. Roach was my middle and high school teacher,” she said. “I learned from them that he visits Starbucks every day and stays for at least an hour, reading or playing chess with customers.”
It wasn’t long before Holden caught up with her former teacher.
“It had been 20 years since I had seen him,” Holden said. “We talked about what we had been doing over the years and his most recent work painting the barista portraits.”
The two decided to work together to coordinate future paintings. Holden helps determine who to paint next and makes sure that they are ready for their photograph before Roach creates the artwork.
“He was an amazing teacher that everyone knew and loved in town,” said Holden. “He’s also a wonderful artist. I have purchased six of his paintings for my home including my own portrait.”
In addition to Holden, other partners (employees) and their families have purchased the paintings.
“The grandmother of a barista I painted saw a picture of the portrait on social media, sent a check in the mail and a note asking me to present the portrait to her granddaughter at work,” Roach said.
Roach is amazed by the exposure he has received from having his artwork hanging in Starbucks and has received additional business as a result. However, he downplays his notoriety.
“As an artist, you will never be happy if you get too caught up in what people think of your work,” Roach said. “I like for people to enjoy my work, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I love it.”