Seth Womble makes dull, dingy spaces come alive. His artistry can transform drab walls into enchanting sea creatures and dark corners into vibrant mountaintops. Mural paintings are his creative specialty and it shows — just take a look at the floor-to-ceiling interiors of Bubbles Below, a dive shop in Ele‘ele, or the soon-to-be open Hanai restaurant in the former Kojima Store in Kapaa.
He’s not just artistically talented. Womble has an altruistic side, too. He recently completed a six-panel mural of a lauhala mat called “Gratitude” with high school students who volunteered their time as part of a community project. It not only opened the kids’ minds to an alternative form of art, but it also brightened up the space between Pono Market and Work It Out, where Wailua Shave Ice currently is located.
“Lately, I’m just super pumped about getting the kids involved, and they’re really grasping onto it and wanting to know more,” he says.
He’s teaching mural painting to high school students at Kauai Underground Artists’ (KUGA) Visual Arts Studio, as well as abstract art classes to keiki ages 8 to 10. The artist even offers ukulele classes at the studio in Kalaheo.
“Seth has a big heart, and we are fortunate to have him share part of himself with our KUGA kids,” says KUGA founder Lila Metzger.
Womble admits that some of his high school students were a little unsure about what mural painting was before they got started.
“Some of the kids don’t consider themselves artistic at all, but they just wanted to see what this was all about,” he says.
After learning the techniques needed to create a large piece of artwork, it became less intimidating to them.
“They’re shining now and they feel like they’re contributing something,” he says.
Womble contributed to the art world with his inaugural piece at the age of 2 — much to his mother’s chagrin.
“It was my mom’s lipstick up and down the hallway. At least, that’s what I’m told,” he says.
Even though he may have thought it was a masterpiece, the entire hallway had to be repainted.
“My mom was livid, absolutely livid,” he says, laughing.
Though he mostly remained in good graces with his parents after that, there were moments when timeouts were needed, and he was forced to sit and stare at the corner of a room.
“I had to look at the boring corner, so now I joke that whenever I paint walls, I love to paint corners to get rid of them and make them blend in,” says Womble, who was born in North Carolina but also spent time growing up in Florida and California.
He created his first mural in 1998 while living in Costa Rica. Womble, who graduated with an arts degree in sculpture from Southern Cross University in New South Wales, Australia, was asked to paint a 10-foot-tall Bob Marley portrait on the side of a building in exchange for a place to stay and dinner every night.
“What became fascinating for me, especially painting abroad, is that I had to use the resources I could find,” he says.
He only had white primer and powder pigments to create color, and he didn’t even have a paintbrush, so Womble used the corner of a foam-like mattress and sponge-painted the entire piece.
“I realized I could easily travel and support myself doing that kind of thing,” he says.
It was always a dream of his to live on Kauai, and after many years of globetrotting and living in exotic places like Thailand, he was ready to grow some roots.
“Chasing visas was getting pretty old,” says Womble, who moved here in recent years.
For a while, he s erved as a scuba instructor, so he got to indulge in his passion for the ocean as well as teach.
“You look at the surface of the ocean and there’s a whole world under there that we forget unless you go look,” says Womble, who enjoys water activities including diving, spearfishing and surfing.
So he passes along his knowledge of the ocean and its vital environment to others through his art.
“There’s nothing quite as fulfilling — it’s something I’ve got to do. I’ve got to create things,” he says.
He also makes custom pieces such as painted ukuleles, sculptures, jewelry and re-purposed surfboards. But his most beloved form of creation is designing large-scale paintings. He notes this especially is true because he naturally tends to be a detail-oriented perfectionist.
“Once I was able to do something large scale, it kind of freed me up to not be so focused on the details, but actually step back and look at the bigger picture,” he says.
It’s a lesson he carries into his life today and shares with others.
“It’s too easy to get really close and caught up and work so hard on tiny details that you forget what the big picture is going to be like,” he says. “So I love the scope of being able to step back.”
Womble currently is working to develop more community projects, and he is nearing the final stages of negotiations to customize an entire room at Kauai Beer Company in Lihue.
To learn more about the artist, visit sethcre8s.com or facebook.com/sethcre8s. To learn more about his classes, visit kuga808.com.