PASCO -- Jim Chicouris of Pasco has an artist's eye for color and style.
That flair led him to a career as a graphic artist in the Chicago area for more than 50 years.
But his kind of work is a dying art these days.
Chicouris, 85, hand-painted giant billboards advertising art. The kind that was popular during the past century.
Never miss a local story.
A more accurate term for his former profession is "billboard painter," he said.
"Dad teaches art at the Richland community center and has won blue ribbons at the fair, but he has never shown his work in a gallery," said his daughter, Cynthia MacFarlan of Pasco.
So, she had a hardback book published of her father's art, both his billboard creations and his private paintings, as a way to memorialize his work. The book was published privately for family and friends and is not available at bookstores.
Chicouris painted commercial billboards for the Outdoor Advertising Company, one of the largest outfits in the country at the time.
Most of the time, he worked outdoors, which wasn't much fun during a typical Chicago winter.
"There were times when it was miserable working outside," he said. "But I liked the work anyway."
Chicouris' interest in art began as a kid when he became captivated by the comic strip drawings of a relative. He started practicing and by the time he hit high school, he was asked to design a music book cover.
But then came World War II, and his art was put on hold while he served in the Navy.
After the war, he returned home to Chicago and attended Superior Sign Trade School, where he learned lettering and how to paint on a large scale.
Then he was accepted into a five-year apprenticeship program at the Outdoor company, and within two years, was hired full time for $20 a week, he said.
There is more to billboard advertising art than creating panels that promote people, places or things, Chicouris said.
The technique he used is similar to how Michealangelo designed the Sistine Chapel hundreds of years ago.
Chicouris explained that technique as a process of punching small holes into large rolls of paper to form a pattern. The paper was then attached to panels where the image was to be painted. That outline was then drawn with charcoal through the holes. From there the sign painter got to work adding the color to form the images.
Many of Chicouris' creations look more like giant photos than paintings.
"I worked with five European artists," he said. "One of them was from Russia, and I learned so much from him. He really taught me to hone my craft."
One of Chicouris' billboard creations -- a 14-by-56-foot tiger -- greeted visitors to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in the 1970s.
The Chicago Tribune magazine wrote a story about Chicouris in its Nov. 15, 1970, edition, focusing on the unique artistry billboard artists create as well as the effectiveness of advertising on billboards.
That story pointed out the results of a survey, financed by billboard companies, that stated "people find unadorned landscapes dull and uninteresting."
Hence the flood of hand-painted billboard advertising that swept the country back then.
These days, much of billboard advertising is hardwired into computers that flash videos instead of still imagery.
Chicouris doesn't think too much about how his profession has evolved. He is too busy working out at the gym each day or painting landscapes, portraits and still life in his home studio. He hasn't lost his sense of color and style either, nor his ability to make a painting look like a photograph.
He retired in 1992 and moved to the Tri-Cities in 2002 to be closer to his daughter.
"They called sign painters back then 'wall dogs,' " MacFarlan said. "They would climb high above the traffic perched on a scaffold, an often dangerous job.
"It's certainly a lost art. I don't know how many journeyman sign painters are left. But this one, (referring to her dad) is pretty special to me."