HEWITT — With the steady hand of a veteran artist, Von Otto moves his airbrush down the side of a magnetic feather, embellishing the blank form with ease.
“Then I’ll put someone’s name on it and they can hang on a refrigerator,” Otto said. “I don’t use stencils, because I’ve learned how to make things like over-spray fit in the design.”
For 43 years he’s made a career of his freehand airbrush artistry, now working from a home base in Hewitt. He has painted upward of 50,000 items, from guitars and motorcycle helmets to trailers and cars, even a casket.
“Under my breath, sometimes I’m saying ‘I hope I can do that,’ because there have been a few times that I was hoping I could get it,” the 65-year-old said inside his workshop on a recent Friday. “Sometimes you’ll have a vision, but something will challenge you and then it bends that vision so you can fight through it to get to the end.”
Otto has lived in McLennan County since 1989 and has long had little company as far as other professional freehand airbrush artists locally. His work appears in the McLennan County Courthouse, local veterans organization facilities and the Cameron Park Zoo.
“He is such a talented guy and he does animals better than any artist I’ve ever seen,” interim zoo director Johnny Binder said. “He captures the faces and eyes of animals, helping us with our graphic panels. . Just in our herpetarium alone, he has done over 5,000 square feet of murals and he did those in 1997, and they look as fresh and brand new today as the day he did them.”
Otto, an Alabama native, moved to McLennan County after serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1973 to 1977. He served as a weapon mechanic during the Vietnam War and although he hoped to work in the field of photography, he was shipped to Iceland to maintain aircraft weapons systems.
“That and a combination of not getting into the career field I really wanted got me going into my artwork,” Otto said.
During his time stationed…