Artists have many options when it comes to how they present their work.

Gary Bohas’ medium of choice is a simple paper napkin, for its convenience and charm of something so accessible.

For the past four decades, Bohas has been drawing napkin portraits of the celebrities he meets and strangers he sees. After collecting more than 4,000 of these drawings, he is putting together the most memorable portraits into a book called “Drawn2Dinner.”

Out of those thousands of drawings — all done by ink without the aid of erasing — Bohas said his favorites are the “ones that really express the person’s character and attitude within the moment I capture.”

Gary Bohas poses with two women whose portraits he drew on napkins. He is putting together his most memorable portraits into a book called “Drawn2Dine.” (Photo courtesy of Gary Bohas)
Gary Bohas, a stockkeeper at the U-M Central Power Plant, poses with two women whose portraits he drew on napkins. He is putting together his most memorable portraits into a book called “Drawn2Dinner.” (Photo courtesy of Gary Bohas)

Some of his most famous subjects include the late golfer Arnold Palmer, actor and comedian Steve Martin, and singer-songwriters Janelle Monáe and CeeLo Green.

He drew Palmer while eating lunch at the Polo Club in Beverly Hills. Bohas noticed Palmer a few tables away and promptly drew a portrait. After giving the headwaiter the drawing to give to Palmer, the popular golfer came to Bohas’ table and the two chatted for a while.

Palmer even asked for his autograph.

“Before he went back to his table, he said to me, ‘Well, you forgot something.’ I couldn’t figure what I’d forgotten. So I looked at him, and he said, ‘You forgot to sign it,’” said Bohas, who has worked as a stockkeeper at the U-M Central Power Plant since 2014. “While I was signing the drawing, other people at the restaurant were watching and came up to me later to see if I’d draw them.”

In 2010, Bohas accompanied his daughter to the set of a music video she was producing for Monáe’s song “Many Moons.” While she was shooting the video, he had an opportunity to sketch a few drawings of Monáe.

Gary Bohas, a stockkeeper at the U-M Central Power Plant, shows off a portrait he created, one of thousands of drawings of celebrities and strangers he’s drawn on paper napkins over the years. (Photo courtesy of Gary Bohas)
Gary Bohas shows off a portrait he created, one of thousands of drawings of celebrities and strangers he’s drawn on paper napkins over the years. (Photo courtesy of Gary Bohas)

“I started drawing Janelle as soon as I saw her performing,” he said. “She is a female Michael Jackson, talented in all ways and an incredible talent who I had never heard of before that day.”

Later, during her lunch break, Monáe approached him and he showed her the sketches. She chose one and asked him to sign it before she continued filming.

His interest in art dates back to before his college days. He graduated from Central Michigan University in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and art.

With his background in art, he was able to excel in sales and move onto projects ranging from drafting designs for the Fred Bear Museum in Grayling, Michigan, to being the vice president of marketing at an architectural firm based in Toledo, Ohio.

The museum was a special collaboration between Bohas and Fred Bear, a world-famous archer at the time. The two were fishing when Bear proposed that Bohas design a space to display all of Bear’s trophies and archery artifacts.

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“I didn’t just draw up the museum, I built a scale model of it that was 4 feet long,” he said. “I took it up in my little Corvette and I had to hunch over because it almost didn’t fit in the car. When I showed him the model, he loved my design for the museum.”

The museum opened in 1967 and garnered the attention of Ted Nugent, who later wrote the song “Fred Bear” as a tribute.

During the 1980s, Bohas moved to Denver to work for another architectural firm and then to Chicago to work for Knoll furniture at the Merchandise Mart. In the early 2000s, he moved to California to live near his brother after furnishing government offices in Washington, D.C., during the ’90s.

Bohas moved back to Michigan to be closer to his grandchildren. Since returning, Bohas has been spending his free time creating a preliminary draft of “Drawn2Dinner,” which he hopes to publish soon.

Gary Bohas is building a cardboard replica of a race car similar to one his father used to race. (Photo courtesy of Gary Bohas)
Gary Bohas is building a cardboard replica of a race car similar to one his father used to race. (Photo courtesy of Gary Bohas)

In addition to the book of drawings, Bohas is building different vintage racing cars. He was inspired to start this new project because he grew up working on racing cars with his father, who manufactured the engine by hand after drawing it up on a drawing board.

“Suddenly, I thought, ‘Hey, I’m 77 years old. If I’m ever going to do it, I better do it now,’” he said. “That’s when I decided to buy one race car on March 1, and on March 15 I bought a second one.”

The one he is currently working on is called “The Bohas Special No. 1” and is similar to the model his father used to race. He is building a full-scale model of the car out of cardboard to be able to reproduce the missing pieces.

In the next few years, he hopes to devote more time to finishing his current projects and putting together another book with photographs of his father and his father’s racing cars during the 1950s.

“With this book, I really want to educate people, especially about a sport that has such great history.”

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