by Tina Manzer
The Paint Puck is a simple solution to an age-old brush-cleaning problem. As we all know, the most uncomplicated tools are often the best, but new ideas for them don’t always make it to market. As Paint Puck’s creator Dawson Cannon explains, “Inventors are afraid their simple idea will be knocked off, but I am relatively driven to take risks.”
The 25-year-old aerospace engineer invented the nubby silicone disc three years ago because, without it, painting for him was just too slow. Not that he considers himself an artist. Dawson can draw, though, especially cartoons. “I have a knack for doodling; for illustration,” he said in a recent interview. “Even when I don’t draw for a while, even if it is three years since I picked up a mechanical pencil, it is as if I never put it down.”
He’s also a tinkerer who enjoys working on cars and motorcycles. Dawson built his beloved Jeep from the ground up, “like the fenders from tube and sheet metal-type ground up,” he says.
He met his former mentor, engineer Dave Magnuson from Camtech in California, through their mutual admiration of motorcycles. In addition to being a fan of cruisers, Dave also liked Dawson’s mechanical drawings. He was always asking to buy them. Dawson was happy to give them to him; he never accepted payment.
When he discovered graphite pencils and the different variations of gray and black they produced, Dawson’s drawings took on a new dimension. “I had more fun with them,” he explains. “I used a layering process – thin lines in back, dark and heavy in front – the way engineers do, but they almost looked like cartoons.”
That led him to painting. “Even though I hadn’t painted since art class in fourth grade, I bought canvas and acrylics.”
His first project was for Dave – who wanted a painting of Hawaii. “I said, ‘Now a painting … I’d accept payment for a painting,’” laughs Dawson.
He found the process grueling. “I had my pint glass of water and some acrylics, but I was changing colors constantly. Washing the brushes every time slowed me down. I kept thinking, ‘It would be so simple to put something in the bottom of the glass.’ I visualized silicone kitchen tools on the impulse rack at a store.”
The Paint Puck was actually inspired by the design for a women’s makeup-brush cleaner he had worked on. “Imagine a coffee maker that cleaned 30 makeup brushes at a time. It utilized a rubber mat, like the ones you put on the bottom of your kitchen sink. I checked on Amazon, and it had all sorts of makeup-brush cleaners, but nothing for artists.”
Meanwhile, Dave had purchased Dawson’s painting. On Dave’s advice, he used the money to purchase a 3-D printer. “I already had the software for it from college, so I started designing,” he explains. “I made my first Paint Puck at home using a preprinted mold. I sent the design to China to test it.”
Remember the Jeep? It was wrecked in a near-fatal black-ice accident. Dawson used the insurance money to pay for Paint Puck prototypes and to purchase a plane ticket to Art Materials World 2017.
With prototypes in hand, he stepped outside his comfort zone. “I had to meet people, talk to people, sell and market my product,” he explains. “Most engineers don’t have that kind of skill set, but I’m glad I can do it for the freedom it gives me. Some aerospace engineers spend 35 years perfecting one tiny little pump on the wing of an airplane. That’s not the kind of job I want.”
The next step is to grow Paint Puck LLC. Then he’d like to hire employees to handle the day-to-day so that the company is less dependent on him. The kind of job he wants as a “digital sculptor” is to create the many ideas he has in his head, and perhaps the ideas that others bring him. The Paint Puck line also includes a rinse cup he designed, and there’s also a Dawson-Cannon-created fidget toy; a modified Paint Puck.
I said, “You must feel like you can do almost anything.”
“Nah,” he responded. “The only time I felt that way was when I passed ninth-grade calculus.”