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Not all heroes are nice in real life. You know Batman is a seriously conflicted bitch, and Superman is so anal he probably poops diamonds, but every once in a while a hero reveals him or herself to be just as cool as you want them to be. Artist Paul Richmond is one such hero for me. For his entire career, he’s maintained a positive outlook on art and its place in the world, celebrating other artists (such as one of his greatest muses, Dolly Parton) and sharing his own work in wildly creative fashion. Even his powerful marriage-equality efforts were tinged with wit and whimsy – a lesson in how to deliver a potent message with charm and enchantment. Perhaps even more effective was the simple example he was living out as a proud gay man. It’s something we might take for granted now, but it wasn’t always so, and sometimes I think the world wants us to step back and be silent again. Richmond’s work is in beautifully brash and bold defiance of this. He welcomes all into his colorful world of art, where individuality and creative expression find happy fruition.

His work, his indefatigable spirit, and the man himself have always managed to make me feel a little bit better about being different. His work props people up when they’re feeling down or lonely, and he celebrates the diversity and strength in those who dare to tread off the beaten path. He revels in the flamboyant and outlandish, and that larger-than-life and grander-in-spirit personality is an inspiration. The best part is that he’s one of those artists who believes in sharing and cultivating an active interaction with his audience.

Lately, he’s been posting a drawing online every Friday – dubbed Friday Freebies – where you can download one of his drawings and color it in as you see fit. The only limits on how you do it are up to you – crayons, markers, pencils, lipstick – anything and everything goes, and he invites you to share your work with others. It becomes a community dialogue – a friendly, fun, engaging, and welcoming dialogue, wholly at odds with the darkness of the present state of affairs. That may be Richmond’s greatest gift to us. Tomorrow, I’m doing a little post celebrating the release of his first adult coloring book – come back and see all the awesomeness he’s getting up to now.

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