Local artist creates “conversation piece” in Daniel Island Park home
By ELIZABETH BUSH, Special to The Daniel Island News
Dec 1, 2005, 12:25

Steve Neff poses while working on his mural of downtown Charleston.  
The downtown Charleston skyline is emerging in Daniel Island Park, complete with the stately spires of St.
Michael’s and St. Philip’s, Rainbow Row, and the palm tree lined Battery. Under the branches of a live oak
draped with Spanish moss, the Wando River winds northward. In the distance, Mt. Pleasant, Sullivan’s
Island and James Island fill the landscape. It’s all part of a beautiful turn of the century Lowcountry scene
being painted at the Gunboat Lane home of Dave and Loretta Bond. The mural’s creator is Steve Neff,
owner of Painted Palms Gallery in Mt. Pleasant.

"They like to entertain and they just really wanted something to talk about," said Neff, who is painting "Old
Charleston" on the three walls in the Bond’s Dining Room. "They wanted in one dinner party or one
engagement that the conversation could continue beyond that. They like the history and uniqueness of it."

Neff says the project will take about three weeks to complete. It is just one of many scenes he has painted
in the Bond home. Other art projects there include two faux palm trees going up the stairs, a Trompe L’Oeil
in a hallway, and hanging framed pieces. For Neff, a self-taught artist who began his professional art
career just 3 years ago, it is a collaborative process.

"I do work with my customers," said Neff, who earned first and second place in the Old Santee Canal Art
Exhibition. "I think it’s all about communicating and finding out about styles."

Once a customer commissions Neff to do a piece, he starts with a digital photograph of the area in which
the scene will be painted. He then draws directly on the photograph to get a feel for how the work will look
with the structure of the room. The homeowners then give him their color choices for the room.

"Then I just come up with an idea to draw you in," added Neff. "…It’s basically like sales. You have to be
able to present an idea that someone is going to want."

Neff should know a thing or two about sales. Three years ago he was living in Virginia, selling retirement
plans to educators. When he moved to South Carolina in 2003, he decided to trade in his calculators and
spreadsheets for a paint brush and canvas.

"There is a creative side of me that came out when I got down here," said Neff. "My wife asked me to paint
some palm trees. Anybody that came over and saw them said they loved them. That’s how it got started."

Neff’s first commissioned work was for a woman in Hamlin Plantation who asked him to paint a mural of
Rapunzel’s Castle for her daughter’s room. Although he does framed pieces using a variety of mediums,
his particularly enjoys murals. He created Painted Palms, a mural company, two years ago. In May of 2005,
he opened the Painted Palms Gallery on Coleman Boulevard in Mt. Pleasant. The gallery features a
contemporary display of fine art and photography by local artists, hand painted murals, faux painting,
bronze statues and fountains, and an assortment of frames and mirrors. It also provides Neff with a place to
work with homeowners and designers to not only develop mural ideas, but also help fulfill the decorating
needs of his clients.

"I find it more challenging to do home-based art," Neff said. "The builders down here create such
interesting floor plans and high ceilings, and areas where your regular framed art might look nice but you
could definitely facilitate that space into something unique."

Neff’s talents have earned him quite a few "big" jobs throughout the Lowcountry. He typically works on one
to two commissioned murals a month, averaging in size from 4 feet to 8 feet tall on wood panel or canvas.
He was also chosen as the muralist for Edgar’s Restaurant in Wild Dunes in 2003. Private local murals
have been commissioned on Daniel Island, Wild Dunes, Snee Farm, Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms to
name a few. Neff also has clients as far north as Virginia and as far south as Florida. Other businesses
featuring his art include St. John’s Boutique in Charleston Place, Culinary Arts in Mount Pleasant and Living
Word Church in Hollywood.

One of the art methods that is most intriguing to Neff right now is Trompe L’Oeil, a "trick the eye" technique
that uses optical illusions to create a three-dimensional look on a flat surface. He will soon begin work on a
piece using this technique in another room in the Bond’s home. Neff credits William Cochran, a Master
Trompe L’Oeil painter in Maryland, for teaching him the technique.

According to Neff, there is something for just about any budget when it comes to mural art. His prices start
at $300 for a palm tree and go up to the $4000 range for full room murals with intricate detail.

Speaking of details, Neff says there are still a few more to paint on the "Old Charleston" mural in the Bond’s
Dining Room. He’s hoping to include a ferry boat like the one that used to take passengers from Mount
Pleasant to the Charleston peninsula in the early 1900s. A South Carolina Parrot in a vibrant hunter green
will be added to a live oak tree overlooking the Wando. In the end, he hopes his painting provides an
interesting glimpse into a time long ago. One thing is for sure. It will definitely spark a good conversation.