“Mazes are a metaphor for life — you run into a dead end, and then you start over and work to get out,” says Warren Stokes, a salesman and children’s book author who’s created his own style of art, one that a-mazes kids and adult enthusiasts alike at pubic forums as well as in his books.
Stokes knows a thing or two about running into dead ends. “I tried to start a magazine, and failed miserably,” he says, before admitting that he’s currently sitting on two unpublished novels and was initially told by a slew of agents that there wasn’t a market for his children’s books.
He’s since published fifty of those children’s books; they’re the reason he got into drawing, he explains. When no agents were biting on his story about the day peanut butter met jelly, Stokes decided it was time to “blow it out of the water,” and reinvent the Choose Your Own Adventure books he’d always liked.
Stokes toiled away at a series of books combining words and mazes with multiple end points. “Basically,” he says, “you do a maze, and if you go out of one exit, you go to a certain page.” Stokes often worked on his mazes during breaks at work, and was taken aback when colleagues began telling him that they liked his art.
You see, Stokes hadn’t considered that what he was doing was art. “That excitement made me want to draw more and more, so I put down my typewriter and picked up a pencil to start drawing,” Stokes says. “Writing is my true passion, and I have failed at it. But art — that comes more naturally.”
He started with shapes and other doodles, and has since progressed to more complex subjects, including portraits. The pieces look somewhat simple…until you realize that each and every one is a real maze. “I’ve been trying to get an art major for a few years, and the first thing [a teacher] told me was to get rid of the maze,” Stokes says, laughing it off because he knows mazes are what make his work unique.
Stokes began his art career using pencil, Sharpies and whatever else he could find. “Now that I can spend money, I’ve gotten into more artsy things like pastels,” he says. He’ll create on canvas when he has it, but also likes using found materials for backdrops.
“I do a lot of dumpster diving,” says Stokes. “I’ve been homeless, and I know people throw out a lot of things: shelves, dresser drawers.” Actually, Stokes was more houseless than homeless, hopping between his car, friends’ places and abandoned buildings for two years, treating his situation like he approaches all avenues of life: with resourcefulness, determination and a decidedly positive outlook.
“Drawing every day is what kept me grounded,” Stokes continues. With a background in sales, Stokes can hustle, and he isn’t afraid to cold-call businesses and ask for commissions. Stokes has even solicited sports teams, and the effort paid off: He was contracted to create a children’s literacy book for the Washington Redskins. He also worked on the kid’s corner of the One World Heart Project’s website, putting the organization’s enumerated values into free mazes for children. Part philanthropist, Stokes has offered free art classes to kids at local public libraries, too.
“I don’t believe in paying people to show your work — I think that’s garbage,” Stokes says. Rather, he shows his stuff in public forums like the Five Points Jazz Festival, and on his website.