KITSAP — On a trip to Vegas eight years ago, Eric Orn went to see Carrot Top.
The Central Kitsap screen-printer and artist made his own T-shirt to wear to the show, depicting the comedian on a gambling chip.
He was stopped by security before he got in the door.
“We thought, ‘They’re not going to let us in,’ ” Orn said.
They did more than escort him to his front-row seat — he was called backstage for a private meeting with the comedian, who loved the shirt and wanted more where that came from.
It was a turning point in Orn’s life, allowing the 51-year-old to focus more on his artwork and special projects, rather than big monotonous orders. He produces all his designed clothing in a garage near Cottonwood Elementary School.
Today, Carrot Top’s projects make up about 40 percent of the work he does professionally, and he’s able to pick and choose the rest — some of which comes from other celebrities he’s met through the comedian.
“He’s really changed the way I do things,” Orn said. “I owe a lot to him.”
A Renton native, Orn’s been drawing since his parents let him have paper to doodle on in church. He’s never stopped, including filling sketchbooks on the five to eight flights every year he makes to see Carrot Top and clients in Las Vegas.
“The art is what’s driving me,” he said of his profession.
An Air Force veteran, Orn’s first paying gig as an artist was at Fishing and Hunting News as an ad designer. But when he and his wife, Kitsap native Margaret, decided to move to the county from Seattle, he started his own firm, 1010 Graphics, in 1995.
The business grew from offices in Silverdale and Port Gamble. But Orn found that no matter how many shifts his company was able to print, the work was not nearly as rewarding as smaller, more creative projects were.
“The bigger I got, the more I didn’t like it,” he said.
Then, he met Carrot Top.
Around the same time, he met Louis Anderson, another comedian and Vegas performer. The work’s been steady ever since, picking up projects along the way: celebrities from Elton John to Dale Earnhardt Jr., outfits including Queen, Motley Crue and the Blue Man Group.
He shut down the storefront and moved the business into his garage. Despite requests he move to Las Vegas to be closer to clients, he’s managed to stay put, relying on a near constant banter with Scott Thompson, AKA Carrot Top, over text messaging and FedEx’s overnight delivery service. The comedian, who performs six nights a week at Vegas’ Luxor hotel, often wears Orn’s T-shirts on stage and during television appearances. Jeff Molitz, Carrot Top’s personal assistant, praised Orn’s ability to “turn artwork on a dime.”
“If we ask him for something, he knocks it out lickety-split,” Molitz said. “And the quality and creativeness is always top notch.”
Orn hasn’t forgotten about some select, if less famous, clientele here in Kitsap County. He’s long designed T-shirts for the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and for the Kitsap County Traffic Safety Commission, and he continues to do so.
“He’ll go from small orders to huge orders but he still remembers us,” said Marsha Masters, the local traffic safety commission coordinator. “He’s just a real down-home nice guy.”
He still makes all the aprons and other apparel for Noah’s Ark Restaurant on Sixth Street in Bremerton and donates clothing to Coffee Oasis.
“He’s very caring and compassionate, and community minded,” said Bianca Garguile, manager of Noah’s Ark and a volunteer with Coffee Oasis. “He does it because he’s still a member of our community.”
Orn started a new business called Sketchbook Ink about a year ago. He’d like to focus even more on animation and cartooning. For now, his business palate is quite full.
“It’s just nonstop,” he said.