Cooler Painting, Craft or Curse? Students describe the tedious tasks behind hand painted coolers

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  • Photo credit to Mary Grayson

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Annie Mohr

The beach is filled with evening gowns, a cool breeze, lots of drinks and memories in the making. Sitting on the sand containing the beverages is a cooler painted with beautiful images of sunsets, Georgia Southern scenery and even tiny details that showcase the personality of its owner.

In that moment, the artwork on the cooler is almost as beautiful as the event itself. College students are in the prime of their lives as they celebrate the closing of another school year.

As the night dies down, and the morning comes all too quickly, the beautiful cooler is no longer of work of art on the beach, but a scuffed up DIY project. A project that instead of being carefully carried is thrown into the bed of a truck.

It’s fraternity formal season meaning hundreds of girls have already begun the process to create a unique and personalized work of art for their formal date.

Painting a cooler is a process that includes sanding, priming, decorating and sealing a plastic cooler. This seemingly harmless craft project can take anywhere from a few days to weeks. The work that goes into preparing for the event takes planning and commitment that often goes unnoticed.

“I fear two things in college: graduating and being asked to paint a cooler for a formal,” Rachel Clardy, sophomore marketing major, said.

Clardy said that making a cooler is a huge undertaking, and with the stress of school it is a huge commitment to agree to paint a cooler. She described how the process of sanding down the cooler is difficult, and for those who are not naturally artistic, the task of painting can be daunting. Even the smallest mistake can mean having to re-sand the cooler and start again.

Once the cooler is finished, it is often expected that it will be filled with drinks for its recipient. This can mean $60 worth of beer or even hundreds if filled with handles of liquor.

“I think that if a guy wants you to paint him a cooler he should pay for the supplies,” Katlyn Cameron, sophomore pre nursing major, said.

Cameron believes that the cooler is not necessarily a gift, so it should be expected that the crafter and the recipient both help to cover the costs.

“I think it is a courtesy thing now, like the guy is taking you to his formal and paying all the expenses and I think of it as just a token of appreciation,” Maddie Thompson, sophomore nursing major, said.

Thompson said that it is important to keep in mind who you are making the cooler for. “Don’t paint a side with something he isn’t interested in because ultimately it’s his cooler to use and it doesn’t matter if you think it’s cute if he doesn’t like it,” Thompson said.

All the hours put into a cooler can go completely to waste if it is not sealed and handled properly. Special attention has to go into making them waterproof and the carefully painted details can easily become scratched off in a beach environment.

“Respect that a lot of work went into this and don’t just take it for granted, “ Clardy said.

Whether a cooler becomes a prized item or it gets left on the beach, there is still much to be appreciated about the creativity behind turning a piece of plastic into a work of art.