There is a universal symbol for bringing lunch from home – a brown paper bag. It has even become a turn of phrase; to signify when one has a premade lunch, one is “brown bagging it.” But not all brown paper bags are created equal. Graphic artist Dominick Cabalo has turned brown bag lunches into conversation pieces
for his son, Nicholas.
“A few years ago, [my son] started bringing lunches to school,” Cabalo said. “And the start of my drawing on them was that I noticed whenever he gets into a new situation, he was really reserved; at times he would sit by himself. He was kind of an introvert. And so because of
his shyness I started drawing on his bag to hopefully create a way for other kids to come over and say, ‘Wow, that’s neat’ or ‘That’s a cool thing, did you see that movie?’ and create conversation.”
And when Cabalo says drawing, what he really means is sketching, coloring, painting and inking a work of art depicting one of hundreds of characters on the front of the once-boring brown paper bag. Nicholas just started seventh grade and each day he sports a new work of art
on his lunch, and then brings it home to add to the collection. All told, there are more than 300 lunch bag art pieces in their collection, representing 98-99% of the total bags made, minus a few bags lost to leaky sandwiches.
Subjects for the art come from whatever is in pop culture at the time, including Angry Birds, Ghost Rider, Finding Nemo, The Avengers and the UCLA Bruins, or what Nicholas may be learning about in school at the time.
“So, for the most part superheroes, he likes superheroes, and then when ‘Star Wars’ came out, we did a whole line of [connecting bags to form one picture],” Cabalo said. “When he was learning about Neanderthals or prehistoric man, we did a couple of those, or dinosaurs when he learned about dinosaurs. We go to trips at the museum and if he likes something, we’ll do something on that.”
Beyond the school lunches, this has inspired Nicholas and Dominick to take the art form further and help
people in need. During a sixth grade community service project, they found Hashtag Lunchbag – a charity which distributes lunches to the homeless on Skid Row in L.A. in the iconic brown paper bag.
“It’s spread out in over 100 cities across the world, but the L.A. branch goes once a month down to Skid Row and they make sandwiches and bag lunches in brown paper bags. I thought, ‘Wow, brown paper bags – that’s, like, our thing,’” Cabalo said. “What we did for them was we started decorating bags for the homeless. We also made sandwiches, but we donated about 100 lunch bags a month and we would decorate them. We’ve done almost 1,000 of those now, and we go every month whenever they have their event and we go make sandwiches and donate bags.”
Because they are mass producing so many lunch bags, Nicholas and Dominick limit their time to about 15 minutes per bag for the Hashtag Lunchbag program, whereas Dominick usually devotes about an hour to each of Nicholas’ lunch bags.
“[#Lunchbag] teaches him that he’s got it pretty good,” Cabalo said, “and he gets to see how other people live.”
To see the amazing artwork on the #Lunchbag projects and Nicholas’ lunches, follow Dominick on Instagram: @domnx_art.