Artist Tom Everhart in his studio. (Alan Schaffer Photography / November 21, 2013)

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Tom Everhart was teetering on the edge of despair in his East Village studio.

It was the early 1980s, and his portfolio — courtesy of a fine-art education — contained various permutations of skeletons. Cartoons weren't his thing, but there he was, faced with a freelance project to create presentation boards with "Peanuts" characters.

He'd fabricated his graphic abilities to land the job, only to find that his assumption was wrong — he couldn't understand or teach himself how to construct the caricatures.

Coincidentally, he flipped a switch and his projector flickered to life, bathing the 30-foot wall in an image of Schroeder playing his toy piano — a copy he'd made at the New York Public Library but forgotten about.

At that size, the cartoon box's border vanished, exposing only a few flowing lines of the piano, each a testament to Charles Schulz's painterly technique.

"All of a sudden, I could translate this language," Everhart said. "I understood the quality of his lines, and overnight I was able to do the presentation boards."

The following week, he traveled with his employers, a design group, to Schulz's studio in Santa Rosa, with the assurance that the "Peanuts" creator would not be present. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the meeting was halfway through when the man in question strode in, making a beeline for Everhart's work. No one uttered a word as he shuffled through the drawings.

"He looked at me and said, 'Did you do these?'" Everhart, 61, recounted. "And I said, 'Yes,' but then I got nervous and said, 'I did them in the last week really quickly.'"

Everhart remembers the subsequent conversation clearly — after all, it marked the start of a relationship that altered the course of his life.

"I have one question for you," he recalled Schulz saying. "Everybody else who comes to our studios copies my drawings. They trace them so they get them right. I can tell you didn't copy them. Why didn't you copy them?"

Although petrified, Everhart answered honestly: "I didn't copy your drawings because I was afraid it would lose the freshness of your originals."

"Come with me," came the reply.


Meeting with the master

The pair walked to Schulz's personal studio where they drew lines — curvy, thin, circular and fat — but always in sets of three.

"What I'm trying to show you is that none of these three lines are the same," Everhart said Schulz told him. "Even though you say they're the same, we see the same thing differently each time we look at things."

The design group had hired Everhart to make the boards to show Schulz's team in hopes of getting approval for a larger promotional project. Even though the cartoonist passed on working with the firm, he struck up a friendship with Everhart — based on a "mutual agreement" to see the world in a new way.

Now, Everhart, who resides in Venice, is bringing this shared vision to Coast Gallery in Laguna Beach in the form of an exhibition titled "Everhart: Works from 2000-2013." The works will be on display from Nov. 27 through Dec. 15, and a reception will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7 and 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 8.

Although the venue has been showcasing Everhart's work for just over a year, this is his first full-fledged show. It will feature about 50 pieces. Limited-edition artworks are priced between $1,250 and $5,000, and originals are valued at $6,000 to $200,000.

Clients have responded favorably, gallery director Wayne Heller said, because Everhart's creations "bring back memories of Charles Schulz's cartoon characters, and that's something they want to keep in their homes."