When I was a kid I dreamed of being a movie director, but I almost always dreamed up the movie poster first. So I think much of what I do comes from that inspiration. But I also admire Mucha and have tried (at least once) to do an homage to his work.
I recently visited my brother’s family in Salt Lake City. They live in a comfortable neighborhood within walking distance of a freestanding upscale grocer called Harmons Emigration Market. Harmons is a purveyor of fresh fine foods that are locally sourced and sold along with in house baked goods and prepared foods in their fifteen locations around the greater SLC. They are akin to Molly Stones in the SF Bay Area.
It is our custom to begin each day with a stroll to the store for a leisurely cup of coffee in their naturally lit cafe then purchase any food required for our evening meal. On this trip we lingered longer and were less engaged in discussion to cause me to notice the catchy original art that filled not only the bakery deli area but the rest of the store as well. A remark to one of the employees drew an enthusiastic response that all the art is produced in house by their very own artist whose studio is within the building. They pointed to a door where we discovered Taylor Hellewell sitting in a tight niche in the storage area surrounded by his art and the very goods he is responsible for promoting. We had a lovely conversation and interview we hope you enjoy as much as us.
What type of materials do you use?
I use pencil, kneadable eraser, artgum eraser, battery-powered eraser, cotton swabs, toothbrushes, spray bottles, and mostly Chalk Ink brand wet wipe markers on Sintra.
What is your process?
When working small (as in 6″ x 2″) I use a pencil to etch in lettering and illustrations and then noodle things in with the markers, often having to use a pencil, eraser, or battery-powered eraser to shave lettering or image edges back. When I work large I use one of the markers to create a rough layout and lettering, then lay more marker on top, wiping off or erasing the mess I made when I started. In general wet cotton swabs help me fade to black or clean a small area. The tooth brush can also give me a gradient to black or be used to create spattering effects.
How much latitude do you have in creativity?
I enjoy tremendous liberty in deciding content and even word choices. That liberty came more or less of persistent attempts at excellence. It has been a long time since anyone even told me what they wanted in the sign beyond necessary text. In some cases I’m just told they need a sign for a display contest, what elements need to be present, and then I just run amok. Like putting cherries in James Bond garb or Star Wars trappings and finding a tenuous pretext for doing so (e.g, Rainier Cherries: They are your destiny; Rainier 007: Everything he touches turns to excitement!) I’ve connected truffles to the Garden of Eden, Feta cheese to Greek deities, and potatoes to the spaghetti western.
What is the scale of the art?
It ranges from the very small, sometimes 4.5″ x 2″, to the relatively huge, like 4′ x 3′ or so.
What happens to the old art?
That which has not been sealed usually gets wiped off. It’s actually a preferable situation for me, if only because I still myself as a work in progress. I get tired of some of my older work and am happy to send the less impressive signage to oblivion. There are a few that I’m sad no one will see again except in digital format. But then at times I wonder who really looks at them.
What is the most challenging aspect about your work?
Mostly the respect. I get the sense that a great many of my coworkers wonder why I’m there, or even how productive I am when I’m looking for reference. But a close second would be the limitations of the Chalk Ink. I still find it a challenge to blend the markers to my satisfaction.
Do you have any favorite pieces of art or a series that you particularly loved drawing?
I really enjoyed the Caffe Ibis display (for a local coffee company). I took blurbs from reviews on their website and just ballooned them out. I looked for off-kilter, quasi-urban imagery, mostly people, and just went crazy embellishing the art and tying different elements together with a variety of designs. I got to experiment with the markers and wild color palettes and realized that if I did fine art it would probably resemble that display. But I really love doing movie parodies on a grand scale. I find myself laughing at the imagery.
What type of formal training do you have?
I have two degrees in art, one a general visual art degree from Brigham Young University and a B.F.A. in Illustration from Southern Utah University.
Do you ever hear much from the customers about your art?
On occasion someone will brave the backroom to talk to me, but most of what I get is hearsay from coworkers about so-and-so going through and enjoying the art. I’m glad it brightens someone’s day.
Anything else you would like to share? Like why Alchemist? Do you have gallery shows?
Alchemy Illustration is an umbrella title that allows me to try different styles. I don’t want to be too boxed in, but it also works well with my ultimate aspiration: fantasy artist for Wizards of the Coast or book publishers. I don’t yet have gallery shows but intend to do some oils in the coming year and have some local friends who are connected to galleries.
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