The past 9 months have been strewn with challenges. But they’ve also been littered with sparks of joy, laughter and hope. And, if you’re like me, you’ve sought out opportunities to bask in the latter.
Among the many small things which have gotten me through the pandemic is the series of whimsical vegetable illustrations created by local artist Dwellephant. In fact, since mid-July, I’ve taken a great deal of pleasure logging onto Instagram and finding new smile-inducing creations in my feed on a nearly day-to-day basis.
It all started with a picture of a red pepper half embellished with thick eyebrows and round expressive eyes letting out what looks like a massive seedy-toothed scream.
“A friend of mine posted the pepper on Instagram,” he says. “I took it and drew a face on it, just for fun.”
The post was met with multiple delighted responses from friends and fans.
“I never intended for it to be ‘a thing’,” says Dwellephant. “But after that post, people started sending me all sorts of vegetable photos. And it wasn’t like I just I got one or two. It was more like ten. And every week following, new photos kept showing up in my Instagram inbox. At first it was mostly submissions from friends; but then I started getting things from people I didn’t even know, which was even more fun.”
In the weeks ahead, Dwellephant's feed became filled with vegetable drawings, from singing blueberries and horrified sliced avocados to mischievous pickles, a kiwi-headed monkey and a beautiful, but embarrassingly gaseous basil leaf.
“Around the time this started, joy was really hard to come by,” he recollects. “But everything I make comes from a happy place, and this was no exception. I’ll never paint a Guernica, but you give me a banana and I’ll draw a face on it.”
The series, now moving into its fifth months has continued, largely due to an ongoing influx of photos from folks who've become fans of the illustrations.
“What started as a dumb joke turned into something bigger. Over time I would get messages from people telling me that they looked forward to the drawings every day on Instagram. And eventually, I had so many photos that I needed to start a flow chart to keep track of who had sent me what. Being organized is very unlike me; but I never got mad at it.”
Dwellephant says he’s had fun pulling the whimsy out of ordinary objects. “Most of the time,” he says. “I can see the faces right away. There’s obvious stuff that pops up… like a pepper with a nose… and that’s obvious. You just have to go with it. But when it’s ordinary, it’s a bigger challenge. I have to make it into something. But nature does such a great job of giving you some really beautiful colors and textures."
Such was the case with these “Twomatoes” eagerly eating their ice cream cones.
Along the way, Dwellephant says he’s happened upon a few drawings that have become favorites. Among them is the Maleficent purple heirloom carrot, which he says he drew while singing Def Harmonic's "Magnificent" as "Maleficent."
There was also a lovely photo of a peach, which was submitted by a photographer friend, which he says was so beautiful he almost felt badly augmenting it.
“When I saw the leaves, I knew they were hair… sort of falling over the face in this moody Daria way or something. It turned out to be one of the more serious illustrations I’ve done. But because it was the least goofy, I got so many comments on that one.”
Art is everywhere
Of course, this isn’t the first time the local illustrator has delighted audiences with impromptu drawings. In 2019, his feed showcased a series of waggish drawings displayed on the exteriors of coffee cups from local cafes.
"My friend Ellia [Hill] once talked about how ‘artist’ is just part of her identity," he says. "And that’s how I feel. I’ve never not drawn. I don’t necessarily draw to make money or for any specific purpose. But, I’ve carried a sharpie in my pocket since I was 17, just in case I came upon things that wanted to be illustrated; so it’s a constant in my life.”
“A few years ago I was drawing on the top of magazine ads. Sometimes it’s just a matter of ‘I don’t want to throw this trash away’ so I’ll draw something on it.”
Ultimately, he says, he simply wants to create. “I want people to look at what I do and appreciate it. People see different things, they see different meanings in things. And for me, there’s beauty in that."
“I guess there are far worse things to be known for than vegetable drawings,” he adds with a chuckle.
Pay it forward
Know someone who needs a lift? Dwellephant has also created a series of magnets based on the vegetable series. You can purchase them, along with a number of enamel pins, holiday cards and original art and prints in his Etsy shop.
And yes, he plans to continue the vegetable series as long as he has content to work with. Got veggie photos to share? Send them to Dwellephant by DM-ing him on Instagram.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.