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Artful Adventures

Photos courtesy of John Bellsmith

It’s interesting to ask a small business owner how they got their start. Similar to those of your favorite comic book characters, these “origin stories” are often amusing, inspirational, or — best of all — include twists that they never really saw coming that launched them on their professional journeys.

Bay City-based cartoonist and owner of Hey Guy Publication and Studio John Bellsmith is an example of one of these instances where a subtle twist of fate led to a change in his business model, permanently altering his career in ways he couldn’t have imagined at the time.

Bellsmith always had a passion for drawing. It was his early experiences drawing his own characters and digesting comic strips like “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes” that led him to the possibility he could carve out a career in art.

Like many commercial artists of his generation, Bellsmith initially assumed this would mean leaning on new and evolving digital tools to augment his traditional techniques.

Then one day, to his initial dismay, he found himself facing a progress meeting with a client where his workload meant the timeline for the project had slipped. He still took the meeting, bringing along the preliminary hand sketches that he always used as an initial step in developing a client’s digital artwork.

As Bellsmith tells it, her response was, “You drew these? By hand? Can I just keep these?”

It was a gratifying result and one that proved to be a turning point in his career, as he began a transition to fulfilling all of his clients’ requests with hand-drawn imagery. 

While it has proven to be a decision that succeeded well beyond his initial expectations, it wasn’t one he took without some trepidation. Bellsmith compared it in many ways to his decision to relocate from the San Francisco Bay Area to Bay City, Michigan.

“You wonder if you are going to be able to make it. Is there enough business available for someone doing what you do?”

John’s inspiration: his daughter Cali.

The answer has proven to be a “yes” in his case, as he has found a home in both the local business and arts communities. It turns out a shaggy-haired cartoonist with a bent for heavy metal music was the perfect addition. He eventually moved pretty easily in each of these circles and often brought them together.

Now you will see Bellsmith logos on anything from business signs to band T-shirts, all designed with what he calls his “commitment to drawing by hand.”

Bellsmith has made other artistic ventures of note, such as his popular cartoon renderings of iconic rock stars and his “Lunchbox Doodles” projects.

The two initial “Lunchbox Doodles” books came from collections of doodles that were always part of the morning routine for Bellsmith and his daughter as she grew up. Those doodles might be a silly riddle, a note of encouragement to slay a test, or something else funny that was said while everyone got ready for the day. Bellsmith’s latest book, “Lunchbox Buddies,” consists of detachable and colorable positive affirmations for kids.

Bellsmith tells the story of a software developer contacting him about turning the notion of the doodles into a phone app. His response was that they seemed to have missed the point of what he was doing with his daughter and why they did it that way.

“For me there is something about the idea coming out of your head, going through your hand and onto the page. That’s my creative process.”

It was a perfect point to ask Bellsmith about A.I.-generated images and if they qualify as art. 

Though he proclaimed nothing more than a casual knowledge of the topic, I found his response interesting — especially in light of his views on the benefits of creating by traditional methods.

“It just seems to me that in a world that has so much immediate gratification, there ought to be some times where gratification is a process.”

Art has to have a human origin, doesn’t it? Part of appreciating art is understanding the process and where it came from. Or where it came from.

Watch John in action and learn more about his Lunchbox Doodles.

Matt de Heus
Matt de Heus
Despite his background in chemical and manufacturing engineering, Matt's true passion lies in music. Matt has received local awards from REVIEW magazine, recognizing his achievements in country songwriting, single releases, music videos, and more. His captivating song "Gone" has garnered particular acclaim. Alongside his musical pursuits, Matt is an accomplished freelance writer, lending his expertise to REVIEW magazine. He now joins LLL as their resident music expert. By following Matt and LLL, music enthusiasts can stay informed about Michigan's exceptional artists, captivating venues, and remarkable music scene.
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