Art is a big part of what makes neighborhoods unique. If you see brightly colored front doors, botanical murals on garages, or cutout artwork adorning fences while driving through East Lansing residential areas, it just might be the handy work of fellow East Lansing resident and artist Adrienne Gelardi.
Born in Canton, this Michigander studied traditional animation at Columbia College in Chicago. After graduation, she moved back to Michigan and got a job at Dart Container, designing paper cups and plates – “future trash,’” as she says. Gelardi ended up quitting that “soul-sucking” office job and pursued art fulltime. Today, the fulltime artist is booked for months with commissions to turn trash into treasure and beautify spaces.
After painting her home’s front door with paint from Home Depot and hating the outcome, she decided to do her own white line work. She posted the photo online, and many local art appreciators fell in love with the style. Gelardi wondered if more people would be interested in this style of art and if they would pay for her craft.
Turns out, they were interested and willing to pay.
Gelardi has made a name for herself locally and throughout the state as a mural artist who transforms bland front doors and dated garage doors into bright, bold pieces of art.
“I’ve really honed in on my style. Someone told me my style is voluptuous, which is really funny,” Gelardi laughed. “I think they just meant that it was not photo-realistic. It’s a bright, vivid representation.”
Often painting flowers and botanical landscapes, Gelardi also enjoys the juxtaposition of things, and placing unexpected elements within a project.
“My art is always extremely colorful and designer-focused,” she said. “I take a lot of time to place colors and elements in a way that is appealing as a whole layout. I think some other artists don’t do that. I don’t necessarily think I’m the most skilled artist when it comes to proportions or things being exact, but I take the whole overall layout into consideration and I think that’s what I excel at more than just being able to draw a flower.”
Of course, the artwork goes deeper than merely painting a flower. For Gelardi, it’s therapeutic. “This is what brings me joy, and people see that and then it brings them joy,” she says.
Similar to an early influence, Lisa Frank, her art is bright and cheery too. “I grew up when Lisa Frank was really popular. I still have my Cleocatra trapper keeper, and I love it. I think the point of it is really happy, and I think that comes through to the person who likes the artwork. I think that’s why my artwork is doing so well because people can see that it was done with joy, and it just makes everyone happy. I feel like that was what Lisa Frank was – bright, colorful, not realistic, but so fun and happy.”
Although the art’s aesthetic isn’t realistic, Gelardi has made very planned, strategic moves throughout her career to get to where she is today. To avoid being pigeonholed into a specific set of jobs, she has had to be tactful in accepting commissions. Oftentimes, being a one-woman business isn’t easy.
“It’s tricky because when it’s just you, when you say no to things, people know that you’re the one saying ‘no’ to it. At work, if someone says ‘no,’ it can be blamed on the higher-ups. Now that I’ve gotten so busy, I’m definitely having growing pains. I like doing the doors and the residential stuff, but I also want to do more artsy projects in the art world that I’d like to break into. It’s a matter of making the right moves to get the right amount of the jobs I want to be getting.”
The residential commissions are plentiful though, with doors and garages painted in St. Johns, Ann Arbor, metro Detroit, Ludington, and Sandusky, Ohio. Locally, many East Lansing, Haslett, Okemos, and Williamston residents have handpicked Gelardi to beautify their home’s exterior.
Typically, homeowners find her via her Facebook posts or are directed to her from word-of-mouth referrals. “It’s amazing,” she said. “Even though I’m not rich or anything, I can’t believe that I have the success that I have. I’m so flattered and thrilled. I wouldn’t have imagined it when I was a teenager that anyone would pay me to make art.”
Residential projects typically first start with customer input, and an artist visit to the site/space. Gelardi takes photos of the garage doors, and the front of the house, to ensure the finished project is appealing as a whole. “Once I do a sketch, I try to superimpose it, or photoshop it onto their house so they can see it as a whole. Sometimes I draw it by hand too, whatever is best for the project. We set a date, and I show up and paint.”
The most popular painting request is the single front door, which typically takes a day to complete. Garage doors are also popular, and can take anywhere from three days to a week, depending on the amount of detail.
The ‘hollyhock fence’ project in East Lansing was the first time Gelardi experimented with cutout additions to her artwork. “It’s really cool to break the visual border of the fence. That’s another way I try to do unexpected things when I can. It was a random idea I had. It wasn’t the customer’s idea, but they were down for it; it’s more immersive. That house also has a tropical garage door. It’s a lighter sage color door with pink hibiscus and tropical leaves on it.”
This cutout work eventually inspired Gelardi to participate in a worldwide Game of Shrooms event. “Artists made mushroom art for people to find,” she said. “I really loved making those little yard ornament cutout mushrooms. They’re really cute and colorful. At some point, if I’m not into doing the murals as much, I would like to switch to doing weird, cute lawn ornaments.”
Making a name for herself, and developing a signature style is something Gelardi is proud of. After years of marketing and self-promotion, she’s finally booked with residential commissions until October, since the summertime is ideal for outside paint projects.
“I think I’ve figured out how to market the things that I want to do, and people also like it. They’re looking for unique things now, they’re sick of mass-produced things.”
The world wide web has also been a source of support for this artist, who is a member of a Buymeabeer.com, similar to Patreon.
“I spend a lot of time making posts, content, and entertainment for the internet,” Gelardi said. “It’s on Facebook, so it’s free for users, but it really takes a long time for me to make a post, which I do across multiple platforms. Buymeabeer.com is a way for artists to accept tips or donations for the work they do that isn’t paid.”
Followers can pay as little as $5/month to follow Gelardi’s work, including seeing exclusive behind-the-scenes progress photos and detailed art closeups and receiving snail mail gifts throughout the year. For now, Gelardi is accepting commissions for business murals, but can’t respond to residential inquiries until October. She’s hoping to be able to hire someone in the future to help her respond to inquiries quicker. Other future goals include a gallery exhibit, an ArtPrize exhibit, or an immersive, walk-through art experience event, possibly one with big, weird Halloween characters.
In the meantime, this local artist is happy to have walked away from a draining office job, in order to pursue her bright, bold passions. “I’m more interested in my mental well-being than money,” she said. “The fact that people enjoy my work definitely keeps me wanting to make more of it though. It’s also beautifying the area, and that is motivating to me.”