Crayon Man Makes His Mark
Todd Alan gives a whole new meaning to "coloring outside the lines." And while the 44-year-old Minnesota native now calls Gulf Shores his home, his childhood love of art and crayons are what makes his creations so unusual and in such high demand.
|Todd Alan, inset photo, fell in love with south Alabama while visiting a relative. Some of his work includes River Route 270, shown here.|
"Is that really all done with crayons?" Todd gets that question a lot, and the answer is always yes.
His journey to south Alabama and his career as an artist had several stops along the way, all of which have shaped his talent and taste for something different.
"I came to Alabama to visit my mother's brother (Bill Rushmeyer) who lives in Lillian," Todd said. "I had been drawing for years. But when I visited south Alabama, I was captivated. I called my wife, Sue, and told her to pack up everything. We were moving to Alabama."
The couple lived in nearby Robertsdale for a while but eventually settled in Gulf Shores where his artwork has greater exposure. It was in Gulf Shores that Todd began to focus solely on his art career.
"Lots of people up North think it's just alligators and hicks in the South, like something out of Deliverance," Todd said. "But it's nothing like that at all to me. People in the South really are friendlier, and they'll help you any way they can. I think when you live with eight months of cold winter and ice every year, it freezes your brain. I love the South. I'm here to stay."
Todd said he was fortunate as a young boy to meet famed crayon artist Don Marco who shared his technique of layering colors to achieve a certain hue. Todd attended school in Minnesota with Marco's grandchildren, and although he was only about 12 at the time, Todd said he learned a lifetime of knowledge from Marco.
"His work is really remarkable and is quite famous," Todd said. "I will always be grateful to him for sharing his time and talent with me."
To the casual observer, Todd's work looks like it's created with acrylics or oils.
"I only use Crayola crayons," Todd said. "I really love to use antique Crayolas when I can find them. The waxes in those are really the best, but they can be expensive.
"Once I figure out the formula of layers to make a certain color I write it down so if I need it again I'll know what it is. You have to be patient to do this, that's for sure. For example, I use five different colors to make buckskin. I have thousands of formulas for different colors and affects."
Crayola, the crayon company, is a fan of Todd's work as well. He received a giant box of crayons from the company as a gift.
Todd draws on brown paper similar to a typical paper grocery bag, adding that he gets the best effects from it. He uses hundreds of crayons and spends countless hours to create just one of his masterpieces that can fetch a price upwards of $25,000. Prints and reproductions cost less and also are in high demand.
He works at a studio in his home and has a studio at Art Alley in the Pinnacle Mall at Gulf Shores. He loves to attend art festivals where he can talk about his artwork and answer questions from people who just can't believe it's all done with crayons. A favorite show for Todd and his wife, Sue, is the annual Shrimp Festival held each October in Gulf Shores.
The two most popular crayon colors Todd uses on his artwork are white and black, and in a single month, he typically uses 1,000 white crayons and 2,000 blacks. Portraits usually take him two to six weeks, and a large landscape may take as long as five months.
Todd's artwork now hangs in homes throughout the South and in local restaurants and businesses in the Gulf Shores area. He routinely donates his artwork to local charity auctions or designates proceeds of a particular piece to a worthy cause.
Todd is especially fond of a recently completed project called "Finders Keepers" that has gold and sterling inlays and is a tribute to the SS Republic. The SS Republic was lost in an 1865 hurricane with a cargo of mostly silver coins, reported at the time as $450,000 face value. The wreck was discovered in 2003 in 1,700 feet of water about100 miles off the Georgia coast. Todd's drawing is of the first photos taken of the wreck site, complete with crabs and other marine life crawling through the treasure.
Later this month, Todd plans to begin teaching weekly art classes to children, sharing his crayon technique and love of art.
"Someone encouraged me and helped me, so I feel compelled to share what I know," Todd said. "Crayons are something every child has, and we all grew up with them. They're art too."
To see more of Todd's artwork, visit his Web site at www.thecrayonman.com