How you view a doorway might say a lot about who you are as a person.
On the one hand, a door can be considered a means to keep out unwanted guests and distractions — a measure of comfort that comes from the security of sequestering yourself safely behind the closed latches and hinges that keep the outside world at bay and provide a sense of solitude.
The other camp may see a door as a tool of welcoming whose purpose is to attract attention and invite others inside a space of shared camaraderie and fellowship.
For a number of years, East Lansing artist Adrienne Gelardi has used her skills to unlock some of the secrets for the latter group across mid-Michigan and beyond — and turning quite a few heads in the process. Her business, Art of Adrienne, has garnered a positive reputation as well as a healthy stockpile of press attention for the bright and bold murals and designs Gelardi brings to doorways and more across mid-Michigan and beyond.
“I painted my own front door in 2018 after I finished painting my whole house two shades of dark gray. I picked out a chartreuse color that looked great at the store and terrible on my door,” Gelardi said. “I am stubborn and didn’t want to have to buy a new color to paint over it. Instead, I was inspired by my new painting hobby, so I decided to jazz it up with a floral pattern. I choose all-white line work hoping to make it look more modern. After posting it on my Art of Adrienne page, people went nuts about it. None of my watercolor pet portraits or other paintings garnered as much attention. At that point I knew I was onto something, so I started marketing this service to residential customers.”
It didn’t take too long for the commercial sector to also take notice, and she said that this year the majority of her commissions are coming from local businesses in mid- and southeast Michigan.
Gelardi created Art of Adrienne as a Facebook page in 2016 when she started painting regularly as hobby for stress relief, but her artistic initiatives stretch back much farther. She took inspiration as a child from the artwork of Michigan native Lisa Frank.
“I spent a lot of time drawing cats and cat people and anthropomorphic cats — all the classics,” she said with a laugh. “I also recall drawing a dinosaur with my mom’s lipstick on the basement wall and carving numbers onto my dad’s car when I was a little kid. It only dawned on me in the last year that I was basically being a mural artist before even knowing murals existed.”
Gelardi attended Columbia College Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree focusing on traditional animation, hoping to find a home animating cartoons and movies.
“But after graduating I realized it was hard to find a full-time job in animation, especially in Michigan,” she said. “I also don’t think I excelled at animation, but school did help me become a more well-rounded artist with a better eye for creating appealing compositions and layouts.”
She ended up working as a production artist at a company in Greater Lansing; however, as she continued to hone her talents, Gelardi was also becoming more frustrated and disillusioned with the corporate world.
“My co-worker at the time let me borrow his Dr. Ph. Martin’s liquid watercolors, and they were so vibrant and inspiring I couldn’t put them down. After spending a few months painting, I thought it would be amazing if I could leave my job and become an artist,” she said.
A few years ahead of the Great Resignation, Gelardi took the leap, parlaying the Art of Adrienne Facebook page into a full-fledged business as Art of Adrienne LLC in 2018.
“The amount of emotional labor it took to put up with management and office politics was much more than I could physically bear,” she said. “I knew it would be lot of work, but it was so worth it when I left.”
The risk, it seems, paid off as Gelardi found a unique niche to fully explore and unveil her style. She said her design ideas come from anywhere and everywhere — from nature to using other artwork as a springboard to inspiration.
“Ultimately, my design philosophy is making it look pretty. My artwork is more representational than photo realistic. I like to make unexpected choices and use color combinations people aren’t used to seeing,” Gelardi said.
“I only take on clients who are looking for an artist to supply their own unique vision to a project. I will take basic input from the client to tailor a design to their personal preference and the needs of the space. I will often make suggestions and explain why I may think a certain color would look better in a space than another,” she added. “Ultimately, I don’t accept every job because many times I don’t feel like I’m the right artist for it. I don’t copy artwork or logos. I can make things inspired by other artwork, but don’t come to me to paint Disney characters on your wall.”
Her favorite job thus far in her career was a mural at Wiard’s Orchard in the Ypsilanti area detailing a history of the establishment with a Halloween theme.
“Going to Wiard’s Orchard in the fall was one of my favorite things to do when I was a kid,” she said. “It’s one of the best orchards in Michigan. When they contacted me, I was beside myself with excitement. … It’s rare that I get to paint skeletons, headless horsemen and jack-o’-lanterns, and it turns out those are some of my favorite things to paint. It only got better from there because they let me camp on their property while working on a mural and also regularly let me hold their baby goats.”
As for the future, Gelardi has ideas simmering on the back burner she hopes to one day find the time and funding to bring to the forefront. In the meantime, she’s happy to bring her vision to life and make her clients happy.
“The best part about what I do, other than happy customer reactions, is that it’s multifaceted and it always keeps me interested,” Gelardi said. “As an artist, it’s exciting to be painting trash cans to look like ice-cream cones one day and then be painting barn doors to look like a flowery neon-sign backdrop for a wedding venue the next. Sometimes it’s so random, but it’s always fun.”