Catching up with artist, designer, adventurer John Fellows
Artist, designer, adventurer and mastermind behind this year’s Banff Film Festival merch design. Hailing from Crested Butte, Colorado, John takes us through his tumultuous journey through the world of art and design, and the inspiration behind this year’s BUFF art.
Looking at John’s collection for outdoors giant Smartwool, you’d never believe that he was a C grade student in high school art class, but he is proof that passion and commitment are our most valuable tools. John admits that his relationship with art was therapeutic in its beginnings; a self-proclaimed “control freak”, he found his solace and the ability to let go of perfection driven expectations in his pursuit of linoleum carving. As a graphic designer trying his hand at realistic computer illustration, he found himself sucked into a vortex of perfection in every line, every shape that gnawed away at his creative spirit and left him uninspired. He kept his own handmade art as a hobby for many years, emphasising that “at that time (following his university graduation), no one wanted the hand-made stuff.” After leaving college, John travelled extensively to Europe and found his inspiration amongst the jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps, working on linoleum carvings and letting nature inspire his art.
The (art) tables have turned
Down the track, the art and design world came full circle and people, and companies, started valuing craftmanship again; whether that’s carpentry, art, you name it. People started valuing the imperfection and unique characteristics of handmade art. This turn of tables was perfectly timed for John, and the long wait paid off; “after years and years of me sending out portfolios, finally these companies turned to me and valuing my work, which was great as it allowed me to step away from the computer-based work that I didn’t feel was my true calling. I like having dirty, cut up hands after finishing a piece; it was much more fulfilling.” While it took him years of failed pieces, unanswered emails and hard life lessons, sticking with his passion was the true reward for John. He says “your original work is probably not going to be great. No-one’s is. But if you just keep at something enough, you will get better, and you will create something meaningful.”
The Great ArtDoors
John came into his own with his work at a time when outdoor artists were still few and far between. He first started making outdoor-centric art for himself and his friends, drawing on his travel experiences and his love for mountains and rivers, he didn’t intend for the world to see it. But the rapid popularity and relatability of his nature-inspired work quickly changed that. For John, his artwork appeals to the outdoor community because of the long hours of handiwork it took to create it; “all those sports, skiing, surfing, climbing, they’re all such physical pursuits that you can’t quite replicate on the computer. When it comes to artistic styles and aesthetics, handcrafted art appeals more to those who have an appreciation of that rough and tumble hard work; it all started when I decided to make art myself and my friends could relate to.” His “contemporary folk” style brings minimalist vintage and nature to life, capturing the beauty of nature through staunch stylized graphics. He finds his inspiration in the landscapes that he surrounds himself with, and more often than not, his own experience of the outdoors makes its way into his work.
Banff Mountain Film Festival inspiration
This year, the Banff Mountain Film Festival celebrates mountain literature and film, casting the spotlight on the words and images that honour our great outdoors and transporting us with words.
As a compulsive thrift store book enthusiast (and occasional hoarder), John was excited to bring to life his love of books through his art. He says “I was really excited to hear about the book contest this year and really wanted to honour the theme of literature, and convey that vintage aesthetic. I wanted to represent Banff’s beautiful mountains, and Lake Louise as they’re such special places, and I wanted to create something that was worthy of the Festival. It was difficult to create pieces that encompassed all elements of mountain life but I wanted to create art that could transport us like words do.”