The Crayon Man on the Gulf Coast

Todd Alan talks River Route series, art, and life

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 10/12/17

FOLEY – There are only a handful of artists who create fine art with the use of crayons, and one of them is living right here on the Gulf Coast.

Todd Alan has been fascinated with art from an …

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The Crayon Man on the Gulf Coast

Todd Alan talks River Route series, art, and life

Posted

FOLEY – There are only a handful of artists who create fine art with the use of crayons, and one of them is living right here on the Gulf Coast.

Todd Alan has been fascinated with art from an early age, when he lived in Minnesota and used to paint windows during the holidays and sit with his neighbor, who first introduced him to the concept of fine art through crayons. After serving in the Navy, Alan got married, and never gave up his love for art.

ART LIFE

In 2005, Alan and his wife, Sue, left Minnesota for Alabama. “I had an uncle who lived here in Orange Beach,” said Alan. “I came down here to visit him and I realized what kind of art Mecca it was in the Gulf Coast; I knew I needed to be here to show everybody what I can do with a crayon.”

The move has not been in vain. After a few years in Robertsdale, Alan felt a move to the beach was needed due to the inspiration he finds from the ocean and the animals in the area, so the family moved to Gulf Shores, and eventually ended in Foley.

In 2012, Alan and his wife had their first child, a son named Ryder, and Alan took a few years off to spend them with his family. Once his son began Pre-K, Alan returned to his craft, though he often takes breaks to take a walk along the beach while taking photos, or to run RC cars across the dunes with Ryder.

Previously Alan showcased his originals at many local festivals, such as Shrimp Fest and Foley’s Art in the Park, but the process was difficult due to the nature of crayon art.

“Direct sunlight can fade your artwork,” said Alan. “It appears to thin it out because it gets too hot through direct sunlight, which is why I stopped doing festivals … It was a risk, and my images take 3 to 6 months to get one done.”

Much of Alan’s work can be seen hanging in various locations throughout the area, such as Jesse’s Restaurant in Magnolia Springs or The Foley Art Center. Artwork in The Foley Art Center can be purchased at any time, and while there is no price tag on the works in Jesse’s, they normally go on sale during the holidays.

RIVER ROUTE SERIES

Alan has spent countless hours and eight years creating six works of art to immortalize Magnolia Springs River forever with his River Route Series.

“I took a boat ride with Mark Lipscomb in Magnolia Springs and took thousands of pictures,” said Alan.

As the photos which Alan works from were taken years ago, many things have changed at Magnolia River since that time. While each River Route picture has a mailbox included in it, there are a few mailboxes that are no longer even present on the river, and some of the piers featured have since been washed away due to storms and flooding. Alan’s artwork is now part of history, as the locations he depicts are no longer standing.

The crayon artworks are extremely detailed, and Alan says the more you study them, the more you can find.

He plans to sell the River Route Series not only in print and cards, but also on blankets and collector plates.

TRIM A TREE

Alan will be featured at Trim A Tree which opens in Tanger Outlets next month, and this year he’s designed a new product that is affordable for everyone.

The product is called Gallery in a Bag, and will include 11 Crayon Man prints on a small wood easel, as well as one original artwork. The bags will be clear so you can see which 11 prints are included, with the original artwork being displayed on the front.

“No original is the same,” said Alan. “They’re all different.”

You also will get 2 crayon charms to put on a necklace or bracelet, and the entire Gallery in a Bag will be running for $25.

For anyone who won’t be able to make it to Trim A Tree in person, they will be able to purchase their own personal tiny gallery online for the normal $25 plus shipping. The proceeds from online purchases will be donated to charity, while Trim A Tree purchases will be going to production.

“I’ll have some going to production, but also be able to give back at the same time,” said Alan.

One thing Alan finds important in any aspect of life is giving back. He began getting calls from charities when he worked at a now closed business in Gulf Shores called Art Alley. It was when the charities began coming that Alan knew the kind of difference he could make with his art.

“Donations are important,” said Alan. “I always give for silent auctions for breast cancer and hospice, those are my two big ones, and the youth outreach program. I try to help them out as much as possible with sells.”

Alan has artwork that was created with the thought of comfort in mind, to help people who are dealing with death, or dealing with hard times in their life. He creates cards with his work, which he gives to people who are going through difficult times. Alan has done commission work for those who have lost loved ones and who use art as a method to reconnect and cope. Many of his works of this nature are displayed in local hospitals and churches in the area. He also has helped multiple schools in the past to maintain art programs.

“The more you listen, you hear more about giving than about taking, and that’s what I want,” Alan said.

TECHNIQUE

One of the questions that Alan claims to be asked the most is how exactly does he do his crayon artworks. His response? Lots of practice.

“The more practice the more creative I got,” Alan said. “I never melt the crayons, I never alter them in any way. It’s just layering, building the layers of crayon, because it’s made of parathion wax, so it’s its own preservative. There’s no coating that you have to put on it.”

According to Alan, one needs a basic understanding on which crayons will “sit” with other crayons, and by learning this Alan was able to determine which colors to stack to achieve the effects needed for a piece.

Another important medium for Alan’s work is brown grocery bags.

“We didn’t have Hobby Lobby or Michael’s when I grew up,” Alan said. “My mom came home with grocery bags, and I used only those to create my art on.” He still uses brown grocery bags on all his artwork, and then transfers the finished product to watercolor canvas. Alan states that the grocery bags have a fade resistance additive to keep them from breaking, and they keep crayons from bleeding through.

The temperature when Alan is working must be kept around 68 degrees to keep the crayons cool, and he is unable to place his arms on the picture at any time to avoid heating up the colors, which can pull them off if layering has been complete.

One piece of work can easily take half a year to finish, such as an alligator piece Alan did years ago, before his son was born. During the creation of that one, Alan says he was working 14 hours a day for 5 and a half months to get done.

His one regret? Not leaving his desk more.

“I wish during that period of time I would have gotten up and gone for more walks,” Alan says. “You have to, you have to exercise, put down the crayons and go for a walk, get the creative juices going again, and I wish I would have done that. That was a big lesson.”

Aside from just crayons, Alan has begun to experiment with combining crayon art with watercolor backgrounds, and also has an acrylics series in the works.

If you’re interested in ordering an original, print, or talking about a commission, visit his Facebook page at The Crayon Man. Alan says to private message him if you’re interested in any of his works, or you can follow the page for updates, to see new artwork, and to join in the contests that are held there, one such contest which ends on Nov 1.