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November 16th, 2011 MARTIN CIZMAR | Culture Features
 

Cute Counts

Meet Kevin Reynolds, the guy who drew those adorable “End Petlessness” billboards.

culturefeature-kevin_reynolds_3802POOCH PORTRAITIST: Kevin Reynolds hangs with Leopold Ketel and Partners’ office dogs. - IMAGE: Amaren Colosi
But for their usually portly paychecks, it’d be almost tragic how the people behind our era’s greatest advertising campaigns toil in obscurity despite the ubiquity of their handiwork.

The Coke polar bears…invented by Jonathan Doe? The Most Interesting Man In The World: Brainchild of The Most Anonymous Man In The World. The Geico Cavemen got a short-lived sitcom, but their creator wouldn’t get a double take on Madison Avenue.

Image from oregonhumane.org

Which is why it’s a little strange to find Portlander Kevin Reynolds signing autographs. Reynolds is the illustrator behind the past two iterations of the Oregon Humane Society’s End Petlessness campaign. You’ve probably seen the murals around town, depicting special little moments between furball and master. One, which went up this week at Southwest Washington Street and 2nd Avenue, facing people coming into the city on the Morrison bridge, shows a boy and his dog rolling around in front of a campfire. Another has a contented cat owner sharing his newspaper with an orange kitty. A third shows Portland Timbers defender Eric Brunner juggling a soccer ball with a little gray bulldog modeled loosely on his pup, Franklin.

They’ve been a huge hit, says Terra Spencer, a manager at Portland firm Leopold Ketel and Partners, which created the ads pro bono. “People have already written in—they want to know where they can buy posters, they want to know what we’re doing with the outdoor posters when we’re done,” Spencer says. “They want to hang them in their house,” she says.

The murals are intensely cute and devastatingly effective. Oregon’s animal adoptions are up 21.2 percent in the five years since the campaign began, which the Humane Society credits to the ads. Likewise, volunteerism at the OHS is up, says spokeswoman Barbara Baugnon, which she attributes to “the good will the campaign had generated.”

Why are they so effective? Simple: they’re positive.

“The whole point of it was, instead of showing sad animals with Sarah McLachlan playing in the background, to show the positives that animals to bring to humans,” Reynolds says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. We wanted to go really with moments, where people and animals are relating.”

Reynolds didn’t concoct the original campaign, which was developed by one of LKP’s former writers and originally drawn in a simpler style by a British artist, but he has illustrated the billboards for the past two years. His precious portraits of pet-upgraded life have captured the imagination of Portlanders, which is why he’s getting so much attention. It’s an odd spot for Reynolds, 35, a LKP designer who is married and has two daughters, Fiona and Eva, and a cat adopted from the Oregon Humane Society. Reynolds grew up in Seattle and went to the Art Institute of Chicago before his gig at LKP. He’s been around in Portland, starting the Green Dragon brewpub with two partners and he operates the Via Chicago food tent at the Portland Farmers Market. “I never expected anyone to ask for my autograph,” he says. “That’s not something that happens in this business.”

It’s also worth noting that the original “End Petlessness” campaign was a bit controversial, drawing fire from bloggers who objected to the implication that everyone was fit for pet ownership. That sentiment has subsided. Only an errant “cease and desist” letter from the University of Oregon’s athletics department, which was initially upset to see their “O” logo next to a Beavers flag on the “A House Divided” billboard, marred this year’s rollout. (That mess was quickly cleared up—some other bureaucratic paper pushery had cleared the use.)

The next client that has commissioned LKP illustrations, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, is upping the ante with a Reynolds-drawn children’s book due in May. They’re sure to be collectable, especially when autographed. It’s a steep ascent considering this was the first big-time illustration work Reynolds has done.

“I doodle constantly, so they’ve always seen me draw, but they’d never seen me do something complete like this, so it was a big leap of faith for them,” he says.

The cynical view is that pictures this cute—and, oh my, are they ever cute—have to be conscripted into sales. Or maybe Reynolds will just retire to the easel (or digital version thereof, as these drawings are vector-based) and, like the masters of old, make his living through the patronage of Portland’s gentry.

“Someone wanted me to do their family and their dog, a personal portrait,” he says. “It could be a nice little side business.”

 
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