Dennis Preston, this week’s Summer of Art artist and a frequent freelance artist for City Pulse, is well known locally for his wacky caricatures and trippy concert posters. He began developing his style early, after an encounter with a cartoon fowl.
“I started art in first grade when another student brought a Woody Woodpecker book to class,” Preston, 64, recalled. “I figured I could draw the character.”
Preston continued to pursue art in school, developing his skills and learning more about the craft. Teachers at Lansing’s Eastern High School exposed him to a variety of styles.
“I had a really good teacher who was very encouraging and challenging,” Preston said. “She exposed me to all kinds of art, but Art Nouveau was my favorite — and still is.”
Preston pulls inspiration from a variety of artists, including psychedelic poster artists Rick Griffin and Stanley “Mouse” Miller and cartoonists Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Robert Crumb.
“I don’t think I’m the one to answer whether my art is unique or not,” Preston explained. “My audience should say what makes it unique.”
Preston often takes an improvisatory approach to his work, with many pieces starting out as “doodles.”
“I don’t plan them out, meaning pencil before ink,” Preston said. “I just start drawing and let them go wherever they’re going to go.”
Preston’s illustrations caught the eye of local concert promoters, who tapped him to make concert posters in 1969.
“I did them for a concert venue in Detroit and the concert series at Sherwood Forest (in Richfield Township) for DJ Peter C (Cavanaugh).” Preston said.
Preston has created dozens of cover illustrations for City Pulse — many of which can be found on his Facebook page — and creates the caricatures for most of the paper’s columnists.
Though his primary work is in freelance illustration, Preston also considers himself an entertainer.
“People hire me by the hour to draw at social events,” he said. “I draw at class reunions, weddings, conventions, college and high school events, all kinds of things.”
In addition to art-making, Preston has taught at Lansing Community College since 1977 and dabbles in music. He is involved in two recording projects, one with friend Perry McDonald and the other a solo project. He even popped up at last weekend’s JazzFest, performing an after-hours set with experimental outfit the Otherband. He’s also carving out time for a personal project.
“Presently, I’ve been working on a coloring book,” Preston said. “It has been taking a little time, because clients’ work has priority.”
While his interests are diverse, they all coalesce into a recognizable style.
“I’d describe my passion and art as sometimes edgy, funny, odd — sometimes pleasing and sometimes entertaining,” he said.
Preston encourages aspiring artists to not be afraid of creating something new.
“No matter what level of talent and any skills you have, don’t compare yourself to others,” Preston said. “Just keep putting stuff out.”