Dennis Doodlin’ Preston: Lansing Artist Talks Caricatures, Community College Dropouts & Concert Posters

Lansing Native Dennis Preston has put pen to paper for nearly 60 years, ever since his first grade classmate brought a Woody the Woodpecker book to show the class. Six decades later, the doodle master has designed concert posters for Alice Cooper, The Guess Who, Fifth Dimension, and more big names blues and rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

His older brother also enjoyed drawing, which had an influence on the youngster.

“I’d see cartoons on T.V. and just started drawing those,” Preston said. “When I was older, I started drawing from comic books — tracing. “There’s nothing wrong with tracing, it’s like a learning process; and that’s how I learned how to draw people more realistically.”

Adobe Photoshop PDF
Photo courtesy of Dennis Preston.

During high school, he had an unconventional art teacher who served as a mentor for the Lansing Eastern High School student. She introduced different art styles including Art Nouveau, and surrealism to Preston, who began painting more. He began taking as many art classes as he could, so many so that the school ran out of them. Then he was put in a room off of the main art room, and stayed there for 3-4 hours in a row. Sometimes, he’d even stay until 10 at night, listening to his record player, playing his guitar and drinking pop the teacher would leave in a closet for him.

His teacher told him about a local guy that was looking to start his own record store inside of a ‘hippie’ department store, Free Spirit. Preston soon began designing their print advertisements and painted murals for the store.

s&d_flyer
Photo courtesy of Dennis Preston.

After graduation, he signed up to take art classes at Lansing Community College. “The first class they had me in, we were just cutting squares out of paper,” Preston laughed, “but I was ready to draw.”

At the time, he was in a band, and quit school after a week to focus more on music. The band was mostly a covers band, playing popular songs from The Beatles, Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater, and hits from the ’50s.

In 1977, fate would have Preston return to the classroom at LCC, this time, the outcome was quite different though. His uncle bugged him to interview for an art teacher position at the college, the same one he had dropped out of. He got the job, and started the next week and taught art for 40 years.

Preston was hired because of his impressive portfolio of murals, ads, and his on-the-job experience that was deemed invaluable, in comparison to a degree. His impressive roster of concert poster designs and album artwork spoke louder than a transcript of classes.

 

 

Still, to this day, you’d be pressed to find Preston without a pen in his hand. Doodles are what he calls his style of artwork — free-flowing and often humorous; much like the artist. What began in 1969 doodling on napkins for waitresses at Dog-n-Suds on Michigan Ave turned into a lifelong hobby and career. Biggby Coffee also hosted a bunch of his napkin pop-surrealism cartoon doodles for a time.

 

 

 

“I call them doodles because I’m not planning them. I’m just drawing them. I don’t pencil them out first. I’ll start something, and then … it grows into something else I wasn’t planning. So that’s why I call them doodles. They are drawings, you know – but for me, I say ‘oh that’s a doodle.'”

With clients, the doodler has had to ‘color within the lines’ a little bit more, in order to fit their vision, and get the paycheck. He’s done many logos, many of which still remain in use as of recently. MSU Radio, The Impact’s logo, created by Preston, was in use for close to 20 years. He has created other logos for bands, companies, stores and also The State of Michigan Department of Labor.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the passion behind the pen. it’s a gift Preston simply can’t quit.

“It’s one of those things that’s in you,” he said. “I don’t know how other people think, but for me, I know it’s a gift because it’s nothing I came up with. And so, since it is a gift, I’m not throwing it away.”

 

 

While he, his wife are sometimes amazed that his art has paid for their children’s school, braces, and the bills — it’s a reality. But it isn’t always easy. Strangers will often compare their unhappy situations and lackluster jobs to Preston’s seemingly easygoing career.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘man, you have the kind of job that I wish I had.’ Especially if they’re working at a factory or doing something they’re not happy doing. It’s a trade off. It’s security. They’ve got steady pay, and benefits. When you work for yourself, you have to do all of that.”

Today, Preston keeps busy with caricature events at Potter Park Zoo, Silver Bells in the City, company holiday parties, weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, and more. He’s also released 7 coloring books, some of which are sold locally at Keys to Creativity in the Lansing Mall, Old Town General Store, and on Lulu.com — the self-publishing site he uses.

Lately, he’s gotten into more of a collaborative art scene — with fellow graphic artists Paul Vetne and Marcus Cottom, of Jive One 5even. They meet weekly on Monday at the Green Door for art fusion nights.

“They’re called exquisite corpses, they started in the early 1900’s in France,” Preston said. “Different artists would get together in cafes and stuff, and as a game, they’ll take a piece of paper and fold it into thirds. You draw ahead, you leave two lines down, and you fold it so the next artist can’t see what’s up there. That person draws a body, and then you draw four lines down – those are the legs, and the last person draws the legs and the feet. Then once it’s done, you open it up.”

IMG_3699.JPG

The art veteran has enjoyed getting to see an ever-growing arts community here in Lansing, one he’s proud to be part of.

“I think there are a whole lot more artists here now, and I think that’s a good thing,”Preston said. “There’s more variety of artists, there’s more things for artists to be out in the public and doing things.”

Much like musicians who die on stage playing their songs — doing what they love is how Preston pictures himself living the rest of his life — pen in hand, paper on deck.

Snapseed.jpg
Photo by Sarah Spohn.

“I retired from teaching, but I’m not planning on retiring from artwork,” he said.

Preston’s doodles will be on display as part of the Arts Night Out in Old Town at the Arts Council of Greater Lansing on Friday, Sept. 7 from 5-8 p.m. for an artist reception.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s