Night owl Mike Wellins stays freshly creative by switching mediums, projects, and following the sparked ideas inspired by mythology and mysteries. From working at animation studio LAIKA to two decades in commercial animation and film making, Mike has mastered every form of animation under the sun – or hovering rain cloud depending on the Portland weather that day.
With ideas generated from nostalgia of his youth hood making 8mm movies with Karo syrup and red dye “blood”, he still – to this day – creatively induces new scenes of oddities and peculiarity at his northwest Portland shop the Peculiarium.
Though babysitting a larger than life Great Dane named Capone might already seem like a full work load for some, Mike has come to live by the epigram to do work that you love. With the creative ingenuity that he delivers, it is obvious to recognize just exactly how he feels about his books, the Peculiarium, and even his NERC (Non-elective Retroactive Collaboration) paintings – he loves the work he’s doing.
Would you define yourself as an artist? Creator?
I sort of just respond to things I like to do. I feel like now, the age I’m at, I finally have the patience to practice the skills that I have to be able to do whatever interests me…for the most part.
I’ve done animation, filmmaking, I did commercials for like twenty years. That helped me pay for the Peculiarium. It was the by far the best paying but also most miserable job I have had. After twenty years, I’ve done every form of animation. I do still love it, but if I never do an animated commercial again I’ll be fine.
What did you learn through that process and animation career?
I mean, I lucked out. I worked with some profoundly talented artists and learned so much from them. But who doesn’t just want to be able to do what they want to do?
There’s that whole idea about getting a steady job and a steady paycheck, but that’s until they don’t need you or can replace you. I think that’s kind of an illusion, because if you’re unhappy it doesn’t matter. I mean I have to work like anyone else, but now I’m starting to be able to do work that’s more in line with what I like to do.
Life is too short.
What are you currently creating?
Right now it’s perfect. I’m designing sets, working with these guys who can create anything with a computer, and it’s fascinating. But you know they still need someone to draw. They need someone to concept. They need to spitball ideas. I love it.
I also loved making these sets for this conference up in Toronto for Mountain Dew and the NBA for this software called Tilt Brush. It’s insane! They needed me to make art for it, and I got to design the sets for the show. So they built it just like the sets I made, and it was so satisfying. I’ve seen my concepts created in little sets before, but nothing of this magnitude. Super satisfying.
How have/haven’t you integrated technology into your creativity over the years?
Well, the computer is the digital pencil. You have to be able to use a computer. But I’ve been bitten by the computer so many times – especially in animation. Crashing. Lost scenes. Disconnected files…so, I try to get off the computer when I’m doing stuff I like. For me, computers just aren’t conducive to exploring. I like to go back to traditional media. I’ve never been doing a drawing and turned back to find my paper and pencil gone.
What mediums do you like working with most?
I love to sculpt, draw, paint. But I’m actually really into old photography right now. I’ll go to flea markets, collector shows, paper shows…and finding old images. It’s super fun for me. I even did a book a few years back. Even if a lot aren’t sold, I just want to do it because I really like it.
Now, it’s so easy to digitally take a photo. I’m convinced that about eighty percent of images get deleted for whatever reason – you know – if your phone is full, you just delete them. But you really have to go out of your way to destroy an old photograph. If you don’t tear it up or burn it, they just stay around. Whether it’s a good shot or not – for those people in that moment, they were compelled to pull the trigger to take that photograph. When I find a box, I’ll just sit there and go through the whole thing. I will take hours.
How do you pull inspiration from the people around you?
Well, I’m currently working with my girlfriend’s son. He’s really got me into vapor wave. You take crazy old found footage from eighties tapes and record them back on to VHS. Now we even go out and record when I’m not working. He calls it vapor wave, music videos – but really they’re art films. It’s really fun to just go out, shoot – and not have anyone tell you what to do.
How has your creativity and artistic style developed throughout your life?
I think a lot of the stuff I do sort of nostalgically goes back to my childhood. I grew up and went to grade school in southern California and it was super hot all the time. So my brother and my friends and I used to just go to the library and draw. I think it would drive the librarian crazy that we weren’t reading, but we weren’t causing trouble either. It has always been something to do.
I like all the pop culture mythology things. True mysteries too. Things that are beyond the norm, I guess.
So, even back in my youth hood we would make 8mm movies. My dad was a very practical guy, so he would never let us kids use his camera. So when I eventually got my own, it was that freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. I would get a roll of film for a dollar seventy-nine and then to the grocery store and get a bottle of Karo with some food coloring. And that was all you needed for a movie. But after a while even that kind of got old. After watching about three minutes of that on film you think, okay I need something more here. So you start to develop a story with audio.
But, I’ve always been able to go back to drawing. I went to school for art and English. I’ve always liked writing, and I’ve always liked storytelling. And I guess drawing is a way of storytelling.
What does it mean to you to be a Portland Creative?
I guess I just don’t know anything else. For me, I like repurposing stuff – for the Peculiarium, even in my paintings. Portland’s great because I know it so well, I know where I can get the things I need. A lot of things have also stemmed from the people I’ve met too. I think collaborating is really important. Maybe the aspect of working with other people makes it more fun. The actual finished stuff does nothing for me. It’s the process. Even with The Peculiarium, I’ll finish something I’m just more interested to move on to what’s next. I’m really into the process.
Find a painting, read his comics, and visit the Peculiarium!