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Check Out Lon Levin’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lon Levin.

Hi Lon, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My art career started when I was very young. I loved cartoons. My favorites were Popeye, Daffy Duck and Heckle & Jeckle. I’d sit in front of the TV set and try my best to draw characters as I saw them on screen. I also drew characters on the walls of my closet with crayons. My mother, an amateur artist, took notice and gave me art assignments.
My first real recollection of any art achievement was winning a painting contest in 1st grade. It was a painting of Pinnochio, who was and is my favorite Disney character. After that, my mother took me to painting classes with her for years.

My real art education started when I transferred to the UCLA Art Department From USC Cinema school in the early 70’s. My parents were in the middle of a divorce and neither wanted to pay the tuition to USC which is a private school. UCLA was a less expensive alternative. I tried to get into the UCLA Film School but they were filled up. They offered me a space in the coming year if I got into another department like the art school. I ran over to the art department and begged them to let me in and after much cajoling and selling myself, they agreed. I never transferred into the cinema department. I was hooked on art.

The year I was set to graduate UCLA, my life changed forever when a girl I was dating told me I should enroll at Art Center College of Design. I had never heard of it so she volunteered to take me there. As I walked into the halls, I saw student work on the walls that was absolutely mind-blowing. I felt like a caveman who had just discovered fire. Of course, when I pitched the idea of me going to grad school at the Art Center, my father practically disowned me. He was certain I had lost my mind. “Get a Job!” he screamed at me when we first discussed it, then he babbled on and blamed my mother for making me a sissy who wanted to finger paint all day long! It was to no avail, my mind was made up, I was going to be an artist.

Fortunately for me, my mother did pay her half of the costly tuition, I got a scholarship and loan for the rest. My mother’s only condition is that I take my studies seriously. I can tell you this, there is no way anyone can fake their way through Art Center and not get kicked out,…quick. I took myself seriously and the payoff was well worth it.

When I graduated from Art Center as an advertising/Illustration major, I was equipped with skills that have lasted me a lifetime.

Early on, right after my Art Center graduation, my confidence took major hits. Rejections, disapproval from my father and my wife’s parents weighed heavily on me. I couldn’t support myself let alone a wife and small child.

There were times I’d put aside my creative career to work at occupations that would generate enough income to support my growing family. Most of the time, I’d find myself creating artwork in my free time. Always imagining the type of position I wanted to have in the art world. If I couldn’t be an illustrator, then maybe I could be an art director. So I took night courses to hone that skill. After five years working multiple odd jobs, studying and freelancing, I landed an art director position at 20th Century Fox. After that, I never doubted my talent or choice of profession.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Seriously?? Anyone who says they’ve had a smooth road is crazy or lying. Here’s my bumpy one.
I’ve had many ups and downs in my career. My biggest struggle was with my parents. My father was a powerful entertainment executive and was constantly criticizing me. My parents had many fights about me. I was rebellious as were a lot of kids in the 60’s and 70’s and I found solace in sports and art.

It was my dream to become a major league baseball player and that was crushed by my father’s actions and injuries suffered along the way. In my mind, the only path I had left was my love of art.

In my early 20’s I became very focused on becoming an illustrator or art director. In close succession, I earned a degree in Fine Arts/Film from UCLA and another degree from Art Center College of Design in Advertising/illustration. I worked as a freelancer for years, supplemented by helping my mother and stepdad in their building business.

In 1983 I was hired as a full-time art director for 20th Century Fox feature films. I excelled at designing posters, ads and film trailers. I was promoted a few times until I was an executive creative director. I had created campaigns and worked on many films during the years I was there including hits like Romancing the Stone, Cocoon and their sequels as well.

I started my own design company after I left Fox and continued to work on their films and other studios films and TV properties as well. My small entity got very busy and soon, it overwhelmed me. After a few bad hirings and foolish decisions, I had to close the doors after a five year run.

I was devastated and thought that was the end of the road for me. The economy had a severe downturn and soon, I lost my house. My marriage was on the rocks and I began to have panic attacks.

It took me months to regain my confidence. In late 1991 I finally found a position as Creative Director for a fairly new company called Saban Entertainment. Within short order, our tiny marketing department of 4 people launched Power Rangers which became a billion dollar property for the up and coming company. The next five years was a wild roller coaster ride as Saban became one of the most powerful companies in Hollywood. During that time we launched dozens of cartoon shows, foreign films, domestic TV series and created one of the most powerful marketing departments in the entertainment business. However, after five years it was my time to leave to test myself and my talents in different areas of advertising.

I was recruited by Sony Game Show Network as their first Creative Director. I helped set up the advertising and marketing program to launch the network. After a year I got an offer to become a VP of Advertising for an Entertainment Ad Agency, Long Advertising. Aside from creating and overseeing projects, I also went after new business as well. Everything was going well until November of 1995 when my father suddenly became ill and was given three months to live. Our relationship over the years had deteriorated but it still came as a shock to me. I quit my job and did my best to help my dad with his needs. I soon learned his finances were a shambles and it would take years to sort things out. His fortune was gone and nowhere to be found. I went into a state of numbness. My marriage, already on shaky ground, fell apart completely. It took me quite a while to recover. In 1997, I started to freelance again for a top agency Friedland/Jacobs who would later hire me full-time Creative Director. During the time I was there, my team won many advertising awards including Gold and Silver Promax awards for entertainment advertising. However, the good times were cut short after five years when the founders of the agency sold out to a large tech company, Rare Medium, and our doors were closed soon after.

Within days of that, I was hired as the head of the worldwide marketing art department for Warner Bros syndicated TV. 📺 It was late 2001. We soon won many awards and our work was some of the best work Warner Bros put out during that period of time. We launched shows like “Ellen”, “Tyra Banks”, “Will & Grace”, “West Wing” and “Judge Judy” Our syndicated campaign had generated millions of dollars in fees. I stayed with Warners until 2006 when our department was eliminated in a cost-cutting action by management. I decided it was time to leave and pursue some lifelong goals of being an illustrator, in particular a children’s book illustrator.

From 2006 to 2009, I illustrated 33 books including a few award winners like “There’s A Kid Under My Bed” written by Lisa Willever. In 2009, I had to deal with serious unexpected medical problems. My art career was put on hold for a while.

After months of recovery, I moved to Big Bear Lake with my golden retriever Sebastian. During that time, I got into the best shape of my life, learned everything I could about social media and met my wife Havi. I moved back to LA in 2011 and moved into a home with her. We’ve been together ever since.

Over the next ten years, I published two online magazines (Real Creative and The Illustrators Journal), ran two half-marathons, the LA Marathon in 2013, acquired two more golden retrievers (Atticus and April) married Havi in 2015, worked as a real estate agent and started painting, creating and showing fine art.

In March of 2021, I stopped working in real estate and decided to work full-time on my art. I have had a solo show in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico, online shows with Biafarin, Las Lagunas Gallery and Exhibitioné.and I exhibited my work at The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles. I’ve also been interviewed in several publication prints and online publications including Observica and Biafarin.

Now on solid ground, I currently spend time in LA and San Miguel with my wife Havi and our two dogs.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
There are various ways I come up with an idea for a piece of art. I find the best pieces are spontaneously created. That can happen working in my sketchbook as well as scribbling an idea down on a napkin at a restaurant. I am constantly sketching out ideas so that I have many images to choose from. I am no longer concerned over whether something is anatomically correct or not. I have abandoned all doubts about the correctness of the image I create. That is very freeing. Over the years, I created a library of images that one day may turn into final art projects. Usually, I review my images and something pops out about one that I never considered before. That could have come from looking at other artist’s work, what’s happening in our world or a thought that has popped into my head. Then I decide if this is a painting, a digital piece or a pen and ink drawing. From there, I apply my expertise in those particular mediums and transfer the art onto canvas or fine art paper or scan the sketch into my computer and work on it in. Sometimes a photo-shopped image will get transferred onto canvas. That happens by free-handing or projection depending on the imagery and the look I’m going for.

I find that my sketches speak to me and they are usually in sets or series. The concept or theme is dictated by the art which is a reflection of my feelings. My most recent series is called “Devolve” because the images depict humans or creatures who have devolved or are in the process of devolving. The reasoning behind the imagery is toxic waste, global warming or dehumanizing behavior. I can tell which piece will work in what medium and when the idea has generally run its course. Most of the time I’m right, but sometimes I’m wrong and I’ve spent far too much time on an image that will not work.

What makes you and your work unique?
What makes me unique is a great question. I’m a completely unique being from everyone else so my work now reflects that.

In the past, my work was about creating a visual representation of what I saw. I’ve been schooled and worked in environments where you were told to create in that way. I followed that dictate for many years. Now I reject all that. I do the unexpected. I don’t care about perspective, proportions or proper representation. If I like what I’ve done, that’s good enough for me.

However, I realize it’s important that my work appeals to people and that they are willing to pay for and acquire it. In that regard, I use inviting colors, forms and abstractions. I find that my work invites interaction with the viewer. That they can find their own interpretations of my work, which I believe makes them bond with the imagery.

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I see my work as “Playful Abstract Expressionism”.
I strive to emerge from the crowd as someone who has something to say and whose art is interesting enough for viewers to want it for themselves.

To have and cultivate the ability to express myself visually is a blessing. To have people like and reward what you do is the cherry on top!

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

All images created by Lon Levin.

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