Pittsburgh Coloring Book artist profile: Pat Lewis and his illustration of the local phrase, "Kennywood's Open!" | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Coloring Book artist profile: Pat Lewis and his illustration of the local phrase, "Kennywood's Open!"

click to enlarge Pittsburgh artist Pat Lewis and Spark
Pittsburgh artist Pat Lewis and Spark
As Pittsburghers debate whether or not West Mifflin’s amusement park should really be open during the pandemic, there remains a group of paranoid yinzers who still hear the phrase “Kennywood’s open!” and instead of thinking of roller coasters, immediately look down at their crotches to make sure their private parts aren’t, well, unmasked.

It’s that old-school Pittsburghese expression that artist Pat Lewis illustrated for Pittsburgh City Paper’s Over-the-top Completely Ridiculous Yinzerrific Coloring Book, a benefit for both CP and the 35 local artists who created a Pittsburgh-themed black-and-white piece of artwork as a response to revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

No one knows exactly where the “Kennywood’s open!” phrase originated, according to The Incline's director Rossilynne Culgan, who traced it back to at least the 1950s. But Lewis’ illustration does a great job at capturing the fear of being caught with your zipper down, while showcasing his illustration style: a perfect blend of comics, humor, and what Lewis really excels at, capturing one’s facial expressions to the point where you truly feel the character's embarrassment.

Lewis, who grew up in the suburbs and is now living in Beechview with his wife and their cats Pip and Spark, spoke to CP about his illustration of the Pittsburgh classic, his work with Disney, and how he’s been keeping sane during the pandemic.

click to enlarge Pat Lewis' "Kennywood's Open" coloring book illustration for Pittsburgh City Paper’s Over-the-top Completely Ridiculous Yinzerrific Coloring Book
Pat Lewis' "Kennywood's Open" coloring book illustration for Pittsburgh City Paper’s Over-the-top Completely Ridiculous Yinzerrific Coloring Book

Can you tell us about the process that went into illustrating your “Kennywood’s Open” illustration?

Lisa [CP editor] is always great about contacting artists with a very clear vision of what she has in mind. When she describes the way she pictures an illustration, I almost always feel like I know exactly what she means. Sometimes I have an idea for how to make it stronger, but often I feel like I'm just directly translating her words into an image that I think will work. With this one, I instinctively knew that the guy with his zipper down had to be a huge yinzer, so I totally based him on my high-school gym teacher.

I have to ask: Did you like your high school gym teacher?
I did NOT like my gym teacher. In addition to being a huge yinzer, he was also a huge jerk!

Do you have any embarrassing stories about getting caught with your Kennywood open?
The men's restroom at Eat N' Park has a big sign as you leave the restroom that says "IS KENNYWOOD OPEN?", and I will say that reminder has saved me from embarrassment more than once.

Can you tell us more about some of your work with big brands like Disney?
I didn't know about it before I was contacted for this, but [Carnegie Mellon University] and Disney have some kind of research partnership to find new ways to use technology to aid in character animation. The details of the project were a little too technical for my understanding, but basically I was given a bunch of photos of a person making exaggerated facial expressions, and I drew my version of what I thought they looked like. Then the programmers on the team would analyze the two and use artificial intelligence to create new drawings of my character, matching whatever expressions the live model would make. It was definitely different than anything I've ever done before, and I'd be curious to see if the results were ever presented anywhere.

Do you have any advice for new illustrators who are trying to get in front of big businesses?
Honestly, in this business almost all jobs come about because of human connections. I think if you just share good work that is meaningful to you, it will eventually resonate with the right people.

What’s your favorite color and why?
I'm not sure if I could really say why, but I've always been drawn to golds, greens, oranges, and cobalt blue. When I was a little kid, my parents let me pick what color to paint my bedroom walls, and I find that same shade of blue shows up in a lot of my work to this day.

This coloring book is coming out during one of the most important civil rights movements in modern times. Do you think artwork has the power to bring change?
Good art connects with the viewer on an emotional level that no amount of reasoning or arguing really can, so yeah, I think it can definitely change people's minds. Ultimately, though, it's up to the people who are inspired by the artwork to take action and make real steps toward making that change. Art plays an important part, but it's only the first step.

What's next for you?
I'm finishing up illustrations for a couple more books — one is the sequel to The Joke Machine (Macmillan/Odd Dot Books), which came out last year, and one is an educational graphic novel about whales. After that, who knows? Doing some more fun projects with local businesses and whatever else my mind dreams up.

You've been creating, and posting, really creative artwork on your Instagram page during the pandemic, which seems to be a visual diary of you trying not to lose your mind. (The photograph of you posing with your "quarantine buddy" puppet especially ruled.) Please tell us you're having some fun and not just completely bored?
I am actually having a blast these days. At first it was a big adjustment, but now I'm loving all the extra time I have to work on creative projects, home improvement, learning new skills, etc. that I didn't seem to have pre-pandemic when I was too busy doing dumb stuff like going to restaurants and stores.

Digital copies of the Yinzerrific Coloring Book are $20, and print copies are $25, and can be pre-ordered at pghcitypaperstore.com. Half of the proceeds of each copy get split evenly between each of the 35 artists who created artwork inside each book.

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