Don Weller might have been a veterinarian. His studies at Eastern Washington University were headed that direction, but a change to a fine arts major led him where he is today, a graphic designer and illustrator living in Park City.
Don's father was an architect, and art was a major interest in their home. "Even though there were always drawing tools around, I was neither encouraged nor discouraged from pursuing a career in art. Scribbling and sketching was just a part of the childhood experiences."Animals, too, interested him, and he began studying veterinary medicine. But it didn't go far. He changed to design classes at Washington State and ultimately received a fine arts degree, became an instructor of illustration at UCLA and the Art Center in Los Angeles, then commuted between work in New York City and Los Angeles. On both coasts, he established himself in illustration and advertising, designing Time Magazine covers and doing promotion for TV Guide, Sports Illustrated and Boys Life. His work includes posters, advertising and illustrations for several national firms, including the National Football League.
How did such an artist and his wife, Chikako, find themselves in Park City?
"We love the mountains. There is nothing crowded here or hectic. I find that all my meetings are possible by phone. Something I didn't think could happen before is that it's not necessary to always meet personally with clients and publishers."
Life is certainly different for the Wellers in Park City than at their Manhattan or Los Angeles residences. "In L.A. when I would need to go to the post office, it would take an hour, and circling the block several times to find parking. Standing in long lines to be waited on by non-caring employees was a part of it. It was total frustration!
"On the other hand, when I go to the post office in Park City, it is a friendly experience. And do you know what! You know her (the woman behind the counter) and she knows you!
"I now work as many hours as always and get much more done on my art projects."
Park City also allows participation in two other interests besides art: skiing in the winter, and raising and training cutting horses in the summer.
Don and Chikako Weller live in a solar-heated home. One wall of the house is glass, ground to ceiling. The property falls away to endless vistas of the Rockies, aspens and a view of Prospector Square. The other side of the house offers a scenic view of the ski runs at Deer Valley. This home _ their second since coming to Utah _ is filled with artistic regalia from varied travels. The Wellers are excited to point out the collection of masks from many cultures of the world, especially those representing native primitive art.
The Wellers readily express the joy of living in a mountain hideaway, and have also become involved in promoting its beauty. One project is the production and design of the local magazine, "Park City Lodestar." At first they did some designing and then the publisher gave them the whole project. On the day of our interview they had just returned from giving the printer the final copy and artwork. It was apparent that this job is one they take seriously.
Other projects include a book about their newly adopted town, "Park City," and also one of photographs titled "Seashells and Sunsets," both produced by their own small publishing company, the Weller Institute for the Cure Design.
(While Weller did not explain the logo and name, it appears to be a tongue-in-cheek description with a personal hidden agenda.) Don Weller has also been involved with the illustration of two reading series for elementary students.
But it was none of these projects that brought the Wellers and me together. It was a new picture book, "The Phantom of the Opera," recently published by Peregrine Smith Books in Salt Lake City.
The script of the story by Peter F. Neumeyer, professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University, is adapted from the novel by Gaston Leroux. The rough script was given to Don Weller by Gibb Smith. "I was invited to do the illustration and given a one-month deadline. It was a challenge I chose to accept."
An artist often takes months, even years, to complete illustrations for a book, but Don Weller turned complete attention to sequencing the story into thumbnail sketches and then to serious illustration adapting an economy of technical design.
The medium used is dye and watercolor washes. Parts of the large sections are sheets of plastic adhesive that leave a flat, smooth color without texture.
"The big decisions I had to make were on pacing, since we had so few pages to tell such a powerful story. The choice of colors was important; they would set the alternating moods.
"In retrospect, I would like to have had twice as many pages with twice as many illustrations."
For whom is this story and illustration intended?
"I suppose I should have considered who would buy it, but instead I was only concerned with appeal and to not compromise the story or the reader. I didn't think about the specific audience. I believe that helped this project; I wanted it as colorful and rich as I could get it."
Don Weller will be autographing "The Phantom of the Opera" at B. Dalton Bookstore in Trolley Square from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3.