Finethy (left) also spent time with an art class taught by longtime
art professor Curtis Chapman (right). He shared the practical lessons:
"If you're going to pursue art as a career, you are going to need to
take business classes," he said."You need to be able to market
yourself." He also advised students to learn basic accounting and to
familiarize themselves with the tax code.
Mellow Out With The Art Of Mellow Mushroom
Do you know Mel or Dude? How about Melody or the Wizard? Maybe the three little mushrooms, the Fungis -- Port, Toe, Bello (say them fast - get it?)? If you are a Mellow Mushroom fan, you certainly would recognize all the "underground comix" influenced characters that illustrate the restaurant chain's marketing materials.
These personalities were created by Buddy Finethy, Reinhardt Class of 1987. A sample of the thousands of pieces of artwork he has created for the corporation since beginning work with them almost 20 years ago will be on display in the William W. Fincher Jr. and Eunice L. Fincher Visual Arts Center at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga., from Dec. 3 -12, 2003, and Jan. 5 - 9, 2004. The Fincher Center is open for tours Monday - Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fresh, hot pizza cooked on site will be another highlight at the opening reception on Dec. 3 from 7 - 9 p.m
"I hope people get a kick out of (the art), that they enjoy it," Finethy said. "I know some people aspire to changing the world with their artwork. I just want people to have a good time.
Most of the pieces on view are from Mellow Mushrooms permanent collection, but several paintings are on loan from the private collection of Mellow Mushroom co-founder Marc Weinstien. The body of work also includes many end-use items, such as cups, T-shirts and more.
Finethy's characters and graphic work set the chain's tone -- quality and fun, eclectic and relaxed, through visuals. Finethy believes his graphics "have influenced the decor and lore of Mellow Mushroom in local pop culture." You can see them in fiberglass and wooden sculpture, murals, menus, cups, T-shirts, clocks, ads, cookie labels, water bottle labels, mint tins, Frisbees, web graphics and many other promotional items. His artwork has been seen by millions of people a year, in markets covering the eastern half of the United States, from Baton Rouge, La., to Carmel, In.
Jeff Holm, a Mellow Mushroom coworker and marketing officer, said Finethy's characters, like the fast-growing chain, are constantly evolving and growing, and that makes them unique. In recent years, they've gone three-dimensional, even growing legs to replace the traditional mushroom stem, thus allowing for movement and additional personalization. On the web, they walk and talk, something Finethy said he "gets a real kick out of."
"Buddy is a great artist in that he creates environments and characters," Holm said. Each character has its own personality and history". Part of his current job is to manage their look and feel, to ensure that the charactersï¿½ usage in each store is appropriate.
Holm said Finethy's cartoons are particularly effective because their appeal resembles that of Mellow Mushroom "from cradle to the grave." Young customers relate to the characters because they are colorful, "cartoony and pliable; they can walk, talk, and make things happen." Adults, though, relate to them on a different level. They understand more of the hippie undertones and get more of the inside jokes hidden in each piece, Holm said.
The chain has doubled in size in the last three and a half years, and in many ways, this growth and Finethy's growth as an artist have been linked. Now with 66 stores in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, and Florida, the Atlanta-based corporation was founded in 1974 by two Georgia Tech roommates with experience in the pizza business. A third entrepreneur joined the duo soon thereafter, and in the years since, they have worked hard to serve the finest products in terms of health and taste.
Finethy describes Mellow Mushroom's pizza, hoagies, calzones, salads, and pretzels as "very high quality, made of the highest quality ingredients." The corporation emphasizes craftsmanship. "Thatï's why they've been so behind my artwork," Finethy said. "It's a hand done look, and that goes with our hand tossed, hand done approach in the company."
Several of Reinhardt's long-timers remember Finethy fondly. JoEllen Wilson, Vice President of External Affairs, remembers him as incredibly creative and personable. "He's been so incredibly successful as a commercial artist, yet he always took the time when he sent me a note to draw a wonderful cartoon on the outside of the envelope. They were such works of art that I have kept a number of them."
Curtis Chapman, who has taught art at Reinhardt since 1966, remembers Finethy as a student who came to Reinhardt with great talent and who has worked hard to capitalize on his abilities.
Finethy creates artwork for items like this menu and mug using traditional illustration techniques, with pencil, pen, and ink. Then he fills in the colors by hand or drops them in by computer. For a new product, he'll learn all he can about it, then "put out eight to 10 ideas in pencil. Everyone will give their opinion on it, and we'll refine the ones that make it. So, for every one piece you see, there's probably 10 developmental pieces behind it," he said.
"I am so very proud of all he has accomplished, and I am delighted that he is holding a show here. He is a wonderful example to our current students of what can happen when you use your basic skills to be successful in the business world."
On Nov. 19, 2003, Finethy shared his war stories with one of Chapman's classes.
"When I started with Mellow Mushroom, there were only seven stores," he said. "We didn't have an image. I walked in off the street with some ideas I had because I wanted to eat that night."
Doing freelance artwork for various food-related clients at the time, Finethy had decided to work in the restaurant industry because "there was a massive turnover in imagery and in decor and the way restaurants looked, and I knew every six months there would be a new menu that was needed. Back then there wasn't the instantaneous changeout by computers that there is today; there was always something in development. If you picked a multi-store chain, you were always going to be working."
Citing influence by the cartoons of Hanna-Barbera and the underground comix of the 1960s and 70s, as well as Maxfield Parrish, Windsor Mccay, Maurice Sendak, Robert Crumb, Alphonse Mucha, N.C. Wyeth, Bernie Wrightson, Vaughn Bode, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and other, Finethy creates pieces through traditional illustration, with pencil, pen, and ink, then he'll fill in the colors by hand or drop them in by computer. For a new product, he'll learn all he can about it, then "put out eight to 10 ideas in pencil. Everyone will give their opinion on it, and we'll refine the ones that make it. So, for every one piece you see, there's probably 10 developmental pieces behind it," he said.
The company adopted the idea of artwork unique to each store, but all using the same characters. "We would write stories with the characters I created, and make the store an extension of the story," Finethy said. "So I treated the characters and the store like the store was their own animated movie."