Meet a Warsaw-based art student creating a business to capture the essence of small towns

Mitchell Bowen’s post-graduate plans include traveling the nation as an independent artist, creating a niche style of posters and postcards, and selling them to local shops. As a Grace College senior, his launch is already making a big splash in Winona Lake, Indiana, where his designs have sold out at several local shops.

So how did he go from art student to creative entrepreneur? Bowen’s love for art began at the age of four when he discovered the problem solving that comes with building legos. He channeled this passion into various art forms throughout the years and even attended a technical communication design program in high school, but it was one night in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, that his career dream was conceived.

During his studies toward a bachelor of visual communication design at Grace, he had fallen in love with a specific postcard style inspired by the posters made during the Great Depression by the WPA (Works Project Administration), featuring Modernist typography, bold graphics, and a limited color palette. 

Bowen's designs are inspired by posters made during the Great Depression by the WPA (Works Project Administration).

“I’ve always been really interested in this style," Bowen says. "It’s a niche style of art that I really appreciate."

Bowen always kept his eyes peeled for this style as he traveled, and his family trip to Pagosa Springs, Colorado last summer was no exception. After a long day searching for just the right postcard as a memento of his vacation, Bowen came back to the cabin empty-handed. That night in bed, his mind started to run; What if I traveled around the country, made these posters for small towns, and gave them to shops to sell? he thought. The idea immediately excited him.

“Growing up in Colorado, I’ve always had an itch to do exciting and new things, and I really love visiting new areas,” Bowen explains.

Mitchell Bowen designed a set of postcards and posters that have sold out at Winona Lake.

His career idea remained an idea until he returned to Grace College for his final year of his bachelor of visual communication design. When his professor for Illustration, Kim Reiff, announced that the final project for the course was to create some sort of publication, Bowen knew exactly what his project would be.

The next several weeks, Bowen worked to create and refine a set of postcards that captured the unique college town he knew and loved -- Winona Lake, Indiana -- while embracing the style he had come to appreciate. Highlighting the charm of the town’s dining options, biking trails, and lake access, Bowen crafted a set of images that quickly evoked excitement from his friends at Grace.

“After the reactions I received at Grace, I knew that these were something that people would really appreciate and enjoy,” Bowen says. “Whenever I place the prints in someone’s hands, I can tell that they really treasure them.”

Bowen's current designs feature several aspects of life in Kosciusko County.

While the reactions were encouraging, Bowen never expected what came next.

As part of the Illustration class, the Department of Visual, Performing, and Media Arts at Grace gave each student $50 to print their publications, and Allegra Printing matched the amount. As a result, Bowen walked out of his final class with 15 posters and 30 sets of his postcards.

Prints in hand, he walked down to the Village at Winona, going from shop to shop, talking with shop owners/managers, and pitching his products. One hour later, LetterWood Paper Co. gave him a call. The owners, Amber and Mike, explained that they would like to purchase six sets of postcards and nearly all of Bowen’s posters.

The weekend after Bowen delivered the product to LetterWood, he returned to his hometown, Golden, Colorado, to visit his family. Before his return on Monday, he received a text message from Amber that read:

“Come in Monday. We need more inventory. We’ve sold almost all of your work.”

Bowen was stoked.

”That was really confirming," he says. "They said that so many people came in that weekend and got excited about my postcards. After ordering additional copies, I couldn’t even keep them in stock because they were so popular.”

Bowen's postcards and posters are for sale at several shops in the Village at Winona Lake.

It wasn’t long after that several other stores in the village jumped at his work; the Spice Merchant, Rocket Fizz, and the Winona Mercantile bought some, too. Bowen also started selling his work on his Instagram account @mitchellbowen__.

New to the business side of things, Bowen has continued to lean on his professor Amber, an experienced illustrator and her husband, Mike, for support. The couple has taken the budding artist under their wings, spending several hours to help Bowen figure out price points and packaging and exploring with him new ways to move forward.

“I have Amber and Mike’s cell phone numbers, and I text them all the time," Bowen says. "They are so generous to share their expertise with me."

Amber and Mike have enjoyed lending a hand throughout the process, as well.

“Mitchell is an entrepreneur in the budding," Mike says. "He’s a super creative young man who is going to be successful in whatever he does."

Bowen is eager to see how his product sales go over the 2020 holiday season, and he plans to spend his Christmas break working on his next two sets of postcards: one for his hometown, Golden, Colorado, and one for Yellow Springs, Ohio, where his girlfriend is from.

After graduating this May, Bowen intends to go from town to town, making his creative venture his full-time job.

“It took me a while to find my artistic style,” explains Bowen, “but I think I’ve found it,” he says with a smile.

Learn more

Bowen’s artwork can be found in shops at the Village at Winona or can be ordered directly on Instagram @mitchellbowen__.

Learn more about Grace College’s bachelor of visual communication design.
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