Monkey Business with a Silver Lining

The 'Wicked' Monkeys Story

If there has ever been a job where I was “in the zone,” this is it!  For the Fox Cities Performing Art Center (PAC) I was commissioned to create 11 large-scale illustrations to fill some specific architectural areas that had been overlooked: A few vertical spaces in the entrances, but primarily the restrooms! The final “art” would average 10 feet wide by 4 to 10 feet high — each. The deadline was the PAC’s Feb. 6, 2009 “Wonderfully Wicked” Gala, a charity benefit that included a full performance of the Wizard of Oz-themed musical “Wicked”. Other artists had been working on large-scale pieces of the project for months. There were huge canvas murals, 3-dimensional pieces and even a gigantic dragon sculpture. I was asked quite late in the process and would have roughly 2 months. Having worked with large-format printing in the past, I suggested that the only way to produce more than 10 very large pieces would be to complete the original art at a manageable size in-studio (15 to 24 inches wide) and then scan VERY high-resolution and print to canvas or banner material at the desired size.

Wicked Large Format

Client: Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wisconsin
Project Kickoff: March 2009
Objective: Design and produce illustrations to accompany the Fox Cities premiere of Wicked


When I became involved in the “Wicked” project, I had never seen the musical, and it’s likely I knew less about it than most people. I first heard about the project and the play while hovering around the dessert table at a Chamber of Commerce gathering. A great networker and acquaintance put me in contact with the event’s planning committee and then Maria Van Laanen, the Executive VP and now PAC President. We would not be allowed to depict copyrighted “Wicked” imagery, yet needed to capture feel of the show. Fortunately committee member and Designer Diana Schauder [] and I connected immediately on her vision for these characters. We “clicked” when I likened the “Wicked” style to “steampunk” — not the term I used at the time; I described it as “low-tech high-tech Baron Munchausen/Wild Wild West movie steam-powered robots”! Diana’s verbal descriptions and literary references gave me the direction, and her ideas for appropriate patterns and clothing helped fill in the details.


  1. I had never seen “Wicked”! First step: Research. Not just about the show, but offbeat fashion reference for the clothing.
  2. Very short time to produce at least 10 pieces at mural sizes. Partnered with  large-format printer to have illustrations PRINTED to banner material. This allowed the art to be created at drawing-table sizes averaging 15 to 20 inches.
  3. Needed the works to fit specific architectural spaces in the PAC. Lots of measuring, lots of math to get scale correct (and one shot to get it right!).

The best part of this illustration project is this: When you’re inventing imaginary characters, creatures, or monsters, no one can tell you if you got them “correct.” The creative people involved get to say THIS is what a winged gorilla looks like, and this is how they dress. Also great: working in my preferred media of pen and ink, in my own studio. Some of the other large-scale art projects were done in borrowed warehouse space.

Lessons Learned

  1. Large-format printed items for a venue like the PAC need to be on approved, fire-resistant material. Maintain your Printer contacts, and send them referrals when you can!
  2. Get detailed printing quotes before submitting your OWN quotes.
  3. Loosen up: normal-sized artwork becomes something spectacular when enlarged a few hundred percent. Let the ink and paint do its thing — imperfections add character!

The Monkeys were a big hit. Despite being displayed for only the one event at the PAC, I gained so much attention and pr afterwards. Then-PAC President Susan Stockton and other staff purchased several of my originals, while encouraging me to retain rights to the images and sell prints. In fact, the PAC purchased a number of archival-quality prints of the Monkeys to award to members of the event’s organizing committee. “Wicked” Company Manager Steve Quinn wanted to meet the Artist, and came to my home/studio to visit. I gifted the “Elphaba” original to him [photo]. I even got to meet “Galinda,” aka Katie Rose Price, in her dressing room and present her with a print of her “likeness” [photo]. Shortly after the show, the PAC decided to display the largest piece, the “Bookcase” Monkey, in the upper main lobby where it was even visible from the street for two full years.


When “Wicked” returned here in 2011, the Assistant Company Manager commissioned me to create yet another Monkey, this one quite identifiable as Elphaba in her “Defying Gravity” pose [photo]. In addition to repeated print orders from the PAC, one print of the Bookcase Monkey was ordered by a businessman who, together with his son, had not only enjoyed the art in PAC lobby but made up a bedtime story about the character. This man went on to become one of my most valued customers, as he has hired me repeatedly to produce business graphics for his own company.

A rewarding project that continues to attract attention and open doors for more illustration projects.

Call Scott at 920-277-1425, or...