Artist takes black-and-white approach to Ullr | SummitDaily.com
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Artist takes black-and-white approach to Ullr

Kimberly Nicoletti
summit daily news

We tend to think of Ullr as a rosy cheeked, colorful guy, but Nick Froehlich envisioned him differently.

This year, he convinced the Breckenridge Resort Chamber to render the Ullr Fest poster in black and white, though it’s not just any ordinary illustration. He used the laborious method of scratchboard to present Ullr in full detail.

“I love black and white,” Froehlich said. “I don’t think it gets enough credit.”

Scratchboard involves placing a thin layer of clay on a piece of paper, washing black ink over the clay, then carving the drawing with an X-acto knife. The process leaves white lines where normally there are inked or penciled lines and details.

Scratchboard first impressed Froehlich while he studied illustration and visual communication in Syracuse University, after seeing Mark Summers’ interpretation of Moby Dick. (In fact, locals can see Summers’ work on a poster promoting reading in the Frisco library; it features Tom Sawyer and is located by the magazines). The Moby Dick piece inspired Froehlich to work in the small format of scratchboard (in Ullr’s case, 8×10) in order to present a clean, detailed poster when it’s blown up. The end result shows each line well, because Froehlich first distinctively carved it in.

But the actual process is somewhat “hellish,” he said. Once the Breckenridge Resort Chamber accepted his penciled illustration, which originally could have been transformed into color or a more intricate black-and-white piece, Froehlich locked himself in his room for three days over Thanksgiving weekend to “bang” it out.

“It’s really not fun because by the time you get to (the scratchboard process), you’ve already drawn. The creative part is already locked in,” he said.

All that’s left to do are the finger-cramping carvings.

Froehlich has submitted Ullr art to the chamber in years past, but this time, he gave it much more thought, researching the history of the Norse god. As it turns out, Ullr started out as the god of winter hunting, seeing that early civilizations didn’t have much use for the sport of skiing or more snow to trudge through. When Breckenridge Ski Area opened, managers had a difficult time finding American ski instructors, so they hired some from Scandinavia. These Scandinavians fostered our current idea of Ullr.

Froehlich also used the work of Alphonse Mucha, a rather unappreciated Czech “father” of art nouveau, to further his creative rendering of Ullr. Mucha’s decorative style when depicting hair caused Froehlich to add detail to Ullr’s beard. Due to Froehlich’s research, Ullr also appears with runic writing on his horns and a medal in the middle of his helmet, which represents Ullr coins – artifacts found in ancient temples.

“We received a handful of submissions from local artists,” said Sally Croker, the chamber’s events director. “Nick’s drawing was very different and so detailed. … What caught our attention, though, was the hint of mischief that is in Ullr’s eye, and his grin makes him look like he might be up to something. It just seemed like a perfect fit, and then (Nick) redrew it on the scratch board and the piece completely came to life.”

So far, he’s received “nice feedback” from the public, as well, on his stunning display. He’s incredibly grateful to the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, because his artistic goals include poster work and commercial illustration – something he recommitted to last fall.

“I made my New Year’s resolution in October to make sure it would stick,” he said, explaining that he’s actively looking for freelance work and just relaunched his website at http://www.illnick.com. “(So) it’s nice to have this publicly acknowledged.”

Froehlich, a 28-year-old Frisco resident, spent his first full year in Summit County in 2010; before that, he spent five winters here and summers in Westhampton Beach. He’s been working in the restaurant industry in the winter and has acted in off-Broadway plays in Manhattan for the past five years. He hopes to stay in Summit “if I can keep affording it,” he said. As for his art:

“I truly believe in art for public consumption,” he said. “Syracuse (had these) black-beret, clove smokers, and I became jaded about art for art’s sake. I’m drawn to illustration to communicate the story no matter (the viewer’s) age, race or creed – art that’s approachable, even if you don’t have a background in art.”

I’m guessin’ Ullr doesn’t have a strong artsy side, seeing he spends his days hunting and skiing, but I’m pretty sure Froehlich has done him proud.


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