Apollo Beach, Florida
Of course, you’ve heard of Bealls Department Stores. It’s a Florida mainstay. Their sales? Epic!
What you probably don’t know is one of our own neighbors, an incredible artist in Apollo Beach, was recently invited to create multiple designs for several of Bealls’ clothing and housewares lines.
It’s a great story. What’s even more incredible is she only recently returned to art.
Meet Lea Chapman Szymanski, sketch artist.
Lea (full name Linnea), a native Floridian, was born in Sarasota and grew up in Bradenton. She always loved art. Lea was obsessed with drawing puppies, kitties, rainbows and flowers, like many little girls.
She eventually took an art class in high school and completed what she calls her first ‘major work’.
“I drew a turkey for the janitor at my school,” she says. “It took me 40 hours. I put so much work and detail into it. It turned out really amazing and I was hooked,” she adds.
She continued drawing animals, often focusing on dogs. She started by drawing her aunt’s Cairn Terrier and the requests started coming, so Lea drew people’s dogs on request.
Then Lea, like many of us, grew older and put hobbies aside, in pursuit of other things. Although at one time she considered attending Ringling College of Art in Sarasota, Lea opted to study finance at University of South Florida.
Local Art Show Brings Art Back to Lea’s Life
Fast forward a bit. In February 2016, Lea (now married with two children) and two fellow Apollo Beach artists, Grace McKee and Tiffany Wood (check out her story here: http://bit.ly/TiffanyWoodArtist), were invited to exhibit their art at Apollo’s Bistro monthly art show.
“I’d forgotten how much I loved art,” Lea says.
Lea instantly threw herself back into it to create art for the show. She also began posting her art on her Facebook page, something she had no idea would lead her down an incredible path.
Her family began checking out her art.
As it turns out, Lea is the great grand daughter-in-law of Robert M. Beall, the founder of the department store chain. Matt Beall, a cousin who is still active with the Bealls company, reached out to her.
Would Lea mind if he showed her drawings to some of the art team at Bealls?
“Something like this never crossed my mind,” Lea says. “When they approached me I thought I’d go with the flow, but I didn’t think my work would really fit.”
But, it did.
One thing led to another and Lea found herself signing a five year contract to create designs for Bealls.
How exciting to have a childhood passion come back to life in adulthood and get paid to do it.
Three Lines and Growing
Lea is currently working on three lines for Bealls:
- Art and Sol will appear on women’s clothing and home décor items. It launches in June.
- Reel Legends, Bealls in-house fishing wear brand, will include men’s salt water fishing wear. The line just debuted (see pics below).
- Southern Legends, a line that will have a fresh water fishing and hunting theme for men’s wear, launches later this summer. Think fish, gators and deer. The guys love this stuff.
Bealls is also considering using Lea’s work on pajamas, more home décor products and, potentially, Tervis Tumblers. Lea’s happy with whatever they decide.
Lea’s Art Technique
Her work is old school. She sketches with the same mechanical pencils she fell in love with in high school.
“I’ve kept using them,” she explains. “Something about the texture of the poster board and the tip of the pencil just works.”
Lea doesn’t do drafts. There isn’t time. One fish design can take 12-15 hours depending on the fish. Tarpon, for example, have big scales, so the design needs a lot of detail work. Dogs can take 9-10 hours, depending again on the amount of details.
Lea gets inspiration for her work in many places. She googles a lot to find images and she takes pictures of her husband Geoff, an avid fisherman, with fish he’s caught.
“Sometimes I’ll ask him to pose a certain way with his fish so I can capture specific details,” Lea says.
Lea particularly loves capturing all the details in her design.
“I googled flounder and discovered both eyes are on the top of its head so it can see when laying on the bottom,” she explains. “I love it. Getting all of the details really makes me happy.”
What’s the Process of Designing for A Major Department Store
“It’s pretty easy,” Lea says. “They give me an idea of what they want, like 5 different fish or such, and I draw them. I also throw in extra drawings that I think will match the line. For example, I drew an antique diving helmet as an extra and submitted it with several designs they had requested. They loved it.”
She submits all of her designs to Bealls as black and white pencil sketches.
Once submitted, the Bealls art team put together a story board to discuss. They must make sure the design ‘fits’ with the line and determine if they think it will sell.
“I’m getting the feel of the work now,” she explains. “Once I saw a finished product, and what they did with my design, I have a much better idea of how they translate my design to a product.”
The Bealls Art Department then takes Lea’s black and white sketches, scan them into the system, and they begin working their magic to create the final product.
They’ll add color, crop specific parts of a design and make a back ground out of it. You can see this in this shirt. The design team took the scales Lea had drawn and used it as the overall background of the shirt.
“I didn’t know what they would do with the designs,” Lea says, “but it’s been amazing to see when the products come in.”
The Big Reveal
Lea traveled to Bealls headquarters in Bradenton earlier in March to meet the art team and pick up her first finished line. Lea gets one of every product on which her designs appear.
“I told myself I wouldn’t cry,” she says, “but, it was so exciting to see my very first products and the tags they created.”
Bealls even included Lea’s story on the tag.
As of today, Lea has submitted over 25 sketches to Bealls and she continues to sketch and submit. She admits she’s pretty strict with the Bealls deadlines. “I never wanted to test it,” she admits.
She may eventually do some acrylics for Bealls, but for now they keep requesting her pencil sketches.
Don’t Get Lost in Your Art
Lea has simply fallen in love with art again. She’s the first to admit she can get lost in a drawing, but she tries to keep a structure to her schedule.
“I drop the kids at school, come home and exercise to get my energy level up and then I draw.”
Lea sets her phone alarm so she’s sure to put the art down in plenty of time to get the kids from school, but she’s always prepared to draw. “I was working on gator teeth the other day while watching my son at Tae Kwon Do,” she says. “I love those teeth. So much detail.”
Once home in the afternoon, Lea’s focus is fully on the family.
Lea does not know if she’ll get a new contract with Bealls in five years and it doesn’t matter. She loves what she’s doing now.
She does hope, of course, that her current designs do well.
“I want to donate to several local charities,” she says. “It’s wonderful to be able to make a decent living and be able to help my community. And, if I have to have a goal, I want to use it for positivity.”
Everything happens for a reason. For Lea, a local art show brought art back into her life and gave her a new career doing something she loves.
Townie Life will continue to follow Lea and bring you new Bealls’ products with her designs when they launch.