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Rising Stars: Meet Johnny Pelhank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johnny Pelhank. 

Hi Johnny, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I started out not having any idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I liked to let things happen and deal with life as it came. That is to say, when I start to go down a path, I do make sure I find the right shoes to walk in. Going down the path I’m on now took me a while to find the right shoes. 

I grew up in Wentzville with a love for photography and video always getting out my father’s cameras to take pictures and make home movies. And spent a lot of time drawing comics and creating my own comic books. I would even design the occasional street hockey team logo for our local subdivision street hockey league. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that my teachers told me about graphic design. It never occurred to me that there was a culture of design just under my nose. 

It took me a while, and I spent several years working construction, building, and wiring houses during the rapid growth in St. Charles County in the early 2000s. Once I started school again in 2009, I focused on design and photography. I wanted to do the best I could and learn as much as possible using my talents and tools for good use. By this time, I had a son and really needed to figure out this path I was on. 

Growing up in a small town you live in a kind of bubble, not really getting a taste of what’s out there, and when you finally make it out of the bubble the world opens up. Through college, I was able to get out of the bubble, and I met so many interesting and talented people that introduced me to a new culture. I earned a BFA from Webster University and got a really great job at the Saint Louis Art Museum in the design department. Art, design, and photography became my life. Once you become the guy with the camera, you get a lot of great opportunities to capture so many great moments. 

So many of these moments I thought deserved a spotlight. I started my own platform to expose the scene that I was thriving in and called it Exist. So, when I’m not designing for the Museum or working freelance shooting a wedding or designing a logo, I like to find a good story and talk to people. Music, art, and Midwest culture have become my passion. Capturing underground shows and performances and talking to the people that I really think make the Midwest interesting to me. I’m putting out content when I can because family and work always take priority, but I have a website and a podcast where anyone can read and listen. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t been a smooth road, but I do like to keep a positive outlook on things. I always want to see the glass half full. When I was faced with the difficulties of dealing with my new son and divorce, I felt very alone. I was working for minimum wage at a job I didn’t like. My mom had just recently passed away and my family wasn’t really there for me. I had legal battles I was dealing with and trying to find money to stay afloat. I was living in a friend’s basement in a room with no windows and finding it hard to keep the light shining. I got back in school and was making good grades. I tried to keep my friends close in case I needed to reach out. If it wasn’t for the kindness and goodness of my friends, I don’t know how I would’ve made it this far. Friends helped me find a place to live, fix my car, find a bed, find a job, find food, and even go to court with me. Basically everything. I owe it all to my friends. I never thought I would start out working construction and end up working for one of the biggest museums in the country. And now working for one of the biggest brands in the country. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’m an artist, designer, and photographer. People I think know me better for my photography. I’m always carrying a camera, film or digital. I just recently left the Saint Louis Art Museum where I was a designer. I worked on exhibition design, didactics for the works of art, marketing material, signage and wayfinding and so much more. Now I’m working at Purina designing digital content for one of the biggest pet brands in the world. I also work on my passion project Exist Magazine. This gives me an outlet to the creative culture that thrives here in St. Louis and the Midwest areas. Most importantly though is my family. I have a wonderful partner who has a daughter and my amazing son. I love to get outdoors and stay active keeping them interested in life and keeping the positivity growing. 

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
I’m not very good at predicting trends. I usually just ride the wave. However, I feel like print is going to make a comeback. I think people enjoy the quality and tactile pleasure of printed material more than the digital counterparts. It’s only a matter of time before history repeats itself. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Chris Bauer
Sean Mcfarland
Johnny Pelhank

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