Jerry Axlund’s first artistic memory is of his 10-year-old self drawing warplanes with chalk on the street he grew up on as a child in Bellingham during World War II.
Almost seven decades and a commercial art career later, Axlund, 79, continues to create various forms of artwork, with his latest focus being a series of watercolor-and-ink paintings of historical buildings in downtown Bellingham and elsewhere around Whatcom County. He has been working on the series for about six months.
“I’ve always loved Whatcom County. I was raised here and I know a lot of the history about some of these buildings,” Axlund says. “I’m starting this different technique in watercolor and ink, and I just think all the buildings have a lot of character.”
He says his inspiration for art lies in subjects in which he sees beauty, such as old-style architecture, fishing boats, and his grandchildren.
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Military aircraft are another inspiration, stemming from his street art as a child and further fueled by the time he spent as a trainer with the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. A few years ago, Axlund drew a series of 25 World War II and Korean War warbirds, all done in pen, ink and airbrush media, some of which he submitted to The Bellingham Herald.
“I’ve loved them all my life,” he says. “In fact, I flew myself.”
Axlund says he took a break from artwork while in the Marines and slowly got back into the craft when he was discharged, doing work at visual firms in Seattle and the San Francisco area.
“I spent most of my career in the Bay Area working for a national firm as art director, and I also did photography when I was there,” he says.
He also did a large amount of cartooning for clients during his professional career, both at visual firms and when he owned his own graphic arts business.
After retiring in 1991, Axlund and his wife moved back to Bellingham, which he says they considered their home. In addition to the paintings Axlund is working on now, he occasionally works on art restorations, or uses Photoshop to manipulate photos to make personalized cards for his six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Axlund says he has always shared his art with his children and grandchildren, and one of his granddaughters is following in his artistic footsteps.
“My granddaughter in Reno is very, very talented in the way of art, so I’ve been working with her,” he says. “She’s very, very interested in doing the same thing I am.”
Axlund encourages young artists to continue with their craft, even when work in the art business is hard to find. He says he was always able to find work, and was able to make a living out of art when he started his own business.
“Keep working on it,” he advises aspiring artists. “And don’t give up.”
Stephanie Villiers is a Bellingham writer.