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The campaign artwork for the 15th Annual Milwaukee Film Festival, aptly titled "Milwacky", represents the spirit of joy and togetherness that happens each spring as the film festival arrives in Milwaukee. We worked with the local artist Dwellephant to bring this 2023 festival artwork to life. He blended hand drawings with cartoon-esque caricatures to create illustrations that are as delightful as they are entertaining to look at up close.

“When we started talking about the vibes we wanted the art for our 2023 edition to evoke, Dwellephant was the first artist that came to mind for me,” explains Milwaukee Film’s Artistic Director, Cara Ogburn. “As we continue to emerge into our still-new spring festival home, I think it’s important to remind people of everything they have always loved about the festival. So I threw some keywords out there along the lines of ‘‘big group, joy, together, discovery, Milwaukee,’ and Dwellephant certainly delivered!!” she effused.

Dwellephant was born in a pineapple under the sea, moved to Milwaukee in 2003 with ten of their friends, and has used their magic powers for (mostly) good, making everything from tattoo designs and funeral cars to kids' books and show posters. Get to know more about this "Milwacky"-based artist in the conversation below. 


How would you describe the kind of work you do? What kind of artist you are?

 I'm an artist that doesn't know how NOT to do this. I just make shit all the time. And my drawings are fun, cute, and cartoony - three words all Very Serious Artists™ use to describe their stuff.  

Tell us more about the “Milwacky” concept - What it means and what connections to the city of Milwaukee you made in the piece.

You know, the word "Milwacky" was really just a placeholder. I couldn't think of a more appropriate word to describe the concept. BUT the idea behind it is that the film festival is really the only thing in the city where the most random mix of people sit in a dark room together for two weeks and experience some really special stuff together. 

The characters are a mix of random things and some Milwaukee references - everything from the Bucks and Samson the Gorilla to Laverne & Shirley and the Milwaukee Lion/Oriental Theatre Lions. I also put a little tribute to Mike Schank in there. R.I.P., Mr. Schank. 


How do the visual elements emulate Milwaukee Film Festival? What qualities/aspects of the festival were you drawing out from the illustrations?

Again, it's really paying tribute to this special thing that happens at the festival, where people who don't interact for 50 weeks a year have all of these shared moments and experiences. Complete strangers on any other day wind up in a dark theater together for two straight weeks and laugh, cry, get inspired, get angry... and then talk about it in line, at a bar after, online, etc. It was one of my favorite things to see when I worked for Milwaukee FIlm, and something we can always use more of. 

I also wanted the characters to look like they're enjoying the heck out of what they're watching. If you know someone who doesn't think they'd enjoy going to the festival, show them this poster. It will change their heart. 

Can you highlight 2-3 characters in the piece, who they are, and what their “backstory” is?

No! But only because I think it's important to let people have room to connect with the characters in a way that's meaningful to them. I'd love to  hear everyone else's backstory ideas for the characters, though. If you see me at the festival, feel free to share yours! (And feel free to hand me a complimentary tasty beverage first.)

What did your process look like to bring this artwork to life? In general, how do you approach your work creatively?

In general, when I work on a project, it's like having a lil' tornado of images and ideas in my brain. When that tornado's ready to come out, I take a ballpoint pen or crayon and draw as fast as I can to get it all out. (You can't erase a ballpoint pen or crayon, and often times the mistakes you make wind up being better than what you actually planned on doing.) From there, the process differs from project to project, but it always ends up looking like I really have my shit together.

The hardest thing about this particular project was figuring out the arrangement of all these lil' goobers. 

​Why do YOU love Milwaukee Film Festival?

(In Senator Clay Davis voice:) Sheeeeeeeeit... Life is a hot mess most days. But the fact that for two weeks a year, you can sit in a room with your friends and neighbors and disctract yourself with 100+ excellent films that were hand-picked by a bunch of beautiful, hard-working film smarties? What a gift! 

PLUGS! Where can people follow you online and get updates about what you're working on or where we can see your work in person (when such things are happening again)? 

Instagram: Dwellephant
Twitter: Dwellephant


Posted by: Jolee Mallmann