Artist Feature: Elliot Chaltry

Not only is Elliot Chaltry’s art boldly unique, but his journey isn’t exactly typical either.

Moving from Port Huron, Chaltry studied fine arts and illustration at Grand Valley State University. While finishing the program, he started at Barfly Ventures, where he learned the ins and outs of graphic design while helping develop the local company’s branding and visual style that you’ve definitely seen around the past few years. 

From Irish on Ionia to menu design, Grand Rapids Brewing Co.’s beer labels, merchandise and beyond, Chaltry has become a big part of both the local arts and beer scene. In fact, his work with Barfly led to City Built Brewing, where one of his designs (Prague Underground) won the title for Best Beer Can In America by USA Today. 

Now that he’s fully self-employed, we talked with Chaltry about his journey so far and what the future holds.

How did you get involved with the broader arts scene?

While working in the graphic design world, I still needed to get that itch for illustration out of my system. Connecting with Hannah Berry early on with her journey of creating Lions and Rabbits, she was able to give me the opportunity of painting my first solo wall as part of the inaugural After Dark street party in the Creston Neighborhood. Creating this initial rainbow robot unicorn then lead to additional murals with Founders, Arts Marketplace and Condado Tacos, which in turn lead to some amazing opportunities like working with Bonnaroo & Willie Nelson.

What do you love about making art?

Art is one of those things that is as cliché as it sounds, incredibly meditative when you get in the zone. Just turn the music up in your headphones and it seems like hours can fly by without even realizing it. With some of my warmups and even throughout the process of creating a final piece, I’m always attracted to those happy little accidents that can lead to an entirely new idea just from seeing it in a new perspective. I can never start digitally when creating concepts — I need to start with pencil and paper, with a lot of smudging, erasing and drawing overtop or even just intentionally spilling some watercolor on a page and creating from shapes that appear. Most of the time, I don’t have a solid image in my head of what the final piece will look like, but enjoy the journey of creating as I go. 

What do you hope to evoke with your work?

I think one of the main reactions I hope for is bringing joy to the inner child within adults, while still being pleasing for all ages. There still are the symbolic meanings and background stories going on in my pieces, but I try to focus more on the joy of bright vivid colors and creating a work of art that’s just fun to stare at and enjoyed. 

Can you let us in on where your distinct style comes from?

Not sure if I can fully answer this, “unless everyone gets really cool about a lot of stuff really quickly.” My work comes from the nostalgia of being a 90s kid growing up with some of the weirdest cartoons that they somehow allowed to be aired on tv mixed with a mix of psychedelic experiences.

More directly, are there any other artists that really inform your work?

There’s a laundry list of artists that I follow and look up to/hope to someday work with, but my top few include T.Wei (, Enbodie (@enbodie), James Jean (jamesjean) and Takashi Murakami (@takashipom). All of them have a balance of bringing in somewhat of a dream state while reliving those childhood memories of animated cartoons.

How does it feel to be part of the Grand Rapids art scene?

Grand Rapids’ art scene is great! There’s always new artists to meet that keep popping up with incredible work and then there’s also artists you’ve known for a while and have a healthy competitive friendship with where you’re always trying to one up each other with the next bad ass piece you can create. 

Anything else you have to say or want people to know?

If you’re not aware of Lions & Rabbits center for the arts, please check them out and support them whenever you can! Hannah has been doing such an incredible job working with local artists and connecting them with opportunities that would normally not be accessible to most artists. It was one of my first big breaks, so I always volunteer and help out whenever I can with them.

Find more of Chaltry’s work or @elliotchaltry.