Graphic artist and muralist Kyle DeGroff dabbles in a variety of artistic projects: colorful murals, business brands, wedding invitations and photography. He is the guy behind Grand Rapids Brewing Co.’s Rosalynn Bliss Mango Blonde, Fish Ladder, Flow and other beer bottle designs, plus menus, T-shirts and more.
DeGroff went from working as a food runner at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. to serving as interior design manager for BarFly Ventures until recently deciding to step out on his own. He made the decision to go full-time freelance while working on the huge new mural on Graydon’s Crossing.
“I was essentially working around the clock, working full-time, then going to the mural and working until midnight daily,” he said. “So, it was a perfect time to take the leap and pursue something new.”
The native Tennessean spent his childhood living in both Michigan and Tennessee until his senior year, when his family finally settled in Holland. At a young age, his mom taught him to draw, and he entertained himself with LEGOs and building creek dams. However, “the arts” weren’t necessarily appreciated in the small Friday Night Lights town of Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
DeGroff attended Grand Valley State University planning to pursue entrepreneurship, but soon realized it wasn’t for him. After trying a 2-D design class, he found where he fit: “I couldn’t go through life without fulfilling the need to create.”
DeGroff studied graphic design that would tie two enticing worlds together: business and art. His new focus is as a full-service, one-stop shop creative freelancer, providing a variety of artistic services for anyone who needs it. His colorful murals around Grand Rapids are also attracting attention. Check them out at Graydon’s Crossing, HopCat East Beltline, Mudpenny and Lions & Rabbits.
What interested you in making murals?
Graffiti, street art and murals have always been alluring to me, but for a long time I believed they weren’t applicable to me. It wasn’t until I began working for HopCat that I was exposed to the amazing artists that worked freely and creatively at our earlier locations. They worked in large scales, and more importantly, created art that could live forever. That was enticing to me — creating something with longevity. My first mural opportunity was redesigning the interior of McFadden’s into the Waldron. My life went from zero mural work to painting four throughout the space. That project gave me the experience, tools and motivation to continue pursuing mural work.
How did the mural on Graydon’s Crossing come about? How did you decide on the specific design?
Creston After Dark was a beautification project that aimed to bring several murals, a trash program and additional place-making elements to the neighborhood. It was a great success and I’m thankful to have been a part of it. As for the design, the lion is relevant to the European Premier Soccer League and Graydon’s Crossing is the second football/soccer pub in the city. Needless to say, it felt like a good fit.
What have you done recently that you’re proud of?
That’s one difficult question — each piece is so special to me, as they all come with their individually unique challenges, impact and insights. However, I can highlight my three most impactful pieces that I’m proud of.
Graydon’s Crossing: This was my largest mural that I have executed independently. Three weeks of blood, sweat and tears were poured into this piece. This mural brought a lot of challenges and understanding to my life, but especially brought to life the amazing, supportive community around me in Creston and in Grand Rapids as a whole.
HopCat East Beltline: I like to refer to this piece as my ‘labor of love.’ This piece took approximately 400-plus hours, including installation, procuring and managing. To say it was labor intensive is an extreme understatement. That being said, this piece is significant because it’s a reminder that I have this kind of work in me.
Lions & Rabbits: This piece played a significant role in my creativity exploration. I was given free rein on direction and creativity, so I took the opportunity and ran with it. To this day, I feel like this piece symbolizes the love and energy of Lions & Rabbits. It’s bright, robust and bold — precisely embodying the brand, the owner and the city.
It looks like you dabble in a variety of artistic projects. Can you talk a little bit about that?
It comes from being overly curious and opportunistic. Since college, I’ve always done freelance work on the side to feed that hunger, so to speak. So, the wedding invitation game was great because it allowed me the freedom to experiment with styles and techniques. Also, I really appreciated the idea of being able to contribute to such a milestone in people’s lives. Weddings provide the challenge of creating something that encapsulates the bride and groom, while being uniquely and eloquently done. Branding provides the challenge of longevity – how can I design something that others would cherish for a while? Can I create a design so compelling that someone would want to save a beer bottle? Every project consists of its own unique variables, making my work an exciting and rewarding process.
Do you have any specific goals for the future? What is your dream project?
Primarily, I’d love to remain self-sustainable and continue to foster the creative community around me. A dream project of mine is to team up with a developer and create a ‘utopia’ that is 100-percent self-sustainable, with little to no environmental impact. I’d love to have the opportunity to lead the creative executions of architecture, interior design, branding, city planning, etc. Think of the consistent look and feel of a theme park, but more along the lines of a city or community.
What advice do you have to give?
Work your ass off. Don’t be entitled and understand that nothing is promised, and you gain what you work for. Create daily, and play a role in inspiring others to create daily too. And as my mother would say: ‘Can’t never did anything.’
Check out more of DeGroff’s work on at degroffdesign.com or on Instagram at degroffdesign.
Left: Creston After Dark Mural at Graydon's Crossing. Photo By Leandro Lara (@zmbiephrsh) Instagram Right: Lions & Rabbits Mural. Courtesy Photo