A Blast From the Prehistoric Past
Portland, Oregon is known as a place where the quirky and creative gather. The city’s unofficial motto, after all, is “Keep Portland Weird.” Artists of all types flourish, and one of them is Mike Bennett, who has a pop-up exhibit currently running in the downtown area known as Dinolandia. And a local wide-format shop, Infinity Images, has helped him bring his vision to life.
Infinity Images is a family-owned business first started in 1956, that today has 70 employees and operates out of around 55,000 sq. ft. of space. They focus on a wide range of projects, from complex displays for retail environments, to interior décor and signage, as well as offering services such as design and installation.
George Gross, CEO of Infinity Images, notes that they met Bennett through “somebody who knew somebody, who knew somebody. It was early in his career, and he needed some printing done. So, we offered to do it.”
Jake Gregory, account director, notes that Bennett has become a good friend over the years, and it has been great to see his success grow as it has. “He really found his nice and exploded during COVID,” says Gregory. “With everyone unable to work, he started doing paintings and setting them up in his yard, and would change them throughout the week. Families could walk by and see his stuff, and it was a fun atmosphere. And as it grew, he realized people wanted to buy signs. At first, he was hand painting them, but the up front labor was insane, so he needed help with printing.”
In fact, the first project that Infinity Images worked on with Bennett was a giveaway, handing out lawn signs with a socially conscious message, using his characters to encourage people to slow down in neighborhoods, for example. That artist meet and greet was so successful, says Gross, that the line stretched for several blocks, and they eventually ran out of signs to hand out.
From that, and Bennett’s creative mind, grew the first pop-up shop, allowing people to purchase the signs, with Bennett adding a range of garden bugs in his signature style alongside his yard signs. “We did a number of graphics for him for that, to help him create the look and feel and keep his stop stocked,” says Gregory. That first exhibit was the Cryptozoo, and the success of that project led to the bigger and more elaborate space he is running this summer: Dinolandia.
Bennett took over what used to be a Banana Republic in downtown Portland, and “it’s been incredibly successful,” says Gross. “He has been doing fantastic there, and it’s a good partnership for us. We can make what he needs as he needs it, and he can make what everyone wants to buy, what’s actually selling instead of just guessing. His furry and fuzzy dudes are very popular.”
Walking through Dinolandia is a mix of Bennett’s own work as the artist, and the work Infinity Images has provided. Bennett wanted to keep the main pieces as his hand-painted work, to keep his own personal touch on them, but Infinity helped him bring the space to life, with wall and floor graphics that tie in seamlessly with Bennett’s art to create an immersive experience guests can delight in as they move through the space. Infinity Images also did all the installation for Bennett, working with him and an artist to mock up the space to ensure it fit his vision exactly.
Infinity Images is also keeping the popup shop attached to Dinolandia stocked, with everything from desk buddies people can take home and have on hand, to the yard signs, and everything in between. “We’re continuing to work with him and get fun new ideas for his clients,” says Gregory. “He helpful in figuring out what to do next, and is really open to feedback from us to make sure everyone gets what they were hoping for when they visit.”
While Bennett himself is the kind of client most shops dream of working with, the Dinolandia project wasn’t without a few hiccups along the way. One of them was the sheer size and scale of the installation, taking over an entire building. And since Infinity Images did window graphics to completely brand the space from the outside, they also had to get precise measurements to ensure everything was perfect on installation day. They also had to be aware of the materials used, and choose things that will stand up to the traffic moving through the space for the length of the exhibit, which is slated to run through September.
They are also producing the pieces for the shop on a weekly basis, seeing which pieces sell well on a given weekend, getting the next batch into production on a Monday, and having them there and ready for him to sell by Friday for the next weekend rush.
“He’s just such a nice guy, so when he puts in a request, you want to do it immediately,” says Gregory. “He values the time you’re putting in for him. I haven’t met a person who’s had a bad interaction with him — there will be kids running up to him and want to take a picture with him.” In one memorable interaction, Gregory recalls, a kid decided to dress as Mike Bennett for Halloween, and came up to the artist dressed in painting clothes. Bennett was a teacher in his previous life, so his love of connecting with children really shines through.
And his awareness of families shines through as well, with Bennett working with Infinity Images to ensure not only that people can purchase his art, but that he keeps it affordable and cost effective so anyone who wants to have a piece of it has the ability to do so. It’s just as important to Bennett to connect with people and make an impact in their lives as it is to display his art, and Infinity Images helps him bridge that gap.
The work Infinity Images has done for Dinolandia was mostly produced on the shop’s Durst printers, mostly the Durst Rho 1312, and then cut on one of two Zünd cutters the shop is operating. Infinity Images also has a swissQprint machine for some of the work — mainly the smaller desk buddies, which are then laser cut to be assembled on site to ensure they stand up correctly.
And the work with Bennett has led to Infinity Images connecting with other local artists as well, as friends of his see the quality of the work and come to them with their own print needs. Right now, notes Gregory, it’s mostly small stuff, doing short runs for a specific event or for the Portland Saturday Market for them to display and sell. Bennett is the largest artist customer they have in terms of scale right now, but, says Gross, “it would be nice to say he’s the first of many!”
They key to cultivating those relationships, Gross continues, is to understand that “none of them have much money. They need economical pieces, but that are still nice looking.” He points out that the first job they did with Bennett was the giveaway, which they donated the printing for so he could autograph it and give it away, which has led to the profitable relationship they have with him today.
But, he stresses, it can be hard for local artists to get started, and they need help publicizing and marketing their work. “Mike was pretty savvy when we first met, but even he just didn’t know the technology or how to leverage what he had.” Bennett caught on quickly, but most artists, Gross says, “need some help in the beginning on materials and processes, and helping them out so their efforts are successful.”
While every local artist isn’t going to be the next Van Gogh or DaVinci, they do have a story to tell, and printers are in a perfect position to help them bridge the gap between art and business. While those relationships might start off small, Infinity Images work with Mike Bennett shows that you never know who will be the next one to hit it big. As Bennett’s work begins to move from a local sensation to a national presence, Infinity Images will be right beside him, helping him bring his vision to life.