It’s a sure bet that most people’s first creative memory involved a box of Crayola crayons.
That unforgettable smell (a Yale University study once lauded it as one of the most 20 most recognizable scents) and a multitude of colors (there are 120) has opened floodgates of playfulness and creativity for generations.
So powerful is the 117-year-old Crayola brand that it’s known by more than 99% of American adults, a fact not lost on a talented team of graphic designers and packaging engineers charged with managing the venerable brand identity. It’s a team that has an undeniable Northampton blue hue – thanks to Douglas Boehm ’98, director of creative and packaging engineering at Forks Township, Pa., based manufacturer.
“Crayola is a magical brand. When people find out I work for Crayola and what I do, their eyes light up.”
During the past six years, Boehm has directed the team at Crayola to produce package design, publishing and merchandising that supports the company’s many products. “A big challenge that we face is making them all hang together, yet differentiated enough to pop on the store shelf,” he says. “It has to be visually interesting to inspire kids but also capture mom and dad’s attention.”
Boehm helps provide an overall vision of how the brand is presented in retail environments. This direction also influences Crayola’s digital and global efforts. In addition, his team is responsible for managing the Silly Putty brand identity, as well as design of the Crayola trade show booth at the New York Toy Fair, one of the industry’s largest conventions.
While managing a major brand like Crayola is no small task, Boehm leans on two decades of professional artistic experience, as well as a lifelong obsession with art.
A native of Bethlehem Township, Boehm is the youngest of three children. “I started drawing and realized my talents early on and I liked the attention it brought me. I was always a quiet kid and spent much of my youth buried in sketchbooks,” he says.
Although his parents were not artistic, they let him pursue his passion and were always proud of his work as he developed his talent.
After earning an associate degree in advertising design at Northampton Community College in 1998, Boehm received his bachelor of fine art in graphic design from Temple University’s well known Tyler School of Art in 2001.
For the next decade and a half, Boehm developed his talent and built his career. He started in a small design agency, but focused a lot of his energy on freelance illustration, with great success. His work has been published in over 170 magazines and newspapers throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Wall Street Journal.
Boehm’s publication work also caught the eye of art directors in other industries. “I’ve had the pleasure of illustrating and designing music packaging and gig posters over the years,” he said. “I also took an interest in doing more personal work and started showing my art in galleries.”
During this time, Boehm was also a faculty member at the Tyler School of Art, and NCC, teaching illustration and intro to computer graphics. It was this experience that holds great value for Boehm. “Leading a classroom and pushing creatives to expand on their ideas and helping build confidence directly relates to my current job.”
When asked why he went to work at Crayola after freelancing and teaching for so many years, Boehm said, “The work at Crayola has always held my interest. Usually people only relate Crayola to crayons however there are thousands of products with a wider range of demographics that most people know. I’m obsessed with art products and I also happen to have three kids that love the brand.”
“There is always something new to think about.”
One of the most challenging aspects of Boehm’s position at Crayola is managing several graphic design teams and packaging engineers – something he describes as a careful balancing act. He leans on his art faculty experience to empower team members to take risks or give them the flexibility to push concepts further.
“I like to surround myself with talented people and set expectations for them so I’m not the driving force behind every creative thought,” Boehm says. “Once I establish a level of comfort with art directors and designers I like to step back and watch the magic happen but make myself available if needed.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic forced Crayola’s offices to close in March of 2020, Boehm arranged for his team to work remotely and conduct daily check-ins. “At this point I’m finding that people are happy working from home and in some cases are more productive,” he says.
“We are still returning to use specific equipment on an as needed basis. I’m still having staff meetings and other functions just as we did when we were physically together.”
Boehm stresses the importance of artistic play and personal projects, which further fuels and expands his creativity. While he doesn’t have a lot of time outside of work and family, he maintains a studio at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem which allows him to disconnect for a while.
When Boehm was invited to design the Musikfest poster for 2020, his goal was to develop one like none of the other previous projects. ArtsQuest’s art director was looking to produce a marketing piece that was on par with major music festivals like Bonnaroo and Firefly. Boehm delivered a visually daring poster, while at the same time elevating Musikfest’s brand.
The poster utilizes Boehm’s gritty and imaginative style that’s become synonymous with his gig poster and illustration work. The Mystery Musician Tower stands where Martin Tower once stood. Additional local references include the Steel Stacks playing drums, the Star of Bethlehem, and an octopus taking over Hotel Bethlehem, offering staples of festival food in its tentacles.
Adding to the poster’s fun and mystery is inclusion of flying saucers abducting instruments, and an astronaut, all of which is a nod to Boehm’s love of sci-fi and b-movie posters. The bearded mystery musician holds a likeness to Boehm’s father, a country music lover who passed away in 2019.
Despite the pandemic’s impact, ArtsQuest turned the 2020 Musikfest into a virtual event, utilizing Boehm’s poster art for the merchandise. To remain consistent with the branding, all of the on-screen graphics were created using elements of the poster artwork.
Boehm was glad the festival went on, especially since many music festivals around the country were cancelled. Festival fans were able to visit food trucks at the ArtsQuest facility, and many posed with the large poster on the front of the building.
When asked about the ultimate significance of the year’s event, Boehm said, “No one will forget 2020. The poster was so drastically different, and due to unfortunate circumstances, it was only fitting to have a drastically different event.”
Whether it’s leading a team of creatives to push themselves or helping inspire children’s artistic talents, Boehm says he is proud of the work he does at Crayola. “I’m also proud to work for an American icon that still produces many of their products in the Lehigh Valley,” Boehm says.
“I sleep well knowing the work we do inspires kids and adults to use their creativity.”
Tips for Aspiring Creatives
With Doug Boehm’s wealth of artistic experience, he’s often asked to give advice to aspiring artists and designers. “My advice to any person pursuing a career in any creative field would be to always try new things and never stop tinkering,” he says. “Explore new forms of creation and never stop learning.”
To younger artists, Boehm added, “The difference between a successful creative and someone that doesn’t breakthrough is the ability to communicate. You have to be able to sell your own ideas with a captivating story. You also need to protect your ideas, have integrity, and have the ability to filter constructive criticism.
“You will hear criticism or feedback that is not true to your values, but you might also hear criticism that could change your entire way of thinking for the positive. Learning to accept rejection and being able to get up the next day and push forward is a life skill that is integral to the success of a young creative.”