Denver Doodle Artist Joe Palec Combines Halloween and Cannabis With O.pen | Westword


Doodle Artist Joe Palec Combines Halloween and Cannabis

Palec's new vape battery is full of cannabis and scary movie references.
After working in the cannabis industry for years, Joe Palec is now illustrating it.
After working in the cannabis industry for years, Joe Palec is now illustrating it. Joe Palec
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As both an artist for hire and the delivery coordinator for THC vape company O.pen, Joe Palec has never minded mixing his two passions. Cannabis brands like the Mile High 420 Festival, Colorado Harvest Company, Good Chemistry, Groovy Gravy, Police & Thieves, Herbs4You and Veritas Fine Cannabis have all commissioned illustrations from Palec, but his art hasn't been used on any dispensary products from his day-job company — until now.

O.pen's Haunted Feast Battery, a standard hash pen battery now for sale in Colorado dispensaries, is full of cannabis and scary movie references, from Chemdog mad scientists to Strawberry Cheesecake coffins, all done by Palec. The collaboration "was a long time coming," Palec says, and he's excited to share his doodle-like illustrations with fellow dabbers this fall. In this interview, he shares more about his monster-mashing illustrations and how he combines drawing and cannabis.

Westword: What's your legal-cannabis origin story?

Joe Palec: I moved here in 2011. I instantly got a medical card and started working at Jimmy John's on the 16th Street Mall, back before the mall was what it is today. I would make these mini Jimmy John's sandwiches, walk down the mall and remind people to get their lunch and catering there. I'd also go into the [now-closed] Native Roots off 16th Street every other day with free sandwiches, and they started remembering my name. One day they asked me if I wanted to be a sign spinner, so I put in my two weeks at Jimmy John's that day.

From there I became a trimmer and budtender at Native Roots, then I moved over to Pink House and Verde Natural, and then I got an offer to be on O.pen's marketing street team. Then I was in customer service, became a sales rep, and now I'm a delivery supervisor.

That's quite the journey. How were you able to gain momentum as an artist while working in cannabis?

Well, I was an art school dropout in Wisconsin. After that, I was given the option of sticking with school and transferring to somewhere else, like Milwaukee, or move in with my mom in Colorado. Are you kidding? I went to Colorado.

Not to sound cocky or pretentious, but I've always been good at drawing. I never thought I could make a career out of it, especially when I was at art school. They really beat you down there and say you're not going to succeed. It's rough. But my drawing became kind of a party trick, and my friends really pushed me to do more and said I was good at this. So I entered some contests, ended up working for a few companies, and then decided to take the leap and get a studio in the Santa Fe Art District. I've since been able to work with the Selfie Museum  — they have flown me all across the country to do murals for them — and for a popular toy brand called Kendama Co., and for other brands like Deep Eddy Vodka and a lot of cannabis brands.
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O.pen's Haunted Feast battery is for sale through November.
O.pen Vape
The cannabis industry seems like a fertile space for local and up-and-coming artists. Is that accurate?

Definitely — and it's not just me. I can't think of another industry that is so open-arms for local artists and taking big swings on artists. The only thing remotely close I can think of is craft brewery cans, but when you have to start diving into corporate crafted design and these deeply scientific logos — no. No, the cannabis space is talking to artists and getting their work out there.

How would you describe your work? I've heard some Where's Waldo comparisons.

It's doodling. Doodling and line work. It's something that I've always enjoyed, but it's been cool to see how popular it is right now. Once I started networking and had a presence on Instagram, I realized there were so many other artists out there doing stuff like this.

Are there hidden references in your professional doodles?

It's all Easter eggs. If you look at my designs from afar, it just looks like a bunch of doodles. Then you look closer and realize every piece has a story, and it flows into another element of greater design. I think of everything I do as an Easter egg, or hidden — except people are always looking for the penises...they're not in there! Not purposefully, anyway.

What are some hidden references or characters in your Haunted Feast Battery?

O.pen's first prompt was a Halloween battery, and Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. They wanted to include certain strains, and they wanted it to be a dinner scene. So I went with a haunted feast or dinner party, which was really fun and easy. I watched all of the Addams Family movies, Hotel Transylvania and Scooby-Doo, just to get some influences going, and I was really inspired by M.C. Escher. I wanted things to pop and come out of the dinner table, so on the battery you'll see strain references like a Chem Dog — which is a dog in a lab coat — as well as Strawberry Cheesecake coffin slices and a Wednesday Addams Apple.

This one came easy, honestly. Maybe five years ago if they had asked to do this, I'd be sweating bullets, but I've had so much practice with this now. These batteries really are a great canvas to do things seasonally and keep it fresh — and it's so easy to lose things, so it's a trip down memory lane when you find a Halloween battery in your couch.

How does it feel to drop off gear at dispensaries with your artwork on it? Do you ever mention it when trying to sell products?

In that scenario, I don't talk about who I am. At the end of the day, I'm modest about my artwork, and these are people I work with and see every day — but for lack of a better term, it does feel really cool. It feels good to know that there are batteries out there with my work on it, and it's been one of our top-selling devices in October. Anybody can take one of my designs and slap it on a battery, and that's that. But O.pen has been very nice about my brand awareness, and I appreciate how they celebrate the artists behind the art. 
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