The first time that Salt Lake City photographer and graphic designer Stephanie Swift applied to display her work at the Utah Arts Festival, it wasn’t for the usual reasons of artistic expression and ambition.
“My sister hounded me to apply to the festival, and I did it to get her off my back,” Swift said in a recent phone interview.
Now Swift’s digitally enhanced photo prints of Utah neon landmarks, bearing her brand Pretty Little Pixel, are a regular feature at the festival. This year, Swift is an invited artist at the festival’s Artist Marketplace, which boasts 162 artists selling their wares — 45 of them from Utah, and 64 are displaying at the festival for the first time.
Swift, who works by day as a graphic designer, was hired several years ago to develop a tradeshow booth that looked like a comic book. She experimented with adding bright colors to photographs, and “it was something I really liked, so I just kept doing it,” she said.
Swift’s specialty is taking photos of famous Salt Lake City landmarks, particularly old neon signs, and digitally adding color to them. Some of her most popular prints show the Cotton Bottom Inn, the Tower Theatre, and the now-gone Bill and Nada’s Cafe.
Recently, Swift started putting her designs on household items. She experimented by decorating an old chair. Then she tried a fabric transfer, and discovered she could make pillows.
“I said, ‘Oh, great, I can make pillows,’” Swift said. “Then I said, ‘Oh s---, I can make pillows. Now I have to sell them.’”
Swift isn’t sure if the objects will sell “If it doesn’t work, then everyone I know will have a Cotton Bottom chair for Christmas,” she said.
The toughest part of Swift’s art is finding usable images for places that aren’t around any more.
“It took me three years to find the Dee’s clown,” she said, referring to the mascot of the old Utah burger chain. And she would love to get her hands on a photo of the old Terrace Ballroom, which was demolished in 1981.
“If I had a time machine, you know how bitchin’ my life would be right now?,” Swift said with a laugh.