Whimsical Art To Brighten Your Day
Stepping into Alli Arnold’s cozy bungalow in the Old Northeast feels like walking into a charming English cottage. It’s filled with artwork, a mix-and-match of colors and textures, comfortable furniture, lots of books and a menagerie of animals. Sophia, the Boston Terrier; Honey the Morkie (Maltese & Yorkie); George, the little Green Cheek Conure parrot; and two gerbils – Gronk (for Rob Gronkowski of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Tzatziki (for Alli’s favorite Greek-style condiment) are all eager to greet me.
“I’m happy my husband Ken is on board with all of this animal madness,” jokes Alli.
A native New Yorker and illustrator, Alli moved to St. Pete in 2011, and is passionate about animals, fashion, searching for cool vintage finds in local thrift shops, and drawing. She’s been drawing for as long as she can remember. “Illustrations are my heart and soul,” she says.
There’s a playful energy about Alli and it’s reflected in her artistic style – light and whimsical, friendly, and upbeat. When she was seven, she had her first published illustration in Newsday, her local hometown newspaper in Long Island. The elementary school principal tacked the published piece on a bulletin board, not only giving her budding talent recognition, but helping set her on a life-long career path.
“I wasn’t interested in softball, cheerleading, or the beach,” Alli says. “I was able to express myself much more fluently by drawing. I’ve stuttered since childhood and wasn’t always comfortable speaking. Instead, I became a great observer of life and people. Art is a language in which I can be fluent.”
She graduated from high school at age 17 and immediately moved to NYC to attend Parson’s School of Design in Greenwich Village, where she earned a BFA, majoring in illustration. She launched her career in Manhattan, doing illustrations for all the well-
known magazines like Glamour, Elle, Seventeen, Real Simple, Parenting and Travel & Leisure, as well as media outlets, including the New York Times, Boston Globe, even the Anchorage Daily News. Her creative spark was also unleashed when major NYC retailers, ranging from Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and kate spade to Tiffany & Co. hired her to illustrate ads and create colorful thank you cards given to customers on special occasions.
Her favorite all-time job was “The 12 Days of Christmas,” a series of animated holiday scenes for Tiffany & Co. online customers. Against the iconic Tiffany turquoise blue background, Alli created scenes of little bears, bunnies, elephants, and other characters wearing scarves, skating, rowing boats, and just having a good time. Tiffany’s Photoshopped their jewelry into the scenes to promote holiday gift-giving. “It was a lot of fun to combine whimsy with their luxury jewels. They gave me complete creative freedom,” says Alli.
In March 2011, she came for a visit to St. Pete, staying for a short time with her uncle who lived in the Old Northeast. “It was snowing in New York City. It felt like heaven here, just an oasis,” says Alli. She returned to New York, got rid of just about everything she owned, took a leap of faith, and moved south to start a new life. Because she’d never needed a car in New York City, she also got her first driver’s license at age 38.
One year later, while having lunch at the former Crowley’s restaurant on Central Avenue, she met her future husband Ken Huelhorst, senior art director for the Tampa Bay Metropolitan YMCA Association. They not only shared a love for art, but also rock ’n‘ roll. “We love going to concerts. That’s how we connected, talking about our favorite bands,” says Alli. “I turns out we had been to the same show at the State Theater, but didn’t know each other then. Ken showed me a photo he had taken from the event and we were both amazed to see that I was in the photo.”
They had planned a big wedding with friends and relatives at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club just as the pandemic shut everything down. Alli had been teaching once a week at Creative Clay, an arts center for people with disabilities, where Kerry Kriseman, serves as the organization’s public relations manager. She’s also the wife of St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman. Alli took a chance and asked if the mayor would marry them on the steps of city hall. “Luckily for us, the mayor agreed,” says Alli.
Recently Alli has been branching out from editorial and advertising illustrations to accepting commissions for pet, family, and house portraits. Local interior designer Lisa Gilmore commissions Alli to create family portraits of some of her clients, and has the portraits framed at ARTicles Art Gallery. That led to a meeting between Alli and Leslie Curran, owner of ARTicles, which now represents Alli’s portraits.
In October 2020, HGBT magazine named her one of their favorite pet portrait artists after finding her work on the Etsy (etsy.com/shop/alliarnoldportraits). She also recently completed a mural for the new restaurant Two Graces, opening soon at 6001 Central Avenue. To see some of Alli’s work, visit www.alliarnold.com or @alliarnoldportraits on Instagram.