Mike and Nancy Ford look at the world differently now. A simple walk may get the couple no farther than around the block. Zipping across state? They’ll take the back roads, thank you.
The change came over the couple when they began making artistic letters out of inanimate objects, including nature, objects and buildings.
“It’s a sickness,” he said with a laugh. “It can be fun, but we look at things completely differently now.”
Finding letters in inanimate objects — noting that light poles resemble the letter I, for example — has turned into a lucrative hobby for Ford and his wife, Nancy.
For the past 3½years, the Fords have dabbled in “photo word art” with Creative Grafix, their steadily growing business.
Photo word art is just as it sounds — words comprised of pictures of letters or objects that look like letters.
THE IDEA for Creative Grafix came in 2008, when the Fords were in Nebraska to visit former Iolans Jim and Melanie Behrens.
The Fords were in search of a house-warming gift, “but Jim and Melanie are a couple that’s hard to buy for,” Nancy said.
Knowing the Behrenses were wine connoisseurs, Mike and Nancy came up with a novel gift — A photo comprised of the letters W-I-N-E. For the letter I, the Fords used a wine bottle.
“They loved it,” Nancy recalled, as did other friends.
The Fords created signs for a few other friends, and as word spread, so did their desire to turn their photo word art into a money-maker.
They took a few pieces to the 2009 Artist Alley Festival in Chanute, and the strong demand convinced Mike they could further expand.
They did so during family vacations, frequently driving cross country, and eschewing large interstate highways when possible.
Doing so took the Fords through the heart of scores of communities from coast to coast, where they could look for letters.
The Fords looked for more than words on signs. The Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., when viewed from directly below, resembled a perfect O. The edge of a sea wall barricade in Key West, Fla., made the letter D. Praying hands can be photographed at such an angle to resemble the letter A.
The photos offer another distinction between the Fords’ work and other similar artists.
“Each of our letters has a story,” Mike said.
To illustrate, customers are eager to get the letter T after they learn it came from a cross at Arlington National Cemetery, Mike said. Or a letter painted on the side of a building in downtown Iola.
Now, the Fords’ children are getting into the act, pointing out signs with unique lettering, or finding inanimate objects that resemble letters.
“We’ll catch ourselves doing it all the time,” Nancy said.
WHILE THE concept is hardly new, the Fords have taken a methodical approach to their craft, emphasizing the art of the letters.
The Fords estimated they’ve taken thousands of pictures of signs, letters or whatever.
Mike does the bulk of the photography, although Nancy is the braver of the two with a camera.
She was shooed away by guards as she photographed a star at the gate in front of the White House in Washington — “I had to take that picture in a hurry,” she laughed — and had to lean around the edge of the Key West sea wall barricade to capture her letter D.
Nancy does the digital touch-ups, cropping and cleaning up anything to distract from the letters, then resizes each so it will fit in a 4-by-6-inch frame.
They’ve accumulated more than 700 letters in all from the thousands of pictures they snapped.