- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2016

POWELL, Wyo. (AP) - Calendars featuring Clay Neubert’s artwork have adorned walls around the Big Horn Basin for decades - black-and-white drawings of tough cowgirls, admired athletes and hardworking Wyomingites.

Today, his portraits hang on walls in 127 countries.

From Iran to Ireland, Australia to Algeria, China to the Czech Republic, Neubert’s artwork is featured in Pepsi businesses around the world.

“It’s beyond anything I could ever dream of, to get to do this,” he said.

Neubert, who lives in Powell, started creating Pepsi artwork nearly 30 years ago for Admiral Beverage Corporation, a bottling company in Worland.

As he worked on the first charcoal drawing in 1987 - a cowboy with a Pepsi can - his wife Marsha walked by and made a suggestion.

“She said, ‘You know, if you made the can in color, Pepsi would really like it,’” he recalled.

She was right.

Not only did Pepsi like Neubert’s artwork, but residents in the area also were drawn to the distinctive portraits.

Even after dates on the calendars had long since passed, Neubert’s Pepsi prints remained on display in homes, restaurants, airports, gas stations, grocery stores and offices.

“I’m always so honored that someone would take one of my drawings and frame it, and display it - that’s better than money,” he said.

About a decade ago, a national Pepsi employee traveling through Cody happened to see framed prints of Neubert’s charcoal drawings. Soon, the national company sought Neubert out.

They invited him to PepsiCo North America’s Quality College in Arlington, Texas, where employees receive training. The company hoped to get more Pepsi people to attend the training sessions by creating a calendar that featured Neubert’s artwork and listed upcoming class dates.

“In 2007, they printed a calendar with my images, and Pepsi people noticed it and started coming to Arlington for classes,” Neubert said. “It took off.”

Within a year, Pepsi had a waiting list for the classes and eventually had to expand its building.

“The calendar had attracted that much attention,” Neubert said. “It was neat to be a part of something so successful.”

The 2016 calendar went global.

“I don’t think I realized what that meant until I saw the list of countries,” Neubert said.

He and Marsha found all 127 countries on a world map, pinning the places where his calendars were sent.

Pepsi is distributing calendars internationally to promote training sessions in Puerto Rico, Ireland and China. Editions are printed in English, Spanish and Chinese. There’s also an international version of the calendar which doesn’t list any holidays, so it can be sent to countries that don’t share similar cultural celebrations.

The calendar is sent only to Pepsi businesses.

“If you’re going to do Pepsi art, that’s the perfect audience,” Neubert said. “And it seems to strike a chord.”

Neubert never expected to have his artwork displayed in countries around the world.

“It starts out going to five states, then it goes to five continents . almost overnight, so it seems,” he said. “I was just doing my job - my job was always to produce happy scenes and a variety of Pepsi products featured.”

In addition to Pepsi, Mountain Dew and 7-Up, the company also creates Lipton Tea, Gatorade, Aquafina, Sobe, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Starbucks drinks and other products.

Neubert said he gets nervous whenever he draws the logos.

“There’s no room for error,” he said. “If I make a mistake, it’s like, I just ruined a really good picture.”

Before he does the logo, he usually has the person’s face and everything else in its place. He often places a tissue over the logo to protect it from getting smudged.

“Charcoal, by its very nature, is just a messy medium to work in,” Neubert said.

Pepsi gives Neubert complete artistic freedom, without any stipulations about which products to include or the subject matter.

“The only thing they ever asked is to take into consideration multi-cultural,” he said.

Neubert’s portraits feature people of different races and ethnicities.

While most of the models are from Wyoming, this year’s calendar also includes people living in California, Arizona, Colorado and Florida. Neubert’s family members living in other states help look for potential models.

The annual calendar includes six drawings - one for every two months - and Neubert always has ideas for next year’s artwork.

“I don’t know how long I’ll get to do it; we go from year to year,” he said. “I try to approach each year like it could be my last one, so to make these six drawings the best ones that I could do.”

Earlier in March, the national Pepsi company contacted Neubert and asked him to produce the artwork for the 2017 calendar.

“I said, ‘Yes, I would be delighted to!’” Neubert said. “I am a lucky fellow.”

‘It’s really fun to make someone’s face come alive on paper’

Dozens of local residents have appeared in Clay Neubert’s artwork over the years. Sometimes, he knows the subjects well - his son, Lucas, and wife, Marsha, were both featured in his Pepsi artwork.

Other times, someone just happens to catch Neubert’s eye, whether it’s in a newspaper photograph or a check-out line in Wal-Mart.

Even after 28 years of doing artwork for Pepsi calendars, it can be difficult to approach a potential model he doesn’t know.

“It’s still awkward - ‘I’m an artist, I do drawings for Pepsi, and I think you’d be great in one of my scenes,’” he said.

Marsha often helps with breaking the ice.

“She has a way of working with people and making them feel comfortable. She’s a genuinely nice person,” Neubert said.

As Marsha talks with them, he takes photographs to use for the drawings.

“She’s really important to the whole process,” he said. “I’m just so lucky to have her next to me.”

She helps recruit models and gives input.

“Every drawing I do, she’s that first opinion and second opinion that I just absolutely need to have,” Neubert said. “And she’s honest, in a nice way.”

His son, Blake, is an artist and also points out things.

Neubert first started drawing during high school, but then took a break from it. He returned to art in the 1980s. He continued creating the calendars for Admiral Beverage Corporation in Worland until 2008, and at that point, was already in his second calendar with the national Pepsi company.

Neubert continues to take on challenges as an artist, such as the intricate details of a zipper, cable-knit sweater or hockey net.

He also enjoys drawing people’s expressions.

“It’s really fun to make someone’s face come alive on paper,” Neubert said.

Neubert has a few favorite drawings including the one of his son, Lucas, with Chauncey McMillan’s border collie, and one with his wife, Marsha, at the Cody airport.

He also likes The Dew Crew, The Dew Crew II and the Sub “Dew-ed” Crew.

Neubert has met a lot of good people as he’s created artwork for Pepsi.

“I’m lucky to live in Wyoming,” he said. “I’ve always thought that Wyoming people are America at her best … they’re good people. They’re honest people, and they work hard.”

Neubert conveys a person’s spirit and personality through his artwork, capturing who they are. He loves watching people’s faces when he shows them the portraits.

“That’s probably the best day of the whole thing, when the models see their drawing,” he said.

He enjoys the entire process of creating artwork for the Pepsi calendars.

“I get up every day and I draw,” he said. “When you know that thousands of people are going to see what you’re doing, you give it your A-game. There’s nothing less than your best.”


Information from: Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, https://www.powelltribune.com

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