This article is from the March 2019 Grand Rapids Magazine. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
A doodle drawn out of frustration led local artist and writer Peter Welmerink to launch StickonStump, a simple cartoon figure who waxes motivational. After posting the figure on his Facebook page, friends urged Welmerink to create StickonStump’s own page, which, within two weeks, had accumulated close to 200 followers. Further coaxing from those who saw this new character and read his words of positivity have since led to a line of StickonStump merchandise, including a book, coffee mugs, signed prints and calendar selling across the country. Did Welmerink expect a late-night doodle to bring about online orders and a newfound stream of income? He’s quick to say he didn’t, but just as quick to express his excitement over the success, something he measures even more on the impact he’s hearing he’s having on people’s lives than on the money rolling in.
It was just an average evening at home in June 2018 when Welmerink, sitting at his desk, had the spark of inspiration that led to his new creation.
“I was super stressed out, not only with all the political stuff going on, all the chaos … between the normal work stress and the social media frenzy, negative news and then some of the other ‘good stress’ things — my oldest boy is suddenly driving, he’s got a car, he’s got a job. It was like the perfect storm of all these emotions coming up. It just all cascaded down on me. So just as a kind of a diversion, I drew a stick person on a stump and called him ‘StickonStump’—real short, real sweet, real simple. He’s kinda sitting there on his stump, contemplating life; he has a smile on his face. I put him out there and I didn’t put a quote or statement or anything, … I just called him StickonStump and wrote something very positive about we’ve gotta keep moving forward and not let all this get to us. I put it on Facebook and people glommed onto it and said, ‘Do more! Do more!’” Welmerink said.
So, do more he did. StickonStump has its own hashtag, #stickonstump, its own Facebook page and a line of merchandise, with bestsellers being the StickonStump coffee mug and calendar. Welmerink currently is composing a second book of the character, a pocket-sized book with the working title, StickonStump Pocket Parables.
Early distribution beyond social media included orders and custom orders from friends and family, and Welmerink’s mother spreading the StickonStump message of positive thinking by distributing her son’s work at Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids, which offers support for people and families dealing with cancer. In keeping with the theme of encouragement and healing from which StickonStump emerged, Welmerink is considering marketing his merchandise in hospital gift shops, as well as at local arts and crafts shows. Presently, StickonStump merchandise can be viewed and purchased online via thestumpworks.bigcartel.com or by contacting Welmerink on Facebook.
As requests for custom designs began to come in and orders from as far away as Colorado and Iowa rolled in with local orders and repeat customer orders, Welmerink’s time in his basement office-studio surged. He does hand-drawn work for those who request it, though usually opts for a computer drawing program.
Welmerink still is contemplating a slogan for StickonStump, saying he’d recently come up with the possible, ‘Positivity through Simplicity.’ “I don’t really have a slogan, the whole point is just keeping it simple. People say ‘a stick figure on a stump?’ and I’d say, ‘It’s simple. We’ve got to get back to simple.’”
Deciding on a slogan is just one more step in Welmerink’s ongoing creative journey. “This is just taking me by storm. I’m still building this little business because I’ve got a day job and I’ve got a family. It’s very much like a side passion,” Welmerink said before glancing at the screen on his phone and saying, “This guy put in an order for $150.”
Like Charles Schulz had his Charlie Brown and Walt Disney had his Mickey Mouse, Welmerink, too, has StickonStump, a buddy of his own creation. On days when he needs an emotional boost or a sage word of encouragement, he often turns to the character and his insights, too.
“StickonStump helps me cope with my own rough days,” Welmerink said. It seems fitting. After all, that’s how StickonStump was born.”
Photos: By Johnny Quirin