Justin Lundeen traced his drawing of a bowl full of hearts with a black marker — the outline makes his drawings pop when they are printed on T-shirts.
It’s his go-to technique these days.
Starting Monday, the Tucson man’s artwork will be printed on Paper Clouds Apparel shirts and accessories for the eighth time. From Monday through May 3, half of the proceeds from all merchandise sold will support Nourish, a Tucson nonprofit born out of Mealtime Connections, LLC, which supports children with feeding issues. A bowl of hearts is the company’s logo, and Lundeen’s rendering of it is one of the designs available for purchase.
For Lundeen, 33, drawing has become a creative outlet for communication — a challenge for him because of his Down Syndrome and autism spectrum disorder.
Phoenix-based Paper Clouds Apparel partners with organizations that work mostly with people with disabilities or medical needs. For two-week periods, the company sells merchandise featuring artwork by individuals with special needs. At the end of the campaign, Paper Clouds Apparel splits the earnings with the promoted cause.
Often, the artists have a personal connection to the benefiting organization. In this case, Justin’s mother, Robyn Lundeen, is an occupational therapy assistant at Mealtime Connections.
Nourish, 1601 N. Tucson Blvd., can use the proceeds to pay for dietician and feeding therapy scholarships and specialized equipment for families with children who have feeding difficulties. Insurance often will not cover the therapy and supplies, which are common needs of children born prematurely and with physical and emotional disabilities, or with developmental delays such as autism spectrum disorder.
“Nourish supports children who have special kinds of feeding needs, so we are thrilled to partner with an agency that supports special needs from the beginning to end, from the artists to the individuals doing the work,” says Marsha Dunn Klein, Nourish’s board president and a pediatric occupational therapist.
“YOU HAVE TALENTS”
Since January of 2013, Paper Clouds has raised close to $100,000 for various causes, says founder and owner Robert Thornton. The company also employs disabled workers to fold and package shirts.
“We are helping a portion of society that gets mistreated, and I want to give them a self-esteem boost they have never had before: ‘You are awesome and can contribute. You have talents,’ ” Thornton says.
Justin first connected with Paper Clouds Apparel when his mother noticed a request for artwork submissions by the International Down Syndrome Coalition. She submitted a drawing Justin did of a whale in high school.
It ended up on a Paper Clouds T-shirt.
“I can’t stop smiling!” Justin says when he sees his artwork printed on a shirt.
Typically, designs are available online only during the two-week fundraiser, unless Thornton opts for a throwback. Both the whale and a firetruck Justin drew for Firefighters vs Autism have appeared in additional campaigns.
He drew the bowl of hearts at Klein’s request.
“He is so pleasant, and he is so proud of himself that he has been making art for these causes,” Klein says. “He has had lots of support from organizations, and now he is giving back.”
Along with the bowl of hearts — which Paper Clouds Apparel has dubbed a “cupcake” — the Nourish campaign will use Justin’s drawings of a cowboy hat and cowboy boot in one image.
ART AS COMMUNICATION
As a toddler and avid Sesame Street fan, Justin entreated his mother to draw Big Bird and Snuffy for him, which eventually evolved into mother and son drawing pictures together.
“When he was in high school, they had these art shows, and I was just blown away by what he could do,” Robyn says. “I didn’t know he could do so well if somebody actually sat with him and encouraged him and supported him.”
Two pieces of Justin’s artwork — a bowl of fruit and a vase — hang framed in the Lundeens’ kitchen. In the living room is an oil painting of the Dallas cityscape.
On Saturday afternoons, Justin sits down at the kitchen table to work on his art. He prefers to use pencils, markers and crayons.
Art has also opened a new means of communication between mother and son.
“With the lack of expressive communication that he has because of his disability, I think it’s a way that he can open up and share some things,” she says.
“We have used some drawing and some art ourselves for him to express some things that he couldn’t find words for.”
No one else in the family is artistic, Robyn says, so Justin’s talent surprised her. She keeps to stick figures and Big Bird, she jokes.
“He calls himself an artist and says he is famous,” Robyn says.
Justin’s not exactly wrong about the fame thing. His drawing of a firetruck, along with a photo of Justin himself, appeared on a Today Show segment earlier this month that spotlighted Thornton and his company.
With almost 57,000 “likes” on the Paper Clouds Apparel Facebook page, Thornton often encourages fans to send in photos of themselves wearing Paper Clouds gear. Justin has a following and Facebook page of his own. Sometimes, people send the Lundeens photos of Justin’s art out and about.
“Someone was down at Country Thunder and saw someone in a firetruck tank top and took a picture and sent it to us,” Robyn says. “That’s really cool when it’s people you don’t even know, and you see them wearing them.”
Justin also has a big heart. After seeing a news story that bothered him, he once asked Robyn if he could give one of his paychecks to the Red Cross to help children. He works several hours Monday through Friday at a wood shop and loves using the power tools.
Contributing his art to Paper Clouds Apparel helps Justin to give back.
“What does that feel like when you see your art on a shirt?” Robyn asks.
Justin is all smiles: “Great.”