The duo’s colorful, hand-drawn designs are in demand around the world after becoming an Instagram hit
For years, Miguel and Carlos Cevallos made their living drawing posters for neighborhood nightclubs, taco trucks and restaurants in Queens, painting in the basements of businesses or on their tables and attracting customers by word of mouth.
Until an Instagram account changed a lot of things.
Now, hip ice cream parlors in Brooklyn and retro eateries in Manhattan are waiting their turn to get one of the brothers’ colorful signs. They are in demand in music stores in San Francisco, national restaurant chains, bars in Belgium and bakeries in South Korea.
It doesn’t matter that the brothers are over 80 or that both, born in Ecuador and raised in Colombia, speak limited English. They embraced their new clients and sketched all day in the Manhattan apartment they’ve shared for nearly 20 years.
“Fate is like that. Sometimes you find success later in life,” Carlos Cevallos said recently, sipping tea in an empty Manhattan restaurant. Dressed in suits and ties, as they are every day, the brothers shared a muffin.
Recent orders have come from a bagel shop in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood, a newsstand in Manhattan’s West Village, an Oregon-based restaurant chain, and a burger shop. pop-up vegetarians in Los Angeles. NYCgo, the official city guide for tourists and New Yorkers, recently commissioned the brothers to design Queens’ iconic Unisphere, the giant metal globe built for the 1964 World’s Fair.
“They have a special touch, so nice and colorful,” said Marina Cortes, manager of West Village restaurant La Bonbonnière. The brothers’ “all-day breakfast”! sign is displayed on the restaurant terrace.
“Life without good is bad,” reads a poster the brothers designed for Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. “Special of the day. Choose two sandwiches and pay for both! reads another one they made for Regina’s Grocery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Made with acrylic paint, the playful and childish posters of the Cevallos brothers have large letters and a nostalgic air. Miguel draws and Carlos does the coloring, together creating about six posters a week.
The brothers receive five to twenty requests a week for their work.
The family moved from Ecuador to Colombia to follow an uncle who was a Catholic priest and worked in Bogota. Accustomed to drawing since their childhood, Carlos, Miguel and their older brother, Victor, opened an art studio and a poster shop in the Chapinero district of Bogota.
Victor moved to New York in 1969 and Carlos joined in 1974. For years they worked in a studio apartment in Times Square until rent increases prompted a move to Queens.
In the 1980s, they drew posters advertising performances at a club in Queens called La Esmeralda.
“They would pay so little per poster. It was sad,” Carlos said. The posters featured artists such as Mexican singer Armando Manzanero and Chilean Lucho Gatica.
Miguel, meanwhile, cared for their mother until her death at age 101. He moved to New York in 2005 to join his siblings. Victor, mentor to his younger brothers, died in 2012.
Eventually, Aviram Cohen, who builds and installs audio-visual art in museums, saw the brothers’ posters in Queens and tracked them down to request one for his wife’s new yoga studio.
In 2018, he opened their Instagram account, @cevallos_bros, which became a lifeline for the brothers after the coronavirus pandemic.
“I did it out of admiration for their work, and after meeting them I understood that all of this would go away. Most businesses would throw the posters away,” said Cohen, 42. “I was convinced that different types of people and subcultures could appreciate their art.
He was right. The account now has over 25,000 followers and has become an archive of their work, as well as a source of orders.
“I love their story,” said Happy David, who manages the Instagram accounts for La Bonbonnière and Casa Magazines, a Manhattan newsstand for which she also commissioned the brothers’ work. It reminds him of the signs seen in his native Philippines.
In a digital world, “a lot of people are going back to crafting,” David said. “We want to connect and we want to feel that there are hands that made them.”
When asked if they plan to retire soon, the Cevallos brothers answer with a quick “no”.
Where do they get their energy from?
“We eat healthily,” they answer with a smile.
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