Hello Everyone! It’s my joy to welcome back one of The Art Spectrum’s own, contemporary artist Melissa Mary Jenkins for a giveaway of one of her paintings! Melissa appeared on The Art Spectrum back in June of 2017, you can read the interview here. This month you have a chance to win the painting below! Followers of The Art Spectrum also have access to this exclusive coupon code to use in Melissa’s Etsy shop: ARTSPECTRUMCOUPON for 15% off.
“Beneath the rust and grime which dulls the shine of our weathered hearts, joy patiently waits to be rediscovered.”
John Mark Green
Joy has been resting patiently for years under the weight of chronic illness but I have rediscovered the shininess of joy underneath the rust of fatigue and pain. As I continue to heal, I have been able to snowshoe and cross-country ski around our our farm yards and forests, and I have been struck by the rusty-burgundy colour of the dogwood trees surrounding me.
This painting began with layers of rusty-burgundy-pink with bits of white and grey. Pastels, charcoal, India Ink and pigment liner form the final layers.
*Paper is cold pressed 140 lb watercolor paper
*Painting measures 5×7 inches
*Signed and dated on the back
*This is an original painting, NOT a print
*Frame not included
Here is an update from Melissa:
This past Autumn I began to heal from Chronic Lyme Disease and a co-infection called Bartonella. As I feel the “fog” lifting, I have had a reawakening of sorts. I am completely and utterly inspired by my natural surroundings and have rediscovered the vibrancy of color in the farm fields, forests and pine trees surrounding our old stone farmhouse. I have begun to sketch outside and take daily adventures with our puppy Mylo. I have learned to pinpoint the lines in nature and translate this movement into abstract landscape paintings. I feel as though I have finally “come into my own” as an artist. Instagram still plays a very important role in my art journey, but I feel that it plays a different role in my life. The connections that I have made have taken precedent over looking for inspiration in other people’s artwork. This has been a turning point in fighting off the ever-invasive “imposter syndrome”. I feel as though the perfect way to describe my work is as follows: Inspired by natural surroundings, my paintings reflect the fluidity of the seasons and the movement of my soul in nature.
Some reviews of Melissa’s work:
“The canvas is just stunning and the customer service was impeccable, beyond expectation! Melissa sent me previews and snapshots of her progress which made me appreciate the hard work and care she puts into each custom creation! It was wrapped so nicely and securely, and even included a personalized note and gift tag. Really special! Highly recommended! Thanks Melissa!”
“Melissa was a joy to work with. She began to paint immediately. She answered my questions quickly and cared that the finished product was what I wanted. My beautiful, original painting now hangs above my bed.”
“SO IN LOVE WITH THIS PAINTING! Melissa is a unique artist and is very gracious to returning customers. Thank you again!!”
“I am soooo pleased with the service I received from the boutique owner. This was sincerely above and beyond! The package was soooo nice. A lot of attention to details! And the piece of art is gorgeous! Thank you so much!”
I’m so excited to introduce Annie Tarasova from the DreamyMoons Etsy shop. Annie is 21, from Australia, and has a beautiful and successful shop. You can follower her on Instagram and watch her videos on Youtube.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with your art and business?
I have been drawing, reading and creating ever since I was very little. All throughout high school I knew I wanted to go to university to study either art or design, however at the very last minute I changed my mind at the fear of too much competition in the art and design businesses. Instead, I went on to study health science. It was wildly interesting, however after two years I realized something was missing. I didn’t have any time to express and explore my creative side – the side I treasured the most since childhood. I felt like it was leaving me.
I took a break, started traveling, and opened my Etsy shop DreamyMoons which very successfully took off and filled my life with more purpose than ever. I made a difficult decision to leave Uni to follow my heart and intuition. I knew that I needed to pour all my energy into creating.
How has social media impacted your business?
Social media made a huge impact on DreamyMoons. Before opening my Etsy shop I already had a following as I absolutely loved expressing myself through photography and videos. I am so thankful for the audience I already had on Instagram that followed every bit of my journey and supported my business from the beginning. I feel like nowadays there is no better way to promote your business other than on social media – it is what we check if not every day, then most days.
I draw my inspiration for my art from our beautiful Universe. Through my art I am exploring the divine connection between us and the world around us. I am very interested in astrology and celestial bodies – I find it unbelievable that we live on a blue ball rotating around a star in nothingness. My artworks often contain stars, planets and moons.
I wanted to create something more than just a calendar. Year of Growth is a 2018 lunar calendar which shows what phase the moon is in every day of the year. Most importantly, the reason why I chose to call it “Year of Growth” is because every month has it is own goal and/or intention, whether it is meditation, spending more time in nature or writing. Each monthly goal is designed to help your journey to opening your mind and heart.
I travel. That is just as important to me as painting. I can not stay creative and productive if I am home for a long time. I have this crazy urge to travel. It is the best feeling coming back home from a trip, feeling fresh and inspired and motivated to make things happen. It really helps that my partner is a photographer – if he is away for a job overseas, he is able to take me. Travel is a break from expressing myself on paper, however not a break from creativity. I still love to take photos and film videos and share them on my social medias.
I’m excited to share these 10 awesome Skillshare classes with you! I have partnered with Skillshare to offer all of my readers a free trial of their Premium account, for an entire month! Imagine how much you can learn in that time! After that, a Premium account is only $10 – that’s cheaper than a Netflix account at this point.
“Thank you Ana for creating such an informative and helpful class. I’ve watched this class several times ….as every time I watch it, I learn a bit more about the brands and types of watercolors (I’m still a newbie to this medium in many ways). You inspired me to purchase Jess Greenleaf’s Explorer Watercolor panset which you designed with her (Greenleaf and Blueberry). I can’t wait to start using them ! Always looking forward to your next classes Ana. A pleasure to watch and learn from you !!!” – Sharon Rego
“I learned so much from this class, mostly intuitive, and hard to find information. Ana is an excellent teacher; watching her and listening to her talk about the different paints was so informative.” – Meg Cupman
Sandra Bowers is a Freelance Illustrator and Surface Pattern Designer based in BC, Canada. In this class she covers basic techniques to help get you started with watercolor painting. You have the materials down, now to the techniques!
“Ana Victoria is a super talented artist but she´s also a huge teacher. I´ve watched so many online art classes and she is the only one who made it looks like the easiest thing to do in the world and I really got it. I´m so happy I found her. <3” -Carmen M.
“Fantastic class and teacher, clear and unhurried explanations and a lot of real time examples. You do not feel she is rushing to get the class over with like some teachers. I have learnt so much from this class.” -Caron S.
This class is taught by Melissa Lee Shaw, an illustrator and watercolor painter from Northern California. It’s the perfect class for beginners who’d like to start painting portraits and need to learn how to mix colors for skin tones. Here is one of her sample projects where she asks students to paint a portrait using the techniques they’ve learned in the class:
“I think this class does a great job of breaking down how to mix skin-tones with watercolor and how to color skin-tones in general. Before this class, I had no idea how to color skin, despite looking up several sources before this, but now it is starting to make sense to me 🙂 It is not overly complicated at all and I think this class gives you a great tool-set to experiment and play with coloring your own skin-tones in your drawings :)” -Mikayla K.
“Very helpful, I have been trying to master skin tones in watercolor for awhile now. The instructor shares the best colors to use and demonstrates step by step how to get the desired finish. I highly recommend this class.” -Karen E.
This class is taught by Elisa Choi Ang, a drawing and painting teacher from Singapore. She enjoys sketching and painting her life, as well as teaching others how to do the same. Her class teaches students to narrate their life through watercolor and ink sketches.
“Just what you need to start sketching right away! Not too much information for a beginner to get scared to draw, not too much instruments needed to make it harder to get and take everywhere. I’ve dreamt of such a course for ages! Thank you!” -Elena D.
“This is a really great class for anyone who is nervous about starting a habit of sketching from life. I took this class because I want to do this more, and I am going on a vacation this summer that I am really hoping to capture in a trip sketchbook. With the tools that I have learned in this class and the confidence from Elisa’s kind words, I’m sure I’ll have a nice sketchbook from my trip (as well as before and after 🙂 ).” -Sarah D.
This class is taught by Olga Shevyakova, a graphic designer, part-time illustrator, part-time styled photographer. She takes her students step by step through the process of how to scan their watercolor paintings, edit them in Photoshop, and vectorize them in Illustrator. Very helpful for artists who would like to make prints of their work, or sell on platforms like Redbubble or Zazzle.
“This was a very simple and very helpful technique on how to give your own artwork new life in digital format using Photoshop and Illustrator. Great Job. Well worth watching and taking notes.” -Mary T.
“Easy to follow and gives step by step instructions. The transcript is much appreciated. I’ll need to look at it when I actually open Photoshop and give it a try. I learned new techniques although I’ve been digitizing my watercolors for sale on Etsy for months now! Thanks, Olga! I look forward to taking more classes from you.” -Anna K
This class is taught by commercial illustrator Amarilys Henderson. In the class she goes over the basics of brushes to use in watercolor painting so that her students will be confident in approaching their work. Amarilys’s cheat sheet for brushes:
“Thank you for the short and very informative class. As someone who is starting with watercolor painting, I found the descriptions and practical demonstrations very helpful. Looking forward to watching your other watercolor classes. Cheers!!” -Atul K.
“Super useful class to get acquainted with your material. One size doesn’t fit all! knowing the performance of the brushes make for better choices when painting. Thanks Amarilys!” -Diana S.
“Peggy Dean is a phenomenon! Her skills are awesome, her positive energy is contagious, and her teaching style is fun and practical. I’ve taken every one of her courses, and can’t wait for the next one! I highly recommend following her on Instagram as well, as she post so many inspiring works of art.” -Greer D.
“This was a great class! I’ve taken several of your other classes but this is the first lettering class using an actual brush that I’ve taken. It was very instructive and I like to see your examples in real time. It gives time to actually see the letter formation. Thank you for an eye opening experience!” -Sharon M.
This class is taught by Julia Henze, a freelance illustrator, letterer and urban sketcher living and working in Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands. Her class is for artists who aren’t sure where to start with urban sketching in ink and watercolor, or want to continue to practice. Some of Julia’s work:
“Love her breakdown of how to get the proportions right. I always forget to do that or it never really crosses my mind when I’m actually making the attempt to sketch something. It’s easy to follow and very encouraging.” -Grace T.
“I loved that we got to watch you draw/outline/paint along with us. Drawing buildings has always been such an intimidating task for me, but the way this class broke it down made me feel much more comfortable and confident about giving it a shot!” -Katie M.
“I think this was the most amazing class. It was hugely inspirational and changed the way I thought about mixing colour. It made me far more experimental.” -Lesley G.
“This class was so much fun! It’s really practical and the projects are so colorful and encouraging for beginners and for anyone who might be a little intimidated by watercolors. The Intuitive Mixing Exercise is very practical, fun and yields incredible results. I’m gonna make a habit of doing it whenever I feel stuck or un-creative, it’s sure to get you out of the dumps! Thank you Yasmina! You are a wonderful teacher and I’m looking forward to taking all your other classes.” -Lucia S.
A few weeks ago a friend was telling me about this crazy new paper called Yupo paper – I know, sounds like a dog-sitting service or something – but really, it’s so fascinating! Yupo paper is actually a 100% synthetic paper that’s waterproof and recyclable!
So, I decided to walk into the local art store this week and grab myself a 5×7 pad of this stuff to try out. The first thing I noticed was how strangely smooth it was – it didn’t quite feel like plastic, but it also didn’t feel like paper either. If you have as much fun touching different materials as I do, you will love this stuff!
I also learned just from my own research that Yupo paper doesn’t tear, which is awesome! It means for the clumsy person like myself, you don’t have to worry as much about your expensive piece of watercolor paper tearing after you do that clumsy thing you’re so good at doing. It’s also supposedly very durable, built to last lifetimes, and you can wipe it clean if you need to during your artistic process.
You can also:
Die cut with it.
AND it comes in different gradients of translucency, or super hard white.
Use virtually any medium on it.
Some things I learned from trying it out myself:
Ink sticks REALLY well to it.
Watercolor takes awhile to dry (I mean, it takes awhile to dry on regular watercolor paper too, so that’s nothing new), but when it does dry, the colors are insanely vibrant.
Watercolor looks a little different then it does on regular watercolor paper – it’s got inky, cloudy quality that I’m finding hard to explain.
It doesn’t buckle at all, like watercolor paper does.
So, without further terrible explanation of what the stuff is and how much I loved it, here were my results!
Yupo paper can be purchased in most art stores, and I would definitely recommend buying some if only just to test it out for yourself! Because I love Amazon Prime, and I know there are a lot of people out there that love it as well, that’s probably the top pick I would go with if you’re just wanting to test the waters. You can buy a pad of Yupo 5×7 paper for only $6.79 on Amazon! Here are some other options you can find on Amazon – these are all Legion brand (that’s the one I tested) but there are other brands out there:
If you’ve ever used Yupo paper please leave a comment about it! What mediums do you use on it? Do you ever use the translucent one, and why? Is it better to get a pad or one of the large rolls? If you have pictures or a shop, please leave your link with your comment!
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I’m just an artist approaching her 40s with a lot of wanderlust and a rekindled desire to return to making art into play. I have a creative job (that I love—senior graphic designer for my local Girl Scout Council) so I spend a lot of time looking at art as work. Work that I genuinely enjoy, but work nonetheless, and it bears the sometimes tiring and stressful mindset of “this is something I have to do to be an adult and pay the bills.“
I missed doing art for fun. I had kind of forgotten how to do art for fun. Before my current design job, I did a lot of freelance design and illustration while working other full-time jobs. If I was doing art, it was saddled with the baggage of needing to make money on it. I never really made art just for myself anymore, I was always creating for the client or for what I thought my audience wanted. And while I had once thrived in this mindset, it just wasn’t working for me anymore.
Happily, things changed. I was able to trade up to an in-house design position, with the luxury of a 9-5 schedule and an income that I can modestly live on. I suddenly had free time! To do my own art! But I didn’t, at least not right away, because it still felt like work. I’ve been spending the past couple years figuring out how to experience creativity and art as play again. Learning how to get away from the idea that my art has to make money, or be for someone else to enjoy. I’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s still a constant battle to keep myself out of the “work” mindset.
What does your creative thought process look like to create your work? What are your favorite materials to work with?
As part of my current creative journey, I’ve been discovering more about what I like to paint, and what kind of processes and techniques are actually fun for me. I love to play with color palettes and form, so bright flowers and beautiful landscapes have been a great source of inspiration, and I look for scenes with distinctive shapes and colors. I start my paintings very loosely and create large areas of color to map out my composition. I start light and work darker as I start to fill in smaller shapes and define details. And as the final step, I add line work in ink, watercolor, or white gouache. I use the forms as a guide, but I also let my lines travel with the flow of the paint. I love doing detail work and intricate lines, and this method lets me enjoy the process of mark making rather than worrying about where the lines go. It’s as ok to line outside of the colors as it is to color outside of the lines.
Watercolor is my favorite medium because it lends itself so well to creating both big lush, organic strokes and delicate, intricate lines. The portability and easy clean up are also a plus, and I like to carry a little watercolor kit with me in case inspiration strikes.
What has been one of your favorite creative projects or works of art that you’ve made and why?
“Sitka Tidepool” – it is one of the first paintings that I did in this style, and I was really pleased with how it came together. I love the deep, vibrant color palette and the variety of shapes and textures that I got to paint. As a younger artist I was frequently basing the success of a piece on how photo realistic it was, or how closely it matched my reference material. That perfectionism really held me back as an artist, it made me afraid to experiment, I’d get frustrated if I couldn’t meet the impossible expectations I was placing on myself. With this painting, I consciously gave myself permission to just play and have fun with it, and not care if I messed it up. I used my photo reference as inspiration rather than limitation, and as a result, I was really able to lose myself in the joy of painting and creating it. When I look at it, besides enjoying it visually and aesthetically, I remember the experience of painting it.
Do you listen to music while you create? What are your current favorites?
I’m almost always listening to music, or lately audiobooks and podcasts, while I paint. Some artists that are currently in heavy rotation in my playlists are BOY, Miner, Sara Hartman, Dessa, Mike Doughty, and the Decemberists. I’m a Spotify addict because I listen to everything from the 60s and 70s rock that my parents introduced to me to indie/alternative folk to contemporary pop. I usually like something a little more upbeat when I’m painting, something that makes me feel energized.
It is my pleasure to introduce Taylor Mason from the Mason Makers Etsy shop! Taylor and her husband Ryan are both designers living in Portland, Oregon and run their Etsy shop together, please visit their shop and their website to show some love after the interview! You can also follow Taylor on Instagram @taylormasondesign.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I am a graphic designer and painter living in Portland, OR. Art has always been fascinating to me, as a kid I played movies in the background and poured over library books, trying to replicate the sketches I studied. I was in love with the magic of creating, to see a pencil sketch come to life and create an illusion on paper was mesmerizing to me.
Today my passion for drawing and painting has only continued to progress. I love painting in oils and gouache. I primarily create landscapes and animals from my travels. I love plein air painting as well, there is something peaceful and challenging about being in the middle of nature and attempting to capture the light and colors in the moment.
Where do you draw your inspiration from for your oil paintings? What draws you to painting in miniature?
My inspiration for my paintings comes primarily through my travels. Locations such as Wyoming, Maui, Canada, California and Montana offer sweeping fields, large open skies, mountains, desert plateau’s, lava fields and rainforests. There is so much variation in nature and I find inspiration everywhere I visit.
I decided to paint in miniature when I ran across interesting wood rounds in a craft store. I like how small they are and how painting or staining the edges can mimic the frames of larger classical paintings. I’ve also found that people enjoy owning smaller, more affordable pieces, in contrast to larger commissions.
How did your series on Maui come into being?
My Maui series came to be through my trip to Hawaii last spring. I’ve visited the island several times, but on this trip because I’ve been more focused on painting landscapes, my eyes were more attuned to noticing details I hadn’t before. One thing I enjoy is the variety of climates in a relatively small area. Visiting volcanoes, rainforests, coastlines and wildlife provided me with an abundance of inspiration, and led to this series.
Can you speak to the creative partnership between you and your husband?
I met my husband Ryan through the graphic design program at our university. His humor and love for drawing really captured my attention. Today we enjoy sharing creative time side-by-side, sitting at our desks in the evenings as he draws comics and I sketch or paint. We also enjoy creative days outdoors where I paint en plein air and he sketches beside me. Ryan challenges and encourages me on a daily basis, helping me with my compositions and not letting me take shortcuts. I’m thankful to have a spouse who values creativity just as much as I do and enjoy pursuing our passions together.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I just participated in Art Appreciation Day along with 20 other artists at Ball Creek Elementary School in Conover, NC and I got to show and talk about my art with several different classes. I encouraged the kids to ask questions and several asked me when I “started” being an artist. My answer to that is that I have always been an artist at heart. It is something I cannot turn off.
I remember as a child going up to our attic with the drop-down ladder and looking through my dad’s old sketch books. He drew when he was in the Navy and was a creative person. I always loved to draw. One year for Christmas I asked for an art kit. It was like lighting a jet engine. I loved playing with the drawing pencils, paper and paints. However, I wasn’t encouraged to pursue art. My mom later told me it was because she didn’t think I could make a living at it.
I went to college as an adult for graphic design and graduated with a BA. During college I could not get enough of the art courses. I never really worked in graphic design, more desktop publishing, administrative and promo. I even became a published writer. But I continued to create on the side as I raised my family. About six years ago after losing my job I worked as a subcontractor for a silhouette artist friend who had developed a line of pet silhouette ornaments.
I assembled them and they sold very well seasonally. I still sell those ornaments today. It was that experience that showed me what great and in-demand market pets are. I am an animal lover myself and I started experimenting with not only selling those ornaments online but developing my own line of art and artisan gifts. I have a strong animal focus.
About three years ago after running my Etsy shop and my Amazon handmade shop I felt it was time to jump off the cliff and quit my day job, set my writing aside and pursue art full-time. I’ve done a lot of studying to learn how to market what I do and each year I gain a little more knowledge and grow my business a little more which includes teaching classes locally.
Included in that development is working with glass. I’ve always been fond of working with recycled things into my work so I began playing with recycled wine bottles. Eventually it led to getting a dual-media kin which can do glass and ceramics. And though I do some ceramics, they are usually small pieces like jewelry and I tend to gravitate more to glass. Last year I got a grant in order to take a course on making fused glass boxes.
I have also started experimenting with 2-D art and prints and am working on developing products for art licensing – getting my work on products. These are both new ventures so it remains to be seen how well I will do. I love learning new techniques so I’m always trying out new mediums. Most of my work now is animal themed or glass, but every now and then I will work in something else just for the creativity of it.
What does your artistic process look like for a painting? What materials do you like to use?
I am fond of acrylic paints and mixing medias. Most recently I have experimented with acrylics, alcohol inks and colored markers. Before creating a work, I usually have an idea in mind I want to go with, then I research images, sometimes taking my own pictures or finding them online. I don’t use the images directly but may study them and draw my own based on them. Then I plan out the design on canvas or paper figuring out where the components will go and how I will get them on there.
Do you listen to music while you create? If so, what do you like to listen to?
Sometimes I do but not always. It tends to be classic rock: Moody Blues, Elton John, and an eclectic mix on Pandora….
Are there any current or future projects that you’re excited about?
I am in a new artist co-op gallery in Hickory, NC called Trade Alley Art. I like the challenge of creating a new work or works for the displays so that keeps me on track for creating. Also, coming up for new designs for art licensing is one of my goals for the new year. The Christmas season tends to get really hectic, especially the on-line sales, so once those die down I will have time for more creating and planning.
It’s my pleasure to introduce artist Kathy Crabbe! During this interview, Kathy will speak directly about her Spirit Animal series and her artistic process. Make sure to show her some support by visiting her website and following her on Instagram @kathycrabbeart and Facebook.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I am a self taught painter since knee high to a grasshopper (love that saying!). I was always an artist and decided at a young age that I didn’t want to go to a fine art school because I had a style all my own and I didn’t want anyone messing with that since I tend to be easily influenced. I always wanted to attend both university and college and I’ve done that. I have an Art History degree and a 3 year diploma in Graphic Design. I moved to the States after falling in love with my husband-to-be and he convinced me I could live my passion and be an artist full time so we moved to Laguna Beach and I started doing the Sawdust Art Festival; a 2 month art fair where you build a booth and sell your wares 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. That was amazing! After 7 years we moved to the quiet countryside outside of Temecula Wine Country and I was pretty much a hermit for many years which allowed me to delve into the spiritual side of things which has found its way into my art, of course! I paint magical, shamanic beings, nature and animals because they surround me and I’m one of them.
Where do you draw your inspiration from for your Spirit Animal paintings? Does storytelling and narrative play into them?
I live in 2 countries; my home country of Canada (Ontario) and my adopted country, the USA (California) and both homes are on dirt roads surrounded by nature; one is in the forest on a lake and the other is in a desert valley surrounded by ancient oaks, cactus and an elfin forest so I’ve got plenty of nature and wild creatures to inspire me on a daily basis. I’m also a Celtic Faerie Shaman and my spirituality is a huge part of my life. My pets are also an inspiration. All of my Spirit Animal paintings would not be complete without the poem that bubbles forth in one quick stream of consciousness right after I finish the painting. Usually it’s late so I light some candles, take off my glasses and let the words pour forth. Originally I started out trying to describe the painting but that quickly morphed into poetry; my favorite mode of expression. The poems speak of the power and guidance we can draw upon from our animal guides and what their message is for us. The wild creatures are our teachers. They help us remember our wild self and are vitally important for our well being and our healing.
Can you tell me a little bit about your painting process and favorite materials?
My current series of Spirit Animal paintings were initially inspired after I purchased a small pad of 6×6 inch Montreal made watercolor paper in Kingston, Ontario (where I was born). I sat down with that pad of paper surrounded by the sounds of the forest and the water and immediately painted a cat woman with watercolor. That was in the summer of 2016 and I haven’t stopped since. I start with the face using my non dominant left hand because it’s my emotional, intuitive hand. I draw with a large soft piece of lead and the elfin figure that emerges tells me what kind of spirit animal belongs with her. I paint with watercolor and gouache and occasionally acrylic. I especially love Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes, M. Graham and Schminke gouache and Daniel Smith iridescent watercolors.
What has been your favorite achievement or project thus far? Do you have anything new and exciting on the horizon?
In regards to the Spirit Animal series, I am very proud that I paint them every single day and that I write a poem for each one. I share this on Instagram @kathycrabbeart. On the horizon I look forward to spending more time in the forest with the wild creatures and traveling and hiking more; there are so many wild places to see in this great North American land of ours. I also hope the Spirit Animals will continue to grace more gallery walls with their healing, magical presence.
I’m excited to introduce everyone to artist Emma Gray from Brighton, UK! I hope you love her whimsical work as much as I do, please make sure to show her Redbubble and her Folksy shop some love ♡! You can also follow Emma on Instagram (@em_menagerie) to keep up with her latest inspirations.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art? What inspires you as a human and artist?
I live by the sea in Brighton in the UK and I sell my original paintings on wood and greetings cards in my Folksy shop, Menagerie. Most of my work is animal themed and I’m especially a fan of dogs. I often draw rescue dogs looking for their forever homes, and I take commissions for animal portraits. I also have a shop on Redbubble that sells prints and goodies like cushion covers, mugs and stickers (I’ve never grown out of my love for stickers!).
I grew up around various animals including a donkey, ducks, dogs and tortoises, all of whom I loved and found fascinating. One of my earliest memories was trying to make a dog out of clay I’d found in the garden, so the animal theme started young. I have a favourite photo of me as a toddler in a smock with more paint on me than there was on the paper and I also used to include unsolicited illustrations to accompany school homework!
I studied art history in Edinburgh whilst going to lifedrawing evening classes and selling paintings and mixed media work through shops and cafes. I’d received a subscription of ‘The Great Artists’ magazine as a young teen and art history was a passion, but, I sometimes felt like I was missing out on the creative journeys my friends studying Fine Art were making.
After university, I did a foundation course in art therapy and enjoyed how freeing it was to play and experiment using basic materials – big sheets of cheap paper we could tape together on the floor and crawl across as we made bold, imperfect marks with thick brushes, crayons and charcoal. It felt reminiscent of the joyful, present engagement with art that I had had as a child.
I continued to make for myself and for friends and family, working in various media including mosaic, printmaking and paper sculpture. But low mood had affected my confidence to sell to people I didn’t know and to remain motivated creatively. For several years I focused more on writing, and became involved with the local spoken-word short story scene.
A bout of depression in my thirties led me to a therapeutic art group, where, on the first day I painted pebbles. I managed to anchor myself more calmly in the moment with the activity and left with a intricately painted matryoshka pebble in my pocket. It seemed like a solid prompt to try to return to regular making no matter how I was feeling.
What began as a therapeutic pastime resulted in a growing collection of little painted animal pebbles. Inspired by Victorian cameos, I attached some to pins and ribbons to make brooches and these became my first listings in Menagerie. Wanting more space for detail, I later moved on to paint on wood. I enjoyed its warmth and texture and how the scalloped lasercut shapes I used provided their own frame.
Some milestones since I set up Menagerie have been some lovely galleries selling my cards and paintings, a piece being featured in Frankie magazine and exhibiting in the Artists Open House festival and Lewes Artists and Makers fair.
What past or current projects have been your favorite and why?
A favourite painting of mine is ‘Gratitude’. It features a crow with wings outstretched, surrounded by precious objects and was inspired by real life stories of crows who have gifted objects to people. I think we are living in an era that is particularly worrying politically. Bonds across species move me as examples of communication and empathy despite differences. I decided to go vegan two years ago and I think this has intensified my awareness of the sentience, instincts and intelligence of animals.
‘Gratitude’ began with an old mahogony frame that I found on the street. I cut a wooden panel to fit it and the shape leant itself well to the composition of the crow. The painting was also larger than the surfaces I’d been working on – it felt like I was stretching my own wings and taking up space. ‘Gratitude’ was the first image I added to my Redbubble shop – perhaps with hopes for a flying start.
Another of my favourite pieces that’s also available on Redbubble is ‘Swim Dog’. Earlier this year I set myself a daily art project with the theme of ‘strange creatures’. An unexpected outcome was a rediscovered love of drawing. ‘Swim Dog’ was inspired by a beautiful whippet called Yoji on Instagram. In one photo of him, he has his ears back and I imagined him in a bathing hat and old-fashioned swimsuit. The drawing includes three of my favourite things – sea-swimming, dogs and bad weather!
How has your experience been selling on Folksy and Redbubble? Any advice for new artists looking to start their own business?
I joined Folksy in 2012 and was drawn to it as a British company that’s also not so enormous that I might feel like a tiny fish in a big sea. The Folksy team have been great with championing my work on social media and including pieces in their Folksy Favourites and Gift Guides. I was also delighted to be a Featured Maker last year.
To anyone starting the adventure of their own online shop, I’d encourage you to expect and embrace the learning curve. It’s likely that along the way you will adjust your prices, modify your packaging, better identify your market and allow your creations to evolve. However, your customers shouldn’t be guinea pigs for products that are still in a stage of trial and error.
Unless you already have a big network, it can take time to get noticed and achieve sales, so it’s important not to be discouraged. Folksy has a lively forum where you can chat with other makers and share your work and tips. This can be a good way to feel part of a community and to up your profile. I’m quite introverted and not a natural self-promoter or networker, so selling under the supportive umbrella of Folksy has been helpful.
I would also say that it can help to put your art-selling eggs in a few baskets (I’m planning to start adding works to my neglected Etsy shop soon). I often hear of makers who, for example, have low or no sales at an art fair and lose confidence in their work when there were likely to be many factors unrelated to what they were selling that might have been at play.
Creativity can come with the gift of a greater sensitivity, but this quality can mean that a resilience needs to be developed when stepping into a selling and marketing role. Honestly, I don’t feel I’ve mastered this resilience myself, but I like the words in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ that describe the life skill of being able to ‘meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.’ Praise and perceived success can be motivating, criticism and perceived failure can be discouraging. Both can be fleeting and subjective. So, it’s important to try to hold on to that deeper sense of what drives you to create, and to sustain that passion and journey with regular practice.
I started selling under Redbubble this year and I feel glad and grateful to have just reached 250 sales there. I appreciate having this space for my more diverse work from portraits of comedy heroes to the unicorn-esque ‘Magic Ladyhorse’. The latter, inspired by a gemstone-loving creature from Philippine folklore, is my bestseller and one of my works that’s been featured on Redbubble’s homepage. The featured works have led to many more sales and this has been a good lesson in the value of exposure.
With Folksy, I get the chance to package up original artwork, include little extras like a greetings card and write a personal thank you to my customer. I miss not having this with Redbubble, but I do value the ease of merchandise being produced and shipped by someone else. When I make a sale on Redbubble, the buyer remains anonymous so the process can feel quite impersonal. However, I still enjoy imagining the ‘Someone in Sweden’ wearing their Lord Magpie T-shirt or who the ‘Someone in the UK’ might be who bought the Party Igor greetings cards (and who, apparently, shares my love of the absurd!).
Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process that goes into your painted animal pieces?
My oval paintings on wood are usually inspired by a photo of an animal. I think we are all hardwired in anthropomorphism to a degree from children’s book characters, and particular photos inspire imaginings of names, personalities and outfits. I’m not a fan of real animals wearing unpractical, restrictive clothing, but I hope my paintings are fanciful enough not to be promoting this!
I use lasercut wood that I buy from a Welsh company called Daisymoon Designs, whose profits help support their own menagerie of rescued animals. I tend to draw designs straight on to tracing paper that I can then transfer to the wood to get the composition right first time. I also sometimes use Derwent Inktense pencils to broadly lay down colour first, especially if I want a painting to have stronger hues. I use acrylic paints, small brushes and a paper palette so I can tear off a fresh new sheet for each piece. Sometimes I’ll add extra detail in pencil and fine pen.
Painting the eyes first helps bring a character to life for me. I’m especially drawn to grumpy looking animals in party hats, but I have a tendency to involuntarily mimic the expressions of who I’m painting. My face needs timeout after particularly morose subjects!
Most of my animal characters have names – they seem to name themselves. Sometimes I imagine larger back stories as I’m working, especially for a piece that has more of a folklore feel. Whilst working on my painting ‘Home’ featuring a white stag holding a nest in his antlers, a short story emerged that then informed details of the image. The story can be found in my Instagram feed.
What are you currently listening to?
I work in silence or listening to anything that feels like gentle, undemanding company. For me, BBC Radio 4 has this quality, as does Cerys Matthew’s weekly show on BBC Radio 6. I appreciate Cerys’ curious and celebratory delight for people, music and poetry and most of the music she plays (and often introduces me to) would be welcome on my own playlist. I also enjoy podcasts and a favourite is ‘The Mental Illness Happy Hour’ presented by comedian Paul Gilmartin. I’ve found this show full of insight, courageous disclosure and just the right amount of humour. What am I listening to right now? Squawking, squabbling seagulls roosting on the roof opposite. This is the soundtrack for most people in Brighton!