Greetings, dear artsies! How are you doing today? I hope you are well because I'm about to deliver to you this month's Illustrators Arise feature. In case you're unfamiliar with this feature, it is where I introduce my favourite illustrators from all over the world every month through an interview so you guys can read along and get to know them too. Now, are you more excited about life? Well, I hope so. This month's special guest is real special. I first got to know her when she emailed me, regarding this feature and I checked out her works and loved them! Say hello to Gretchen Ellen Powers, an American illustrator whose works are strongly influenced by nature and the wonders of the world. She lives among the tall trees in Michigan, appreciating nature in her spare time.
Hi, Gretchen! Let’s start with how you delved into the world of illustrations and why you stuck with it?
My hands have always loved to create. Painting, drawing, writing, creating has always been a part of me. My Mother saw this and encouraged me to chase after art. Instead of inflicting her own ideas onto me, she nurtured the creativity and imagination that was starting to bud in my young life. As I grew, I never outgrew who I had always been, so it grew with me.
Did you go to an art school? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
I am self taught. I recognized that art school wasn't for me personally, instead I wanted to discover my own approach and style. I felt the best way I could do that was through practice and spending time at the easel. It's always an adventure to me and I happy with my journey.
What materials do you usually use?
Acrylic paint, archival paper, brushes, a trusty no. 2 pencil, a healthy dose of imagination, along with a strong cup of tea.
I read that you live among the trees in Michigan. Do you think this has some influence on your love for nature? In what way?
I'm proud to say that I am a country mouse. The grass doesn't have to measure an exact height, and at night you can see all of the stars out here. I definitely feel inspired by all of the beauty and wonder that seems to thrive once you leave the city lights behind.
Aside from nature, I seem to be getting a Classical vibe from your works. Are you interested in this time period and/or its literature?
Sometimes I feel like I was born a century too late. History fascinates me, it always has. Also, I am an incurable bookworm and a big fan of the classics. Black & white films and music from the first half of the 20th century are a delight to me as well.
You’ve illustrated a lot of anthropomorphic animals wearing stylish ensembles from great designers. How do you find the fashion industry?
It's been a wonderful experience to take a photo from a runway and morph it with an animal! I liken it to my childhood when I would play at dress-up, but I use a brush nowadays. My favorite fashion series I've been able to work on so far has been "Animals in Clothes We Like" for Betty Magazine (a British fashion periodical). It's a 4-part series featuring an otter, a spirit bear, a white wolf, and a deer. Dressed in designs from Miu Miu, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry Prorsum, and Prada. They all have a feminine feeling to them with a blush colored background, so I titled the collection "Pretty in Pink". This series was also featured in Stella Magazine (by The Telegraph from the UK).
You’ve been selling your artworks for around 4 years now, it seems. What have you learnt from owning a small business? What has been your greatest hurtle?
Owning my own little cottage industry has been a grand adventure! I love being able to have my hand in all of the little workings that make up my business. Some days I work on mailing and packaging orders, others I work on new designs and lines of cards for the season. My art is featured in a local boutique that also regularly invites me to come meet & greet people while I paint in their store. Then I have my at-home-painting days, where I sketch and dream up the new pieces and then take them to the easel to become a reality. I would have to say that my greatest hurtle would be not knowing when to relax, when I'm excited about a new piece I tend to work very long hours on it. Since being an artist doesn't have a clock-out time, I push myself longer than I should sometimes. But to me it is always worth it, and I wouldn't change a thing.
It seems to me that all the characters you’ve drawn should have a story of their own. Do you see yourself as a storyteller and will you ever reveal their tale?
Story-telling is something I greatly admire in an artist, and something I am always striving for. The fun thing is sometimes I set out on a painting knowing exactly what the subject's characteristics are, and other times they reveal themselves to me as I go along. They become a part of my own story, and I see most of my paintings as dear friends.
What does the future look like for Gretchen Ellen Powers?
One of my plans is to write and illustrate books for children (or the young at heart). I also would like to work on more paintings that are in series, to create collections that could find themselves on the walls of a solo gallery show. Also, I am working on a stationary line.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with starting-out illustrators out there (including me)?
I believe that every artist can still use a good piece of advice (and I especially include myself in that statement). Sometimes it can be overwhelming when you take in all the steps of a painting, the best advice I can give is to simply start. Shake its hand, introduce yourself, and begin to see it reveal itself to you. Remember to enjoy the process, it will show.
A little note from me
There is a certain antique feel to Gretchen's brush strokes as well as colour palette, inviting a feel of nostalgia of a time we've never experienced in an oldie-but-goodie kind of way. Yet the whimsy of her anthropomorphic characters are definitely something from the modern era. As a girl who's all about the whimsy, her artworks intrigue me so much. It's amazing how she can create a scene as part of a bigger story in each of her piece, letting the audience venture a guess in their own heads as to how the incident in each painting came to be. The influence from fashion of past time periods is also greatly evident in the clothes each animal - or people - wear, which is absolutely darling and completes the nostalgic appearance. After seeing her portfolio, I'm very certain that animals in the woods throw parties all the time when the humans aren't looking.