Spotlight on Artist Elana Gabrielle

Elana Gabrielle

If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the Spotlight series. You’re probably aware of the fact that I want to be friends with all the artists (they're all SO COOL), sadly, most of them do not live in Chicago. Thanks to the amazing artist Elana Gabrielle, I’ve taken the friendship fantasy to another level and now I’m imagining possible hangout scenarios. If I also lived in Portland, Gabrielle and I would definitely go mushroom foraging(Yes, you read right), then shoot some hoops. Aside from being an incredibly talented artist, Gabrielle has an impressive set of skills which include playing basketball!

When I started Bon Femmes, Gabrielle was the first artist I purchased prints from for the shop. She was so incredibly easy to work with and I remember thinking, oh my gosh I really hope everyone is as nice as she is. Her kind words definitely encouraged me to go further and I will always appreciate her for that. I’m so excited to share her wise words with you!

What sparked your interest in art and illustration? 

My family is large and full of artists of all kinds. My grandmother is a quilter and fine artist, my aunts are painters and sculptors, and my mother is a dancer. They inspired my love of art in all forms, and I've loved to draw and make things for as long as I can remember. I was brought up in an alternative educational system that focused on creativity and the arts. I took basket weaving, pottery, painting, drawing, fiber arts, and more as part of the core curriculum, and it has influenced the way I learn and see the world. Growing up surrounded by art and music was really what sparked my interest, as it was always a part of my life. 

Are you a full-time artist? If so, how did you make the decision? 

I am! I worked a few side jobs in retail and nannying as I was building my business after graduating from school. I recently transitioned to full-time this summer as I’ve grown with the wholesale part of my business. I now split my time between freelance design and creating my line of printed goods. Although it was a bit of a scary decision, it felt like the right time and I’m now looking to hire my first intern! 

Who or what inspires you? 

I am deeply inspired by the natural world, from all areas of the earth. From tiny insects to towering trees, I love to explore the relationships between humans, animals, and plants, and the landscapes they inhabit. I am inspired by small moments of the seasons ~ warm evening walks in summer, sitting by the river in autumn, a blustery beach in the winter, all the blooms of spring. I am also inspired by human bodies, old buildings, and the way that color can transform spaces. 

What is your artistic process? 

My process varies from project to project, but it usually starts with a mind map and word lists of all the ideas I have, good and bad. From there I sketch on scrap papers and in my notebook before refining and sending sketches to clients, or diving into color and composition for personal projects. I love to be surrounded by plants while working, and I have a collection of field guide books from my travels that I often spread around for reference and inspiration. 

Do you have a favorite medium? 

I work both traditionally and digitally, depending on the piece and project. I use cut paper/collage, gouache, and acrylic paint, pen & ink, screen printing, and Photoshop/Illustrator. My favorite is when I can combine them, incorporating different textures, colors, and shapes. 

Is there a theme to your work? 

I love to illustrate natural shapes and content, from plant life to the female form. I also make a lot of work that is based on endangered species or environmental issues. Through the process, I learn about different topics, and it provides a way for me to raise funds and awareness.

What do you want people to take away from your artwork? 

I hope to offer a way for people to learn about and interact with the natural world through my work, and for my goods to offer a sense of calm, joy, and opportunity for personal expression. 

Has your style evolved? 

Absolutely, and I hope it always will. The biggest evolution was when I learned to screenprint. It completely transformed the way I think about color, shape, and negative space as each color is printed as a separate layer. I still build almost all my digital pieces as if they were prepared for screen printing. It’s helped me understand composition, limited palette, and so much more. While my artwork/voice is still similar, I’ve been able to create my work in a more simplified and shape-based way. It’s taken a long time and a lot of trust, but I feel excited to keep exploring and growing. 

What is the most challenging part of being a woman in the art world? 

The most challenging part for me, as it is for so many women, has been in negotiating fair pay for my work. I still often get requests for free work in exchange for “great exposure”. I think there is still a lot of association with women and art as hobby or crafty, rather than career and business-oriented. There are a lot of assumptions, stereotypes, and preconceived notions, and I often feel the need to defend myself and my work. 

How do you stay motivated when you experience a creative rut? 

Over time I’ve come to understand the ebbs and flows of my patterns of creativity. When I am in a rut, I make sure to spend extra time outside and have a change of scenery. I take a drive to the beach, cook a good meal with friends, read a new book, or work on a project just for fun. I always feel refreshed and inspired to dive back into my work with a new perspective after. It’s a good thing to take breaks. 

What has been your favorite project or creation so far? 

This is a tough one! I don’t know if I have one favorite. I love projects that I can collaborate with other people with room for creative freedom. The projects that I enjoy the most are ones that FLOW, where I get totally and completely lost in the process. I’ve recently been working with a Portland-based underwear company called Thunderpants, and I have so much fun creating patterns for them. The sloths and artichoke designs are definitely favorites. 

What's a fun fact about you people will be surprised by? 

I played varsity basketball all through high school, and I can palm a men’s basketball! I was actually training to play in college before I shifted my path. 

How do you relax when you have free time? 

I love to go out and experience the mild seasons of the Pacific Northwest. My partner and I like to go mushroom foraging and camping, cook with friends, and visit family. Also, I love a good afternoon couch nap!

What is your ultimate goal with your artwork? 

Ultimately, I want to tell stories. I want to make beautiful and functional goods that people can enjoy both at home and out in the wild. I want to be mindful of my impact on the earth and my community, giving back to people, plants, and animals in the process. 

Any last words? (words of wisdom, fun/interesting news) 

If there is someone whose work you admire and you want to learn from them, reach out! I’ve met some truly wonderful people both virtually and in real life by doing this who have taught me about being a small business owner, offered advice and feedback, and have become great friends. Being a freelance artist and working independently can be lonely and isolating at times, and it is a great way to connect with your community in small ways. 

I have some exciting new projects on the way! Follow along on Instagram @elanagabrielle

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