Put A Bird In It—Featured Maker, Yellena James

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When I see illustrations by Yellena James, I want to step into the world she creates. It’s absolutely magical. 

If James’s work looks familiar, it may be because it’s been featured in stunning products for companies such as Schoolhouse Electric, Anthropologie and Crate and Barrel. We are honored to have this internationally recognized artist participate in Put a Bird in It.

We caught up with Yellena recently to find out how the project is coming along.

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What attracts you to this project? 

I love trying out different mediums and dealing with new challenges in the art-making process. It always fascinates me how a group of artists interprets a single idea and where they take it. It’s amazing how one concept can turn into a diverse and original collection. Plus, it’s for a great cause so I’m very happy to be a part of it.  

What are your sources of inspiration right now? 

I’ve been infatuated with polyhedron shapes lately. I made an installation piece with paper polyhedrons and string for a show in San Francisco a couple of years ago and I wanted to explore those shapes with a different material. I really love the idea of combining geometric and organic objects. So, I thought the organic flow of my lines would add a nice touch to the beautiful solid structure of a polyhedron.

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What’s the theme of your birdhouse? 

I’ve always been amazed to see perfect geometric shapes in nature like in crystals or beehives, or even viruses.  I wanted to explore how the geometric shape of a 3D object affects the flow of my organic drawings.

What has it been like working with a 3D object vs. a more traditional digital design or illustration?

Very challenging. My husband made the polyhedron shape and I’m adding the artwork. Working with a 3D object made me think about how the drawing would look when observed from all angles. I love the interaction and connection we make with objects that we can explore from all angles.

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Put a Bird In It is raising funds to support art and music in Portland’s public schools. What was your art and music experience like when you were a kid?

I grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and there was not a lot of attention to art and music programs over there. I had art classes but not that many music classes and I always wanted to learn how to play piano. Drawing was always very natural for me. I remember being part of a city-wide art competition in second grade. I drew robots baking cookies.

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Why do you think are art and music important for children?

I think art and music are food for the soul and they add magic to our lives. Kids learn so much about themselves and I think it connects them with who they really are.