WeMake loves to showcase and support the future of the arts in our Student Spotlight Series. I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Elana Gabrielle, an illustrator and maker at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art). Her work is inspired by the natural world around her, often full of overgrown foliage and magical creatures.
She aims to combine educational, whimsical, and conceptual imagery to create fun and accessible illustrations, which can live in books, in print and on products. Elana works to emulate these themes utilizing a variety of mediums including traditional drawing, gouache, collage, printmaking, and digital programs. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon, and can most often be found wandering in bookstores, or adding to her house plant collection.
Tell us all about Elana!
I grew up on a foggy hill in San Francisco. I spent the winter months roaming the old growth forests along the coast and exploring the city. My summers were spent floating down the Yuba River and hiking in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Although I went to an arts-based high school and I loved every one of my art classes, it was not until my second year of college in Southern California that I realized I wanted to pursue an art education and career. I transferred to PNCA in Portland, Oregon, where I currently live and work. All of the places I have lived, traveled to and explored have found their way into my art, and I find myself recalling these places as a constant source of inspiration for me.
How did you find the medium that best worked for you? What was that process of discovery like?
Growing up, I tried many different tools, from weaving to woodworking. Having the opportunity to experiment was helpful in learning what drew me in. When I started art school, I primarily used gouache paint and colored pencils for my illustrations, but through taking different classes I was able play with more tools and add them my current process. Learning to use Photoshop was a breakthrough discovery for me – it gave me so much more confidence in my own work. I was able to change colors, manipulate shapes and move compositions around in ways that I could not do before. It helped me step away from being too precious with my work, giving me the freedom to let loose and allowed me the opportunity to play. I currently use a mixture of Photoshop and colored pencil for most of my illustrations. However I sometimes catch myself becoming too reliant on Photoshop. I set up small projects for myself where I only work with analog materials. Screen printing has also become a big part of my process, especially for printing on textiles. I’m currently working on a little project on my Instagram – I post a weekly composition that is purely analog play- with shapes, materials, textures, and colors under the hashtag #playwithnature.
What were some of your early influences to pursue an education in the arts? Did you always want to be an artist when you were a child?
I come from a family of artists- dancers, musicians, quilters, painters, and sculptors. As part of the curriculum of my elementary and middle school I learned knitting, basketry, ceramics, drawing, painting, woodworking and metal smithing. Instead of using textbooks, we learned our lessons and then created our own ‘textbooks’ complete with essays, stories, and illustrations, and this process contributed directly to my love of children’s book illustration. When I was first applying to college I was certain that I did not want to go to an art school, but when I got to the university I found myself bargaining with my professors to make books and art projects instead of final papers. After two years it became absolutely clear to me that I wanted to pursue an education in the arts.
Outside of your art—what feeds your imagination and soul and brings you joy?
Being outside and in nature feeds my imagination and soul! Exploring the woods reminds me of my childhood, and I find so much joy and inspiration in discovering new and different landscapes. There is so much magic and unexpected treasures, and I always find something new. Did you know that there are more life forms in a handful of soil than there are people on the planet? The more I learn about the earth and its ecosystems the more I am enamoured with it all.
"Perseverance" has been a theme we are exploring here at WeMake. As an artist, what does this mean to you?
Several words come to mind when I think about perseverance –dedication, commitment, determination, endurance, stick-to-itiveness, and spunk. I have learned that in both my life and art practice there is always an ebb and flow. There are times when I am filled with inspiration and motivation and I can’t create things fast enough. There are also times when there is a lull, it is hard to find motivation and I feel unproductive and slow. For me, perseverance has been the reminder that these slower times are actually helpful, a reminder to rest and that soon it will shift back again.
How do you hope your personal expression will reach others, through your art?
For my senior thesis at PNCA, I am working on a collection of goods for kids structured around the theme of endangered species. I want to explore ways that I can use illustration as a form of environmental advocacy and as a way to visually portray the intricate relationships between people and the earth. This project is about sharing, collaborating, exploring, and learning. I am currently on the hunt for local vendors to collaborate with to produce these goods. Once I do I hope that through craft and product design I can help raise awareness of endangered species and encourage stewardship of the land through interactive play.