Artist Spotlight: Fueling Passion Through Community
As you may know already, Maricar and I started Our Friend the Artist (OFTA) to connect local Chicago artists and small businesses with the Chicago community and beyond. But what does it mean to be local in a world where so much is online? There are so many ideas and creations that only live on screen. This very blog post you’re reading now will likely never be printed or held in your hands. It will never be sold at the corner shop in your neighborhood. Yes, there is something to be said about supporting artists who, although may not be selling art in your local area, are from your local area. Our Friend the Artist intends on finding and connecting with as many of them as possible. However, when an artist creates work that speaks to you, it’s worth talking about, no matter where they’re from.
As we’ve been building this creative outlet of ours over the past 11 months or so, we’ve met some great people - photographers, artisans, illustrators, and makers. The very first artist we collaborated with was Karen (@moneyeka on Instagram) when she photographed our first photoshoot. We’ve shared some of those images already on our Instagram (FYI there are so many good ones left to show you)! The shoot meant a lot to us because it was the first time we presented ourselves as Jhana and Maricar, Our Friend the Artist. It was also one of the very first times we thought about how we looked as a brand. That experience was so much fun, and a blog post on it is sure to come. But today, we’re sharing the story of another artist - Adrienne Shelford from Manchester, UK and based in Melbourne, Australia. No, Adrienne isn’t a Chicago local, but she helped me see the beauty and importance of what we’re trying to accomplish with Our Friend the Artist. Finding her page on Instagram (@adrienneshelford) opened my eyes to a community of illustrators I hadn’t yet found. One of the best things about starting this blog is that it got me back in touch with my artistic side. After years of being bogged down by numbers and statistics in my career as a researcher, I was yearning to get back into an old hobby. When I started drawing again it felt like I had found something I lost.
Adrienne’s work inspired me during this time. I was easily enthralled by her illustrations and it motivated me to create. Her work is calming yet exciting. Her use of bold colors and patterns catches your attention, while the emotions she depicts in her characters are silently felt. It makes sense that one of my favorite pieces is this illustration she posted on March 4, 2021 [pictured below]. With her permission, we actually re-posted this piece on our Instagram because I loved it so much. As it turns out, it’s one of Adrienne’s favorite pieces as well.
I had a chance to ask Adrienne some questions, one of which had to be about this piece. Born out of a creative rut, a dreamy piece of art emerged. So I was curious, what does she do to get out of a creative rut?
For Adrienne, her favorite things plus her own artistic progress are sources of motivation: “Whenever I hit a creative rut and I start to dislike everything I draw, I take time to step away and revisit old illustrations to remind myself how far I’ve come and how much my style and skill have developed. Some drawings come together more naturally and some take a bit of time but it always works out in the end. When lockdown hit in Melbourne, I found myself in a bad mental state and drawing was something that really helped me out of that. It made me switch my mindset and I saw lockdown as an opportunity to grow myself as an illustrator. My inspiration for my drawings comes from all my favourite things - plants, jewelry, bold patterns, and even bolder colours. I particularly like to celebrate drawing women and I’m working every day to grow my Illustrations to be as inclusive as possible.”
How funny is it that the illustration that caught my eye the most turns out to be an artist favorite? Personally, I love the idea of dreams so this was calling my name. Speaking of dreams, I was also curious how Adrienne got started with her art account. Did she always dream of being an artist?
Adrienne says, “I dabbled in illustration when I was at University and I always intended to go back to it, but it’s only when lockdown hit in Melbourne that I had all this extra time to do something productive, so I started drawing again. I started posting on Instagram because I came across Charly Clements' ‘Facetober’ challenge and with that found a community of amazing illustrators, who like me, were starting out in illustration too. It became a place where I could express myself creatively and where I could connect with illustrators all around the world! After a while and many, many drawings later, I had friends and family requesting commissions. That’s when I realised I could really turn this into something real.”
I had a similar realization as Adrienne. There are artists all over the world creating for fun and making beautiful things. Online challenges are a great way to discover a community as Adrienne experienced first hand with the ‘Facetober’ challenge. Facetober is a drawing/illustration challenge during the month of October. Each day you are tasked to create something based on the requirements that day. For example, the challenge for today, Wednesday, October 20th is to draw something with 1) white hair 2) bubblegum, and 3) a flamingo:
Unfortunately, the downside of creating and sharing your work online is the need to spend time online. Before starting Our Friend the Artist, I’ve always felt that I spend too much time mindlessly on Instagram. Now with a new page to run, I find myself spending even more time on my phone endlessly scrolling. Endless scrolling? Yes. But mindless? Hmmm maybe not. Now I use Instagram with a purpose - to find and connect with artists like me and to grow Our Friend the Artist. Somehow Instagram has become this weird mix of work and play, fun and business. So I asked Adrienne, “as damaging as social media can be, I’ve always felt that Instagram has made art more accessible. Do you agree? And would you say that’s a positive or a negative?”
Adrienne replied, “I would agree definitely. With the digital world as it is today, I can draw and have something posted to my followers within a matter of a few hours. With drawing challenges especially you can connect with people so easily and see all kinds of mediums of art celebrated. I will say though, that with this accessibility there also comes the inevitable pressure of posting consistent content and creating art that you think people want to see. I definitely try to focus on illustrating for me and my wellbeing, but sometimes I’ll post something I’m not crazy about and people end up loving it, or sometimes I post something I adore but no one else does. Both outcomes are fine. In my opinion, if you draw for yourself and you’re happy with what you created, then nothing else really matters.”
Consistency is the key for growth - both to develop new skills and to expand your platform on social media apps like Instagram. But constantly creating can be tiring, especially if you're trying to please an audience. I can relate to Adrienne's struggle of balancing art for your own happiness versus others. I'm still trying to navigate this point of contention. For now, I see it as an ongoing question all content creators and artists of all kinds are forced to ask: What do people want to see from me?
Thankfully, for me personally, moments of questioning and doubt are short-lived. At the end of the day, you’re spending time doing something you love. I mean, there was a time when I wasn’t making anything. I didn’t write a single sentence outside of work emails. I didn't draw a single shape. So although it can be daunting to draw, write, or strategize on Instagram, it doesn't take long to remember that it's all for something. As Adrienne said, all we can do is create what makes us feel good and admire our progress as we go. Look at the proof! Your very own art portfolio is just sitting there for anyone, anywhere to see.
With platforms like Instagram, it’s hard to remember the concept of being local. Everyone and everything is suddenly so close. I guess that’s why conversations around shopping local have been so loud in recent years. We love to find artists who are close to home, but sometimes, it is nice to see what the world has to offer. Thankfully, the world (or rather, the Instagram algorithm) gave me Adrienne.
When I came across Adrienne’s Instagram page, it just so happens that she was open for commissions, so I jumped at the chance to work with her. I gave her one of the images from our photoshoot with Karen and asked her if she could draw it. And boy did she! Now both Maricar and I have Adrienne’s creation printed and framed in our homes. Just look at the awesome job she did!
Don't worry, the illustrating doesn’t stop once the October #Facetober challenge ends and commissions are closed. Adrienne will keep creating as the upcoming year presents new personal goals:
“Within the next year, I’m focusing on developing my artwork style and ensuring my work is inclusive for everyone, as I think it’s important that all feel represented in the world of illustration. I also hope to join an Agency as I think this would help open up my opportunities to more collaborative projects. However, right now my main focus has been setting up an online store to sell illustration prints and greeting cards, so watch this space!”
I'm excited to see Adrienne's continued success and wish her all the best! Please follow Adrienne on Instagram @adrienneshelford and be on the lookout for her future work!