Artist/Maker/Designer Elana Gabrielle Believes in the Power of Play and Rest

By Bethanie Hestermann

Creativity really can bring light and joy to ordinary things. For Elana Gabrielle, the ordinary can become extraordinary if you give yourself a chance to play, innovate, and experiment. This freelance artist, illustrator, maker, and designer admits being a full-time creative doesn’t equal being creative all the time. (After all, someone’s got to do the business end of a business.) But when she’s feeling burnt out, Elana believes in the power of rest. We can all learn from Elana!

Find out what makes Elana tick and her art shine in today’s Q&A.

Tell us about your shop!

I’ve been making art in different forms since I was in kindergarten, and it’s always been such a central part of my life. For a long time, I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, but when I went to art school for college, I learned about screen printing, letterpress, and textile design. I fell in love with the tactile elements and the ways I could apply my illustrations to multifunctional goods, and I’ve been developing that ever since. I started selling my work at craft fairs and markets just after I graduated, and it’s slowly grown to selling my collection of illustrated goods in almost 200 shops around the country and Canada!

What’s the best part about what you create?

I love being able to share what moves and inspires me in different ways, through paper and textile goods, and for people to be able to connect with the imagery in personal ways. I’m grateful that my work allows me to find inspiration in small things like sunlight in the morning, daffodil blossoms in spring, or laundry drying in the breeze. It brings me so much joy to create new pieces and keeps me inspired to work on each next project.

Favorite music for boosting creativity?

I listen to a lot of music based on what I’m working on, as it often inspires or informs the work I do! My go-to focus music is something more ethereal, but I also love good folk and indie music, and I like to listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I’m painting or drawing.

How does creativity bring goodness to your life?

For me, creativity brings light and joy to ordinary things. From cooking meals to getting dressed in the morning, creativity just allows for a bit more play, experimentation, and innovation.

How does nature inspire your art?​

Nature inspires my art in every aspect! All my pieces are designed around particular landscapes, creatures, and habitats that I’ve been to or researched, and it also informs the choices I make in selecting materials and sustainable practices. It is my deepest inspiration and motivation.

What do people NOT know about what you do?

While it may seem like I get to draw/paint/make all day in the freedom that comes with my job, I actually spend the majority of time working on all the business busywork, and I really have to schedule in time to create or the time slips away. Being a full-time artist often feels rather like full-time business and part-time artist.

What made you decide to open a shop?

I started selling my goods here and there while I was still in college, as I tried to learn as much as I could. Slowly but surely, as my relationships with shops and clients grew, so has my little business! I don’t have a brick and mortar, but I do sell from my online shop, and I’m looking forward to selling at markets and fairs again in the future.

What did 2020 teach you about your creative self?

2020 highlighted the ebbs and flows of creativity for me, and the importance of play and making for fun. I took a rather long break from creating new pieces as I was feeling burnt out, exhausted, and anxious. During the pause, I was able to introduce a lot more play into my practice through needle felting, natural dyeing, basket weaving, herbal medicine making, and other crafts that I don’t make as part of my “work”. It gave me space to rest, and I’m really excited about getting back into designing new pieces again!

Do you have any daily rituals?

I do! I drink tea in the mornings and try to get out for some fresh air before I sit down to work. My rituals are definitely informed by the seasons and shift depending on the time of year. This winter, I’ve been taking lots of herbal baths and teas, lighting candles, and making warm, nourishing meals.

Tell us about your studio space. What type of environment do you work best in? 

I currently work from my home studio, though one day I would love to have a larger, separate studio space. I thrive creatively with tons of natural light, lots of plants, and I like to keep special treasures around me to remind me of certain places, people, and times. I keep collections of vintage botanical books, found rocks and gems, plants, my work tools … I’m a bit picky about where I can feel productive.

Do you have a favorite product/print of all time?

I don’t know if I have an all-time favorite design, but my favorite products are the multifunctional ones like the bandanas. I love the way that the imagery moves and shifts with the fabric depending on how and where they are used, and I love that multiple functions give them additional life.

What’s your process?

My art process depends on the product, but for all my work I first begin with writing. I write lists, words, research, and notes that I want to evoke in my work inspired by certain plants or landscapes. Then I begin sketching on scraps of paper (I don’t keep a sketchbook). I then put on some tunes and create the art with cut paper collage, gouache, acrylic, pencils, brush pens, Photoshop, often a mix of all. I also make mockups in Photoshop or with paper to see how the designs will look on their finished product, so I can check scale and detail. For textile work, the designs get cleaned up digitally, and then they get turned into stencils for screen printing. Once the pieces are printed, they all need packaging, photography, and descriptions. It takes quite a long time to create a piece from start to finish!

Who are some designers that inspire YOU?

Some all-time favorite illustrators include Carson Ellis, Matisse, John Zabawa, Blex Bolex, Joohee Yoon, Elsa Beskow, and Phoebe Wahl. I love their varied uses of shape, space, and texture! I am also deeply inspired by the women in my family who are quilters, painters, sculptors, dancers, and musicians, and I’m so grateful to have grown up learning from them.

Follow along with Elana on Instagram @elanagabrielle and check out her shop,!

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