Monday, October 31, 2011

Style, Theme and Technique - Whimsy Retro-Chic

I have been more and more intrigued by art created with a theme in mind - a theme seems to be a vital part of the overall communication in an illustration or a design. Many great masters painted by theme, successful architects and designers have created thematic pieces, and most popular music follows a similar formula. 

Since we already defined the word Theme and explored a bit about the Whimsical and Folk styles in past articles, today I want to introduce a new concept with two additional terms. According to the New Oxford American dictionary:

Retro - imitative of a style, fashion, or design from the recent past. 

Chic - elegantly and stylishly fashionable.

Artist Monica Lee and her dog
Hmmm ... what would be a whimsy retro-chic style? And how would a thematic design apply to such style? What are the techniques that make it so popular and so well loved? Well, all these questions are answered by a very fun and fashionista artist, who will help illustrate the point: Monica Lee! - She is an illustrator, licensed artist and textile designer. Her sources of inspiration - books, interior design and fashion - are sources which are also close to my heart. She has done a fabulous job creating around these concepts. She says, "my main source of inspiration are books - I have so many! Interior design and fashion get ideas going. I am also inspired by the joy of everyday life, the small things that make it beautiful. The aroma of fresh coffee, a curious child, the sound of laughter. I am an eternal optimist, I think the world is bright and everyday is worth enjoying!"

Monica defines her artistic style as clean, fresh and feminine. She likes to use expressive line work and she tends to use a clear color palette. She thinks that it comes from her background as a watercolorist - "No muddy colors allowed!".

© Monica Lee
Monica paints, blogs, and gabs over at her little spot of sunshine on the web, she says. She also enjoys watching trends in all sorts of areas from publishing, to fashion, to craft, to the gift market and interpreting them into her art. Incorporating writing and encouragement in her art has become a passion of hers.

"I suppose my underlying artistic theme has to do with femininity. Whether I am designing something sophisticated or childlike the line work has a delicate hand to it. I do really enjoy chic girly art. I have illustrated book covers for several tween book series. I surround myself with interesting women and was a flight attendant for years so I think I appreciate what makes women tick" - Monica says.

© Monica Lee
Everything she does is hand drawn. She creates art by hand and then goes into Photoshop and paints it. Digital color is bright and offers a lot of options but she also watercolors some of her collections and then scans it all. She says she has become a master at scanning watercolor. She even paints the work in pieces, scans it, then merges it in Photoshop, which keeps everything clean and crisp.

I asked Monica what is exciting about her creative work and she said, " the end result is always the most exciting part. I love when the art resonates with someone, makes them smile or laugh. As much as I get a kick out of the process of creating, I am really creating for others. I am not the 'art for arts sake' kind of person like so many others. I am more of an 'art for people' sake. I am coming to realize that that statement doesn't just mean I am a commercial artist, it means that I am offering my skills, ideas and vision to share with others. In the end I want to bring beauty and hope as well as some fun into the world."

© Monica Lee
Fabric collections are always exciting for Monica because she feels like she is setting a mood, telling a story though line and color. She likes that other people can take the fabric and create their own masterpieces with them. She also is trying to carve out time to load up art prints onto her etsy site - "I have my fabrics and a few pieces of art there now but I want to add more fine art prints as well as 3-D art. I am just trying to figure out how to make the time and space for it in my brain (and in my studio!)" - Monica says. "Years ago (and I mean years) I owned my own greeting card company, Monica Lee Studios so I was involved with the gift industry and even though I went on to be a mom and to work on other art, a few licensing contracts found me. I felt pretty comfortable in the gift arena because A) I am a shopper (believe it or not some artist are NOT shoppers and don’t frequent gift stores! and B) I was a greeting card sales rep for a short while (one of my past lives)." 

© Monica Lee
A couple of years ago, maybe 2 or 3 she says, Monica got serious and really geared her portfolio towards licensing. She still enjoys doing work for publishing but licensing requires a monstrous amount of work in her portfolio so it has taken over her life. "I enjoy this type of work since I tend to gear my art towards the consumer anyway." As far as trade shows go, Monica got around; she has attended CHA and she attends the NYC gift shows. She has attended the International Quilt Market and she also exhibits at Surtex in NYC and Atlanta. It has been several years since she has been but she will be attending in January 2012, she says. "Trade shows revive me! Although it may be seeing and mingling with people that revive me. I am very much a people person which may be a bit odd for an artist who spends a large amount of time working alone."

© Monica Lee
One piece of advice from Monica to other artists is this: "I think one of the best tips I can give is not to compare yourself or your work to others. You really need to run your own race." She started a series on her blog called the Care and Feeding of a Dream; this is a series based on an essay she wrote some time ago but as she revisits it, she is reapplying all the lessons to herself, she says, even though she is at a different stage in her career.

Her goals? She always has so many, she says. In fact Monica is in the process of trying to prioritize them right now. She has two books that she would like to get published and has plans to design and sell embroidery patterns and maybe even a couple of sewing patterns.
© Monica Lee

She also has some new licensors on board that she is super excited about. Since she has become passionate about blogging, she is pretty dedicated to keeping her blog fresh and interesting. "Those are all my business goals, and my art goals are to create more space (physically as well as emotionally) to create larger textile art that marry line, stitching and fibers," Monica says.






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