We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Fowler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elena, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Over time it occurred to me that extreme time optimization needed to happen to achieve my personal artistic goals. I am always working on how to best balance my time and continually refining my approach. Certainly the biggest recent change to my schedule in the last year has been to set aside a regular time that I would be focused on and producing artwork publically. This currently takes the form of holding a live stream schedule once every week for a few hours. The added aspect of showing up for a community, albeit online, really adds to the sense of responsibility to myself and to my creative process. I’ve always been something of a performer, and I love to chat while I draw, so streaming has been a wonderful compromise to my work-from-home quarantine life. I work a full time job currently that has always been work from home but it’s not at all in the creative field. I know that every day, even if it is only for a few minutes after I clock out, I need to create something. It can be a quick finished piece, a long term painting, or even just some studies in my sketchbook. Before the restrictions in public movement, I was known to carry my sketchbook, pens, and watercolors to any bar or event I went to so that I could put in some time on my art. It never seemed like an extraordinary action in the beginning, honestly it felt very compulsive (my sketchbook feels like a security blanket at times), but it really instilled in me a routine and a fundamental need to keep producing to the point where now I have a multitude of sketchbooks filled and finished pieces to show for it. Doing this also led to my landing a few commission jobs that would never have come to fruition since people would physically witness me in my element drawing, take interest, look at my sketchbook, ask questions, and then request or recommend me for work. It wasn’t the easiest thing to maintain in the beginning since I was also a regular performer (Bellydance) in shows and also holding a full time job and a second job and while trying to update my Instagram regularly. Now with the additional time spent at home and only having the single full time work, I have been able to invest many more hours late nights and weekends in improving my portfolio, starting up an online shop, building my website, and finding new clients. Quarantine has honestly been a blessing in disguise for skill improvement and I’m finally at a point where I am looking more seriously at the business aspect of being a freelance illustrator.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My journey so far as an artist has not been straightforward. I didn’t have an inkling that I could draw until I tried it one day when I was 17 or 18 years old while finishing up my degree in Fashion Merchandising I gave it a shot. Prior to this I thought I was only good at stick figures and coloring books, but all other creative avenues would have to be expressed on stage. It wasn’t until a couple years after that after I discovered the world of indie comic books at SDCC that I took up the habit again casually. At the advice of Ted Naifeh, a comic artist I had recently discovered and highly respected, I enrolled in my first few fundamental drawing classes at Palomar College. I slogged away for years, slowly, taking classes as I could afford them, or as the state grants would allow me to afford when available, and began amassing the sketchbooks. The first decade of drawing I believe was critical to my self development. I was very informed and influenced by my mentors, highly drawn to the graphic pen and ink illustrations of the comic industry, but also moved by the expertly rendered oil paintings of the old masters and my illustration instructors, I also didn’t have a clear focus on the direction I wanted to go in at the time since I was still absorbing all of the options that were available to me. It’s been almost another decade since that time has passed and my repertoire has expanded to include more mediums than a pencil and a sharpie. Mostly, I love to draw expressive characters and faces, or re-imagine characters or stories in watercolor, pencil and ink. Only in the last year or two have I started exploring actively how to create my characters in a digital format both in Clip Studio Paint and most recently, Procreate (which I absolutely adore). The lovely part of digital exploration is it has opened a part of my creative brain that was shy of environments and material studies and now I can’t get enough of them. For a long time I was doing a lo t of fan art and master studies because I was not sure what my own voice wanted to say. I still struggle with this all the time and so far my best solution is to always stay on this fine line of discomfort and security. My first water study was done digitally and I had to keep reminding myself in the early stages of rendering that I know water and I love water and also that the Sistine Chapel did not happen in a single brush stroke. I also had to remember when you look at the work of the masters up close, it’s just a careful collection of brush strokes, pigment, and the confidence of moving in the right direction. And that it’s not a race. I’m currently applying this same principle of existing in the process to a watercolor piece I started last week. I had a loose face reference just to get started, but after the general blocking went down, I allowed the water and the paint and how I was feeling to help inform me on how it should proceed. While still in progress, it is to date one of the most enjoyable pieces I have embarked upon. My past work incorporates some of this trust in self and expressiveness, but I am inspired to take it to a level it has not previously been now and into 2021. I believe, simply put, the biggest lesson I have learned this year in my craft Is the art of being patient with yourself and your thoughts. Too often I think I fell into the trap of trying to keep up with the speed of social media, but at the detriment to my creative vision. Now I hold on to my artistic peace like a long lost love and it’s made everything so much sweeter.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A bittersweet scenario as many places that I used to love attending have since closed down due to the current climate (I am currently based in Portland, Oregon). One of those places was a fantastic bar called The Nerd Out. The walls and tables were lined with comic book pages from every genre, the food and drink were always on theme, and the staff and owner were very knowledgeable about comic, nerd culture, literature, and music. They always had industry people in just taking a night off (I met an animator from the original Animaniacs there!) and it was always well lite enough to either sit and chat with your friends, participate in trivia, or set out your watercolors to paint (which I did so often they had a cup of clean paint water ready for me when I walked in the door). Another place I would take my friend were they visiting would be to a drag show. I got my bearing in this city thanks to the LGBTQIA+ community and often was a cast member in shows as a belly dancer. I have rarely felt such community and love in a nightlife community outside of my hometown of San Diego and I would want my friend to experience some of this connection to people, their lives and experiences, and some good old fashioned dance floor cardio. My best friends all love social events and great company as much as I do. Another place I would take them that I actually wouldn’t go on my own cause I am outdoorsy shy even though I love the outdoors, is to the Gorge and Multnomah Falls for a hike in nature and to see the plethora of jaw-dropping waterfalls in the area. After that, if we aren’t beat, we would head to the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden to take in some impeccable landscaping. If we were back in San Diego, the first place I take all my friends that have not been is Fletcher Cove. That place has a magic about it I can’t place my finger on. I don’t know if it is the sand cliffs or the little path down to the water. Or if it is the knowledge that if you walk out too far down the cliffs too close to high tide, you’re trapped. It is the most beautiful place on the San Diego coastline in my opinion. Second to that is always going to be a walk around the Balboa Park museum area and surrounding nature and then food in North Park or Hillcrest. I don’t know if it is still around, but there was a great ramen place I liked to go to after a night of karaoke in Convoy called Tajima and it would be a joy to experience that again with a close friend or friends. I think they would really enjoy it well. I’m not much for filling up a full itinerary so I would leave a lot of room open to find out what they would like to do and also squeeze in a little family dinner visit to my moms. Oh but before they go, they need to have a pint with me at Churchill’s in San Marcos, for nostalgic reasons and cause they have a great selection of craft beers!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First I would like to thank Jennifer Anichowski for referring me to be a part of this publication. When I was still based in San Diego, I was always impressed at her level of commitment to her craft and cheered heartily when she became a regular studio member in her first gallery space. Watching her hard work and growth really inspired me when it was time to pick out an art school and take the plunge when I moved to Portland to pursue my dream to be an artist in my own right. I’d also like to thank Kim Fraley, Jeremy Kleyla, everyone at Oregon College of Art and Craft, and all of my dearest friends and my Mom and family for always being 100% behind me as I grow in this field no matter how precarious while also reminding me to eat, sleep, and remember to take care of my body and my home.