We've been long-time fans of the talented Yellena James. Her richly textured works feature intricate details that take their cue from nature. She's already been featured on RM more than once. We knew an interview with one of our favorite artists was way overdue. Many thanks to Yellena for sharing her time with us!
REUBENMILLER: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Yellena James: I was born in Sarajevo. I went to art school there for a couple of years during the civil war. When I was 18, I moved to the States and went to UCF for my graphic design/painting degree. Besides exhibits and taking care of my Etsy shop, I also do a lot of freelance illustration work. I recently moved to Portland, OR and I love it here. When I'm not in my studio working or checking out my favorite design blogs, I'm usually tooling around town visiting galleries, eating good food, hanging out with new friends. I love to travel too, whenever I can. Having shows around the country is a great excuse to visit new places.
(Continue reading for complete interview.)
RM: What mediums do you use for creating your art?
YJ: I love using pens, markers and other inks on paper. I also love to paint with acrylics. For that, I prefer a wood panel over a canvas for the amount of control it gives me over the strokes.
RM: What is your main source of inspiration?
YJ: I'm inspired by so many things that it's hard for me to pin point one main source of inspiration. I'm definitely intrigued by microscopic worlds. I love discovering strange new life forms, plants, fungi, undersea aliens, etc. They spark my imagination and often inspire me to invent my own flora and fauna. I try to create new shapes based on what I imagine to exist within the unseen world around us, and attempt to suggest movements in my designs that we're not accustom to seeing in our everyday lives, to sort-of pass that spark of inspiration on to others as they complete the movements within their own minds.
Also, moss. I'm inspired by moss.
RM: Who do you think most influenced your work?
YJ: I love the flow, complexity and perspective play in the work of Julie Mehretu or Matthew Ritchie. I'm also drawn to the beautifully dark worlds of Jeff Soto and the colorful, microscopic landscapes of Jacob Magraw. The biggest influence, as far as my own work, is probably Mother Nature... the parts she tries to hide.
RM: Do you work in any other medium?
YJ: I have a Gocco printer that I absolutely adore. Every time I lift the screen, it's like a little zen moment. I also have a old letterpress that I am planning to incorporate into my limited edition prints and other paper goods. I have a slight obsession with anything letterpressed and I was so happy when my husband found one for me for my birthday last year.
RM: Please describe your thought process in developing a piece.
YJ: My drawings or paintings are never planned in advance. I simply just start with one element and keep building on it and around it. I never use any references or sketches. The fact that I don't know where the piece is going to end or what it will look like when it's finished is very liberating to me. Throughout the process I think about balance and composition and how to connect all the elements into one entity. Although the artwork starts very freely, the end result often appears very controlled and calculated.
RM: Where is your work exhibited and sold?
YJ: I'm currently at the Grass Hut in Portland and working on some group shows for the Giant Robot in NY and SF. I'm also hoping for a solo exhibit at GR2 in LA sometime this year, but no date yet. I have a small show coming up in Seattle (at Velouria) in April, a Kokeshi doll I'm working on for the JANM, and I will have my first UK solo show this fall at the Here Shop Gallery in Bristol. There are others, but this is what comes to mind first. The best way to keep track is through my website, www.yellena.com/blog. I don't do a lot of "blogging" but I try to keep the posts current as far as what I'm working on and where I'll be. Of course, for affordable prints and more, visit www.yellena.etsy.com.
RM: What's next on the horizon?
YJ: Lots of shows this year. I am also planning to expand my creations in a variety of ways, including some designs for clothing and various paper products. I'm eagerly anticipating the release of my new K2 snowboard and some patterns I did for Nike/ACG apparel to come out sometime this year as well. Mostly, I'm just looking forward to creating some fresh new images and embracing any opportunities that may come as a result.
RM: Wishing you the best of luck in everything, Yellena!