I first met Hayley Powers Thornton-Kennedy when I visited the MFA Illustration Practice program (MFA ILP) as a guest critic and lecturer. In their cozy, well-lit studio, she showed me a selection of signage she had created for the Women’s March on January 21. I was instantly attracted to the bold illustrations and, above all, imagery featuring strong female figures. I had the opportunity to talk to Hayley more about her work, both in person and via email. The conversation and her illustrations seem especially fitting for today’s International Women’s Day and A Day Without Women.
If you peruse Aimee Bee Brooks’ Instagram, you’ll find that her sketchbook is full of delicate drawings with a retro sensibility. In particular, I’m fond of the illustrative ladies who don vintage hairstyles and fashions. Created with a light hand, the portraits seem to flicker, like a memory you can’t quite grasp onto in your mind—they’re fleeting and poignant.
Earlier this fall, Anja Sušanj shared a series called City, based on a book by Alessandro Baricco. The text influenced her greatly through the years, and was part of the inspiration for these drawings. “City is also the name of my graduation project that tries to recreate the mysterious and whimsical world of Gould, a child genius,” she explains.
The surreal illustrations are created with graphite, and they’re are a beautiful use of the material. Through her line work and shading Anja has communicated movement and drama, as people stand in fishbowls, navigate through the stomach, and wear a house around their head. Each is intriguing and begs a closer look.
We all have our own ways of achieving ~zen~, and for me, it’s witnessing the beauty of grandiose natural landscapes. The vast, seemingly never-ending horizon reminds me of just how big the world is, dwarfing whatever worries occupy my brain. Maggie Chiang captures this feeling with exquisite snapshots of open spaces. Inky and drawn textures mimic desert scenes, rapid waters, and gray skies. In every image, the Earth looks magnificent and makes me want to find the nearest hiking trail!
Sometimes, it’s the most simple approach that makes the biggest impact. Edda Gimnes, aka EDDA, has created a line of clothing that combines the energy and spontaneity of a pencil sketch with avant-garde fashion. They’re drawings brought to life!
Edda produced this stunning surface design using her non-dominant left hand and then digitally printed it onto canvas. The garment’s silhouettes are basic, but they don’t need to be overly sophisticated—their bold, black lines define skinny pants, bikini tops, and glamorous dresses.
Last fall, illustrator Rose Wong had a show called Consider Death at Grumpy Bert in Brooklyn. The works included are poignant and beautiful in their simplicity —Rose mixes bold floral elements with geometric forms, inserting a contemplative figure among them. This character, devoid of a face/emotions, could be, as its namesake suggests, considering the end. It takes the illustrations to a dark place, but this is in line with Rose’s artistic philosophy. In an interview with Light Grey Art Lab, she explains:
When I get sad or frustrated, art makes me feel better. But getting myself to draw when I feel down is often an uphill battle. I am often a positive and upbeat person, but sometimes when I draw, the other part of me comes through – the quiet and contemplative side. I want people to feel good when they look at my work, but to also find some sadness in it. We are all complex individuals and life is all about the emotional experiences, whether it be positive or not.
See more of Consider Death on Rose’s Tumblr. Some of my favorites are below.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I love a good pencil drawing. There’s something so satisfying about seeing a collection of marks. It looks very meditative, and even therapeutic? Italian illustrator Monica Barengo incorporates this style of drawing into her work, harnessing the energy of a sketch. Monica, however, is a more controlled with her technique, and will often juxtaposed erratic marking making with fine, measured lines.
Monica’s approach benefits the overall illustrations; the contained chaos is a great foil to the portraits of poised, calm individuals. It makes you wonder… do they have something to hide?
I know I called Monica’s characters poised, but this cute fellow is a welcome exception:
Normally, I gravitate towards illustrations that are full of color. But today, I find myself attracted to the line drawings of Ryn Frank. They’re beautiful in their simplicity, consisting of mostly thin outlines with a few filled areas. This style lends itself well to details, and Ryn doesn’t shy away from depicting textured surfaces with tiny, meticulously-sketched lines and dot after dot after dot.
Many of Ryn’s illustrations are used in pattern design. These would make wonderful wallpaper, wouldn’t they? (h/t Perrin)
Not every artist can make their sketches appear like finished works, and vice versa — not every finished piece can have the qualities of a sketch. Mathilde Vangheluwe is an illustrator who rides this fine line, and she colors her drawings with the soft hues of colored pencils, often leaving her initial graphite sketch visible. This technique is great way to add some shine and polish to something that can feel raw.
Check out Mathilde’s illustrated products in her shop!
Countless tiny lines form these exquisite illustrations by Sara Corbett. The Brooklyn-based creative uses the miniaturized ticks in designing creatures like zebras, bats, fish, and more. They’re seen frolicking in the woods in unlikely pairings. (Who would imagine that a raccoon and elephant are hang out?)
We all know the power of a small line, but it’s nice to be reminded that even the simplest mark can imply texture, movement, and the difference between tree bark and a rabbit’s fur.
If you enjoy Sara’s style, be sure to check out her comics, too!
And, a little extra: Sara also designed and made this cute plush toy!