Rebecca Green finds wonder and inspiration in the every day. No moment or experience is either too trivial or too grandiose to make an impression on her and work its way into her imagery. Through astute observation and a warm heart, Rebecca ponders and questions the world around her and the expansive universe we are all a part of. Visually speaking, Green’s delicately muted colour palette and beautifully stylized figures are reminiscent of illustrations which might accompany the tales in children’s literature. Her subject matter however, transcends age groups and will resonate with every one of us who enjoys taking some quiet time out of the hustle and bustle of contemporary life in order to contemplate our existence and marvel at the magical curiosity of it all.
Rebecca Green was born in Owosso, Michigan and currently lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2010 she graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a BFA in Illustration. In the short time since graduation, Green has embarked on an impressive career in both commercial illustration and fine art. Her commercial clients have included the likes of HarperCollins and the Wall Street Journal and she has exhibited her work in galleries all over America.
WOW x WOW caught up with Rebecca to chat about the release of ‘A Princesinha’ (the Portuguese Edition of ‘A Little Princess’, which she created the illustrations for), her love of ‘everyday magic’ and the autobiographical nature of her work.
Hi Becca! First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to have this little chat, we really appreciate it. To start us off, if you would please introduce yourself, touching on anything you feel relevant to story of Rebecca Green the artist?
Hi! Thanks for reaching out! I began my life 29 years ago in a small town in Michigan. From there, I graduated from KCAD with a BFA in Illustration, moved around a little to check out other states, and I am currently living in Nashville, TN (as of a month ago!) I’ve been creating since I was a toddler, and I feel absolutely lucky to paint everyday.
You mentioned your time spent at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. How was the experience of studying there for you and do you feel it was important in shaping the artist you are today?
When I started at KCAD, I was in the Graphic Design program. To me, painting wasn’t a stable career, so I thought it would make sense to be a designer. When all of my designs were paintings, I decided to make the plunge into the Illustration Program. KCAD is great, but the program was pretty heavily focused on photo realism. I started out as a realistic painter and soon got bored with that and wanted the challenge and excitement of making something that wasn’t a photographic copy. I am thankful for that strong foundation though, I think you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Maybe. I’m sure we could find counter examples to that statement. Anyway, I made it out alive, made some incredible lifelong friends, and had a huge supportive and loving community in Grand Rapids. It’s still my home in my heart.
Did you ever feel like you had a ‘eureka’ moment with regards to your own artistic style and voice, or has it just been more a case of slow and steady progress?
It’s been a pretty slow and steady process with small epiphanies throughout the progression. I honestly hate to think that I have a style right now, I mean, I hope to be making art for decades to come and I want to feel that I have space to move and change and grow and not be beholden to any particular way of making. What I paint today is the way I like to work but that will continue to morph and I’m thankful for that. If you could have seen my work 5 years ago, you might not recognize it as mine and the same thing might be true in 5 more years; who knows? But I think the fact that I progress over time and not overnight is that people who know my work sort of get to go along for the ride too.
You currently live in Denver, Colorado. What is the art scene like there?
I miss Denver! I just moved to Nashville, TN and I can say the art scene here seems to be growing. And everyone is so nice! I feel like I have a little family already which is amazing. From what I can tell, there are many people who are involved and passionate about the art community here.
A children’s book that you were approached to illustrate has just been released. Please tell us a little about that.
Yes, this Spring I was approached by Salamandra to illustrate ‘A Princesinha’, the Portuguese Edition of ‘A Little Princess’, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Immediately I knew I wanted the job. Not only am I trying to make my way into the publishing/book world, but I have loved this story since I was a little girl. When I was in 7th grade, I did a book report (along with 3D Diorama) of this story and I have always loved the magic of it.
I owe a huge thank you to Isabela Jordani who invited me to work on this book, and worked so hard to iron out all the details. She put a huge amount of trust in me and gave me creative freedom to make the best work I could and I know it made all the difference. This was one of the most rewarding, challenging projects I’ve had and I feel like it’s just the beginning. I’m sold on storytelling and narrative illustrations. I finally feel like my work has a home. I’m getting sappy but I’m excited!
Storytelling and narrative are an important part of your creative process. In your opinion, what are some of the most important ingredients that go into making a successful visual narrative?
Most of my narratives are based off of real world experiences, real people, and everyday magic. It’s rare for me to just dream up a story that doesn’t have a grounding in my day to day life. If you just start asking and looking, it’s so easy to find inspiration everywhere. (Actually, I have yet to find it in a strip mall or a regular mall, or any shitty corporate store…there is little magic to be found there…) Once I take the little piece of inspiration, I start painting and by the time I’m done, most times, the story and the character have morphed so much that it doesn’t seem set in real life at all. Also, a large amount of my work isn’t narrative at all, but rather based off of questions I have about the world, our place in it, the bigger picture, and the reverence for our lives.
While we’re still on the topic of narrative, what were some of the earliest influences on stimulating your interest in visual story telling?
As far as influences go, I loved books as a child (and I still do). My favorite childhood book is Bony Legs written by Joanna Cole. As far as my experiences go as a young artist age 7 or so I remember never wanting to just draw a pattern or a shape or a portrait I wanted to draw something tangible, from life.
For example, I remember one Christmas I was drawing, and instead of just drawing a tree or some shapes, I wanted to draw the whole room, the fireplace with fire, the tree lit up, and a man with a beard in a chair smoking his pipe (which now I suppose was my dad). My mom had to help me draw the beard, but I remember the whole story and feeling of the drawing being important rather than the decorative element. I also remember doing an Easter drawing, and instead of just drawing eggs, I drew all of us kids looking for eggs, my baby sister wearing the little bottom button up pajamas that you see in cartoons (but never see in real life?) and my dad is again, smoking a pipe and holding a video camera true to life. I’ve always just had an immense love for details and real life. Now, my work has transcended real life, but like I said, it still has strong grounds in reality.
Your work is most often centred on female protagonists. Would you say there’s an autobiographical slant to your subject matter? Talk to us a little about the themes that are currently the driving force behind your personal work?
I think the work I have been doing lately is definitely autobiographical. Most of the paintings as of late stem from questions I have about life. There are infinite unanswerable questions which sometimes are unbearable and overwhelming, and at other times, magical and astounding. I suppose my paintings are just ways for me to explore the questions that can’t be answered. I would like to take a step away though and focus more on non-figurative work, perhaps work that still explores and questions, without having ‘me’ in the forefront. I used to paint old men and really tired looking people and kids, and somehow this female figure emerged…but I don’t want to be an artist who only paints women. When I hear someone reference one of ‘my ladies’ you know, ‘one of your girls’ it makes me shudder a bit inside.
Nature and the animal kingdom, appear to be big sources of inspiration. What are some of the earliest memories you have, which contributed to forming the foundation of your life long passion for, and interest in nature?
My family didn’t spend a lot of time in nature sadly when I was a kid, except for playing outside in our yard. I suppose nature is all around you any time and so like any kid, I gave dead birds funerals and made them tombstones. I played with worms. I’ve loved animals my whole life and always secretly felt like I had some mysterious mind reading capabilities when I looked into their eyes. I am a pretty calm and warm person generally, so animals always seemed to warm up to me. Once I moved out after high school, I really started exploring, and I remember the first time I saw the mountains in Big Sur, I cried. I’m so thankful to have lived in Arizona and Colorado, and I’ve gotten to explore so much more in the world of natural things than I ever did as a kid. That’s probably why it’s relevant in my work now. And being in nature makes you ask those big questions so it sort of comes around full circle.
This question could apply to both your personal and your illustration work. Do you ever feel under any pressure to keep working in the style that you are known for?
Yes. When someone even mentions my ‘style’, I gag a little. And I get that question often, from new illustrators, “How do you find your style?” It’s the saddest question. Make work you like making. It’s as simple as that. If you force a style, it will be like a facade. But now that I suppose I do have some sort of style that I like working in for the immediate moment, it is hard to feel like I can’t just jump off the bandwagon. I am actually taking a break later this month, a self imposed home sabbatical if you will, and I am going to try abstract painting for the first time in my existence. I don’t think settling into a way of working is necessarily detrimental. I know we all like to categorize artists into their ‘thing’, but I feel so young and new in my career that it’s a little stifling to feel the expectation of others. It can feel impossible to grow. I will tell you the most fun I had in making was in college when no one was watching and I didn’t have to support myself with my art. I did whatever I wanted and I am trying to get back to that mindset.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
This may be hard to compile into one small paragraph, and I probably have many years before I can best sort my thoughts on the subject matter, but I have always felt torn between two worlds, and I think that keeps me humble, but it also keeps me hungry and reaching. I come from a family with four children and my parents were really struggling throughout our young lives. As I look back now, it was really all they could do to keep us fed and warm and happy. They didn’t go to college, get their dream careers, or travel. In school, I had some incredible teachers that helped me along the way, helped me get signed up for college, and in college, my passion and drive just flourished. I graduated with a huge amount of ambition, not for money, but for growth. I wanted to sustain a viable career that would keep me growing and reaching, and one that would support a life of learning and traveling. So in some ways, I feel very split between the world I grew up in and the current world of art that I find myself trying to navigate these days.
What is your relationship with art history? Do you feel it is important for artists to have a knowledge and understanding of what has gone before them?
I do feel like it’s important to have a grasp on art history. I do look forward to further research which can hopefully bring to surface artists that aren’t as well known. Five hundred years from now, I’m not sure which contemporary artists will be defining our time, but I know there are many artists, myself included that will get swept up in it all. I’d like to learn more about the artists on the sidelines, who were part of communities not represented in their time. Female artists, and artists from lower means.
If you could own one piece of art from the world’s collections, what would it be and why?
If I could own one piece of work, it’d probably be something by Miró. I’ve loved his work since high school and it’s playfulness is captivating.
What’s next for Rebecca Green?
Books. Writing and Illustrating. Cooking (my current obsession). Maybe Illustrated Recipes. Greeting Card Line. New Prints. Abstract Paintings. Designing fabric. Murals. I want to do everything so we’ll see what I am actually capable of.