We had the good fortune of connecting with Elle Powell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elle, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
This is a question I’ve thought about a lot. My answer is this: if you have done the work to be sure you want to do something, and it has persistently motivated you over an extended period of time, do not give up on it. In my experience, even if you do “give up on it”, the dream will continue to chase you, and you’ll end up doing it eventually anyway. There have been at least three times in my life where I’ve “given up” on being a freelance artist, and yet here I am, a full-time, self-employed professional illustrator. I really believe that if you know what you want to do, you’re good at it and enjoy doing it, you may as well dive in and not give up until you’ve achieved your dream. Maybe that dream or goal will shift along the way, but if it’s truly in alignment with who you are and what you want (and it doesn’t harm anyone else, of course!), you should keep going. It will absolutely be hard and you may convince yourself it would be easier to give up, but giving up on yourself isn’t easier and it won’t be better. Unless something truly feels wrong or out of alignment, keep going. Because living a life that you do not want is just as hard as making your dreams a reality. I really like the advice: “when the going gets tough, learn to rest, not to quit”. A lot of us think in very all-or-nothing terms, but we don’t need to. If we’re going through a hard time, or a dry spell in our business (or any other sphere of life), that doesn’t mean we should give up on it. The only constant in life is change, so if things aren’t looking up at the moment, there’s a high chance good things are on the way.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I specialize in mixed media fashion, travel and lifestyle illustration. For me, illustration is a way to explore, understand, and imagine how our world is and how our world could be. It’s a way to both feel and share the range of human emotions and experiences. I took a roundabout journey to get to where I am today, but this love of illustration has been rooted in me since I can remember. The journey wasn’t so easy; I didn’t even know this was a possible career until I had already graduated from college and started my first job at a nonprofit organization. Even though I had adored Communication Arts’ Illustration Annual since I was 15, it still took me a long time to understand that I could pursue my love of illustration professionally. I slowly came to realize (through research online) that lots of people were doing just that, and I set out to do so too. I started working multiple part time jobs, the most formational of which was with a local stationery designer. At this job, I learned what running a small, creative studio involved, and I officially launched my business while working three part time jobs. It was a hugely educational period, but it was hard to find time for both the creative and admin sides of my business. I reached a point where I craved focusing, learning and growing even more, and it became clear that a graduate MFA program would be the best fit. I applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design in July, 2016 and began classes that September. It was such a challenging, fun, fulfilling, life-changing, incredible experience that I’ll forever be grateful for, and it’s really where everything changed for me. My grad school experience is one of the things I’m proudest of, as well as illustrating live at New York Fashion Week. Because I typically work alone at home, illustrating live in front of lots of people was very scary at first. I’ve learned too many lessons along the way to condense into this response, but my main — cheesy but true — advice for now is: challenge yourself, don’t give up, take care of yourself, and stay true to the best version of yourself.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Covid-19 aside, I’d recommend eating and drinking on Broadway, going to the Denver Art Museum, exploring murals in RiNo, eating at Uncle and Barolo Grill, and maybe doing a picnic in Wash Park with lunch from Pho Haus on Alameda. I also enjoy the Clyfford Still Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, especially their minerals collection. I’m a big fan of books and wine, so perusing Tattered Cover then grabbing a drink at Terminal Bar is a great outing too! If someone has a week in Denver and enjoys hiking, they should definitely make a trip to Red Rocks and up to the mountains for a day hike too. Chief Mountain and Roxborough Park are fun, easy and nearby.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am grateful for so many people and things, this question could easily lead to a 100 page essay. But I’ll keep it brief. My family deserves a giant, roaring shoutout. In addition to bankrolling art supplies while I grew up, my family was so enthusiastic whenever I got a piece into the permanent collection at school or wanted to take another art class. Even though we didn’t have any professional designers or illustrators in the family, art was always valued and appreciated. If I didn’t have that in my upbringing, who knows where I’d be today. Throughout the years my family members have come to more art shows than I can count, and my sister in particular has wonderful reactions whenever she sees my newest work. I also have an incredibly supportive financé who understands and appreciates my creative path immensely.