Artist Interview - Elliott Grinnell
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Elliott Grinnell, and I’m a freelance illustrator!
Why do you do what you do?
I’ve always had such a strong connection to creating stories and narratives through drawings. Getting to make up fantasy stories and draw anything magical just makes me excited- and I’m passionate about making the kinds of stories I needed when I was a little kid. Fun, inclusive fantasy with gripping stories and adventure.
You use so many vibrant colors, do you have any that you favor?
I used to really struggle with color, so it means a lot that people actually like my colors now!! I love working from a fun color palette- mint greens, deep burgundy, and different types of pinks and peaches are some of my favorites- but I love pushing myself to do a full illustration in a color scheme I haven’t tried yet! Like grabbing purples and making myself try something new!
What inspires your art?
I think every artist has a little bit of where they’ve grown up and spent the most time in their art. I’m so inspired by seaside towns and harbors, secret pathways, 80’s fantasies like Labyrinth and Dark Crystal, Return to Oz. And honestly, I love ghost stories and paranormal investigation shows, even if they get corny sometimes. My art goes between cute and cozy to a little bit spooky- which is how I like it, honestly!
How and when did you get into art?
I hate the cliche of ‘since I was just a tiny kid’ but that’s honestly the truth! I’d hang out at my mom’s work and be given printer paper and I’d go to town, drawing crocodiles and cats and my mom’s friends. I carried around sketchbooks and made my own storybooks. When I was in 3rd and 4th grade, I’d even write my own sequels to things like Harry Potter. I think I started taking art more seriously as a career path in high school. I found out about AP Art, about art colleges, and realized I could actually go to school for art and make it more than just a passion.
How has your practice changed over time?
I’ve come a long way and I’m always trying to improve. Looking back at my work from college, it’s amazing to see how things have progressed. I’ve built up a great portfolio and started working with a range of amazing clientele, and now I also run a small online shop with prints and stickers. I figured out that I wanted to continue creating stories and helping others create theirs, so now I’m looking into kidlit publishing and middlegrade and young adult fiction!
What’s your favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Why?
This is difficult, as there are a few pieces that I’m really excited by. My sunflowers piece is probably my favorite that I’ve done, however. As a queer illustrator, creating work that speaks to the community I’m in, but still has a soft and sweet mood and is created for all audiences, with the level of detail I put into it… I’m honestly so proud of it.
What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?
“Kill your darlings” has always been one I remember. I try not to get too attached to work when it’s not done yet- sometimes I have to draw over it, move things around, completely change the composition. Don’t get too stuck on one thing- look at the big picture. Zoom out, turn the canvas upside down. Look at it from all angles and make sure it reads.
What’s one art tip/technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?
This is for anyone who has trouble focusing like me. I set timers, all the time. For instance, I’ll give myself a half an hour to start a sketch for a new piece. That forces me to think about the shapes and composition- no details, since I’ve only got a limited time. When the timer’s up, I give myself maybe a 5 minute break, then set another timer, another half an hour, and start another project I need to work on. This makes it easier for me to focus on the task I need to do in the moment- and not get bogged down by all the little details in a piece. Save that stuff for later!
Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?
Sometimes cutting something out and throwing it on something new can work better than you think. Don’t be afraid to try mixed media. Glue paper on top of paper, or if it’s digital and you can’t figure out where to put something, try using textures, new shapes, decorative elements. Not everything needs to be a perfectly rendered illustration- and it’s also okay to start fresh if you have to!
What is your favorite Strathmore paper? Why?
I sketch primarily in marker and ink pens, so my favorite is a 400 Series Watercolor softcover art journal and I love all the toned sketch journals too. Working on toned always helps me visualize contrast better, so I always recommend it!
What art materials could you not live without?
I use Faber-Castell Pitt pens, the brush type, in shades of gray. I use them for all of my sketchings and it helps me so much. I’ll start with the lightest gray to figure out the composition and once I have a better feel of where everything is, I can use the darker grays. It’s also an easy way to keep yourself from having a mistake you can’t get rid of- you can always cover it with a darker gray!
What types of colors are you drawn to for your art and why?
I never thought I’d be someone who loves pinks and reds but they show up more often in my work than I expect! I love rich warm colors because I think they add such a nice depth to a piece, and I’ve been trying to play with fun color palettes too. But if you asked me what my favorite colors are- I love teal, burgundy, and mint green!
Who are your biggest influences (or who were when you started doing art)?
I look at so many amazing illustrators, authors, and creators who make such unique work. Mark Hoffmann is an astoundingly clever illustrator and seeing how he uses traditional AND digital always inspires me. Andy Kehoe is an illustrator whose work I’ve stared at countless times. Nick Cave is a sculptor and creator who makes wearable art that has always captivated me. And work by the Jim Henson Company and LAIKA, honestly! That kind of slightly creepy but beautiful surreal fantasy is right up my alley and has influenced me so much.
What’s the most common art-related question you get from your followers?
I get a lot of questions about my linework in my digital work! I love doing intricate lines and details with texture so I guess it makes sense! I normally start with chunky lines and then slowly reduce and chisel them out with an eraser, sort of like the reduction method with charcoal on a big piece of sketch paper!
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