North Carolina enjoys a vibrant community of makers, artisans, craftsmen, and artists. At the Our State Store, we travel the state hunting for local artisans who create special, handcrafted goods, and we're giving you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creators of some of our most popular products. Sit a spell with us as we introduce you to some of our favorite North Carolina makers. This spring, we caught up with Rhianna Wurman of Ello Lovey in Asheville.
Our State Store fans will be familiar with the bright and cheery illustrations of Rhianna Wurman, owner and illustrator of Ello Lovey. Her colorful scenes adorn many of the items available in our store, including home decor and puzzles. Inspired by North Carolina’s diverse scenery, her bold illustrations capture scenes and symbols from around the state with an immediate sense of joy and gaiety. Rhianna moved to Asheville in 2013 from Texas, where she attended college. We spoke with her to learn more about her life here in North Carolina, her process, and her creations.
Tell us about yourself and your background. Where are you from?
I'm a freelance illustrator and designer with my own print and paper goods company called Ello Lovey. I create illustrated prints and cards with an emphasis on everyday optimism and adventure. I'm originally from the big city of Dallas, Texas, but moved to Asheville with my husband in 2013. Starting as early as kindergarten, I have enjoyed crafting things by hand. School art projects are where I always felt I could express myself in a way I was proud of. In college, I studied fashion and graphic design.
How did you get started as an illustrator?
I studied fashion design my first year of college but began to question whether I was headed in the direction I wanted for myself. One of my professors suggested that I might find graphic design more enjoyable. I enrolled in a graphic design course the next semester and immediately fell in love with illustrating and print design. In school, we played with traditional mediums like cut paper illustrations, ink drawings, and block printing as well as digital mediums like Photoshop and Illustrator. One of my favorite projects was creating a pop-up book from scratch; my book was about a pirate finding treasure. We created everything from the story and illustrations to the pull-out tabs and 3-D pages. I finished with my degree in Visual Communications and took a full time job as a production artist at a label printing company. I began to create personal work on the side and slowly realized that I was creating a brand for myself.
Around this time, my dad asked me to make a card for my grandmother’s birthday and that turned into the first greeting card available in my shop. With a ton of hard work and research, I left the corporate world and opened my Etsy shop in 2011, selling art prints and cards. I began to sell my wares at arts and craft shows and began to expand my brand. Now, I work full time as a freelance illustrator and online shop owner.
You currently reside in Asheville. What inspires you about where you live?
My husband and I moved to Asheville to pursue a creative lifestyle surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. Asheville is such a breath of fresh air coming from a big city like Dallas. The proximity to gorgeous hiking trails, waterfalls, and mountain views make it an ideal source of inspiration for a nature lover like myself. There's a certain creative energy you feel being surrounded by a diverse group of talented creators and makers. We constantly inspire and support one another here in Asheville. There is such a sense of community here, which I find irreplaceable.
Tell us about how you run your business.
For my shop, Ello Lovey, I do everything from illustrating to printing, packaging, product photography, marketing and business management. Throughout the year, I sell my paper goods at craft shows, pop-up shops and local stores as well as through my Etsy shop. I also do freelance illustration for greeting cards, clothing, retail products and magazine articles. I really enjoy illustrating products for the Our State Store because I get to share my love for – and discover new things about – my new home state.
Your studio is your home base. What do you love about it?
My workspace is actually an extra bedroom in our home that we converted into a studio. It has plenty of natural light and overlooks a raised bed garden where I grow strawberries and herbs. It's a small space in our home but it suits my needs quite nicely. My husband, who is also an artist and woodworker, built a few work tables for me of varying heights as well as shelving for books and supplies. The walls of my studio are covered in colorful prints from artist friends, cards from loved ones and vintage knickknacks. One of my favorite things in my studio is a mid-1800s work table from France that my husband and I bought each other for Christmas one year. Every order I send out is packaged on that table.
What themes do you commonly use in your work? Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
One major theme in my work is hand lettering. I have always loved playing around with typography, and I put that to use with motivational quotes and greeting card messages. Moving to the mountains where I'm surrounded by nature has been very influential to my work. Many of my illustrations include themes of nature, animals and space. I draw inspiration from the woodland scenery that surrounds our home and city. My husband and I love going hiking, and sometimes we take our sketchbooks along with us to gather ideas from elements of nature. I also go to the gardens and conservatory at the Biltmore Estate to be inspired. The colorful, exotic plants and flowers spark so many ideas. I also find inspiration in the night sky. I'm always in awe of its beauty. The moon and stars always find their way into my work.
Walk us through a typical day for you.
Every day is a little different with running my online shop as well as freelancing. My usual routine starts with yoga or some form of physical activity to get my creative juices flowing. After coffee and breakfast, I check my social media, emails, and print and ship any orders I need to send out for the day. If I have a freelance project I'm working on, I typically sketch or am on the computer all day. I take breaks by walking outside to see what piece of furniture my husband is building or going on a dog walk with my neighbors. If I have more free time, I draw ideas in my sketchbook for future pieces. Around 6 in the evening, I start winding down, and my husband and I make dinner together. I try to save a little time on the weekend to do something creative or do something adventurous outdoors.
You’ve been hosting an online drawing challenge online for six years. How does that affect your process?
A lot of my illustrations start with a drawing prompt from a daily drawing challenge I started in 2012 that I host on Instagram called #DoodleaDay. I got the idea after lots of daily photo challenges began popping up on Instagram. Instead of taking photos, I would draw the day's prompt with a few other people. I decided to make my own challenge focusing on doodling and using different drawing prompts each day because I enjoyed it so much. People have responded in such a positive way to the challenges. I've had many people tell me how much the challenges have helped them reconnect with drawing and creativity in general, which is very special to me.
I create and post the challenge list at the beginning of every month and invite everyone to doodle each day to a different word. #DoodleaDay clears out the creative cobwebs and keeps me honing my craft. I either doodle something in my sketchbook or directly on my iPad using the Procreate app, which is easily my favorite app for translating my ideas into a digital format. Next, I scan in my sketchbook drawing or transfer my digital drawing to my computer where I can digitally edit them, adding texture and changing colors in Illustrator and Photoshop.
What are your most essential tools?
My number one tool is my computer. I use Illustrator and Photoshop on a daily basis to make my designs digital and bring them to life. My sketchbooks are also essential. I have a small one that I can tote on hikes and travels, and I have a larger one that is for mixed media which easily transitions from pencil, pen, and ink to watercolor or gouache paints. I can doodle in my sketchbook and gather ideas, or I can create a finished piece. I am in love with brush pens from Tombow as well as Micron pens and Copic markers. Sometimes I even sketch with them. Gouache is one of my favorite paints to use for its flexibility in transparency. My iPad is another essential tool to my creativity. I draw directly onto it with my stylus. I love the flexibility of digital drawing because you can change things so easily.
What hobbies do you have? What keeps you feeling creative?
I love hiking, camping, stargazing, cooking, gardening and playing the ukulele. My husband knew I always wanted a ukulele so he surprised me with one last summer, and I've been hooked ever since. You can't help but be in a good mood when you're playing such a happy little instrument. When I get in a creative rut, I turn to my daily doodle challenge list. It causes me to think outside of the box and to be inspired by the talented community of artists also partaking in the challenge. It's such an encouraging and supportive community. I also know it's time to step away from the studio and take a break or go on a day adventure when ideas aren't flowing so easily. Just being outdoors and experiencing new things fills me with creativity.
What advice would you give to yourself of 5 years ago?
Learn when to say no! At times, I've taken on more projects than I can chew, and it negatively affects my productivity and overall well-being. I've slowly learned that I can't do all things and do them well. I can, however, do a few things and do them even better. I think I also would have told myself that it's okay to take breaks. It actually makes me more productive because it gives me a chance to re-energize and refresh.
Do you have a favorite drawing? What makes it your favorite?
My favorite piece is an earlier piece of mine, the Mother Teresa quote, "Do Small Things With Great Love." It's really a simple drawing of a mountain landscape, but I love the simplicity and the message.
Give an example of a memorable reaction to your work.
Participating in art shows gives me a chance to receive immediate feedback on my work. Someone might not always verbalize a response, but I can always see it in their facial expression. It always makes my world when I see someone smile or say, "I needed to hear that today."
You can shop our exclusive collection of Ello Lovey designs, including our bestselling Icons Jigsaw Puzzle and our new Springtime Garden Flag, here at the Our State Store. Check out Ello Lovey's full line on her WEBSITE and follow her on INSTAGRAM to add some whimsy to your day.
Images courtesy of Ello Lovey and Our State Store.