I've decided to start highlighting some artists I love, especially since I know quite a few, and really admire their talent and success. I'm going to start with my friend Michelle Christensen. I actually only just met her this past summer at a belly dancing workshop (ha!) but we have a ton of mutual friends from college and after talking for a bit we were both very surprised we hadn't met sooner and were both bummed both of us were moving to different parts of the world very shortly. She's based in London now, but was working out of her studio in Salt Lake City before- and even had some of her products picked up by Anthropologie!
I really love Michelle's knack for simplicity and nice clean lines that still exude so much personality and feeling. The nonchalant faces she paints on everything are so cute and perfectly simple, and yet I feel like they say so much. She creates a great subtle form of expression, which is not always easy to do. She has made a lot of housewares in the past that I'd love to get my hands on, and is now branching out into fashion accessories as well. I love how her style is a little bit classic, a little bit cartoony, a little bit creepy, and a lot a bit cute. Totally right up my alley. Got a collaboration coming up too, so- stay tuned!
I asked Michelle some questions so we can all get to know her and her art a little better:
1.) What is your art background?
I have been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil (how many artists have used that line!?) But really, it's true. I always hated school, but loved my Art and English classes. I wrote and drew constantly, and even began the IB Art program early in High School because I wanted to begin learning what the older kids were learning. I got the best grades in the classes I loved. So it carried on into college, where I received my BFA in Illustration. During and after school I apprenticed and interned with several well-known artists. I took every opportunity I could to further my skill and expertise.
2.) How did your childhood/ upbringing affect your art and style?
I grew up in China until I graduated High School. China is a place I will always consider home. Even when I walk by a Chinese shop, restaurant, acupuncturist, or even catch some Mandarin on the tube or just in passing.. I instantly feel a warmth. China is a place, oddly enough, I feel I can be myself. I feel a lot of pressures in the USA sometimes. We base a lot on superficiality, which I know isn't just a pressure there. It's worldwide. But I suppose, as a foreigner in a different country, you can get away from feeling your own societal pressures.. and I like that freedom. People let a lot of things go because, you're a "Wàiguó rén" (foreigner) in China.
My influences as a child were from Beijing, South Africa, Hong Kong, France. Laos. A lot from Southeast Asia..Every single place I have ever lived or visited has had an effect on me and my artwork and expression in some way. Those dreary dark and foggy winters in Beijing, with the coal smell in the air, and hints of cigarette smoke.. I am an incredible nostalgic. I live for the days that have passed.
I was 7 years old. I had a really hard time around that age. I began spending a lot of time alone, and my parents became worried and sent me to the school counselor. I began getting a lot of anxiety and had really serious questions about life. I met an illustrator who came to my school, and I knew I would become an illustrator when I grew up. I finally felt I had a purpose after I met her. I felt my talent in art was what made me special. It was also what made me feel the most worth. Creating was what made me the most happy. And still does.
4.) What are your biggest influences or inspirations?
My parents first of all. They couldn't have been the more perfect people to raise me. Understanding, artistic, musical, kind, generous, and faithful. They let me dream, and be who I was. I was taken to lots of museums as a child. I gleaned a lot of inspiration from Van Gogh, Monet, Singer-Sargent, Rodin. Lots of the classic artists were who I wanted to be like.
5.) How long did it take you to develop your particular style? Did you go through different phases?
,br> As a kid I drew tons of people's faces. And taught myself how to draw things I couldn't naturally draw from my head. I was better at drawing girls, than guys.. I thought girls were more fun to draw. I now love to draw both.. especially men with beards or amazing hair or spectacles, or weird lurpy bodies. When I lived in Hong Kong during Middle School, my friend Yaya was really good at drawing horses.. I was horrible at drawing them...I remember taking her drawings, and copying them over and over until I could draw a proper horse. She still does art today and is still amazing. (look her up! http://parisariane.tumblr.com/)
I had a foundation in classical representational art through college and apprenticing. I learned how to draw the figure well, and went from there. I still love to draw people the very most, and keeping a look out for interesting faces or clothing combinations are the most surprising and neat to me.
6.) What gave you the idea to branch out into housewares, etc?
I have always had an eye for design, and in China, you can get stuff made so easily-- I always felt creating something from an idea was easy. So creating illustrations and putting them on things, seemed like a fun way to portray some of my art and make it utilitarian as well. I have had lots of different "lines" of items. In college I sold things in boutiques and at markets around campus. I made cards, and jewellery mostly. My work is always evolving, and my items will evolve as well-- I am starting to shift out of housewares, and more into accessories and fine art/painting miniatures.
7.) What are some of your favorite pieces you've done and why?
My favorite drawings are the ones that have been created out of spontaneity, or worked on for hours, days, or years. I also love the creations I've done that I myself, want to wear or display. The best painting I ever did was a portrait of a Chinese woman I met in New York named Mona. I sold it to a lawyer just last year, after holding onto it for at least a few years after it was finished. I put it into two shows and loved it like it was a part of me. This lawyer had been eye-ing it for a while, and at the second show I had it for sale. He said, "You are parting with this one?" And I said, "It's the best I've ever done. If I don't, I will never be able to do anything better." I think if we hoard things that we love too much, you can't progress.
8.) What are your goals?
To be authentic always, and try and progress with my art without fear. People can tell when you are trying too hard, or when something isn't organic, so I go through waves of knowing what I should create, or do, or say... especially in social media.. I feel like everything has to be authentic, and if that isn't happening, you will lose people's interest or see through you. I want to always be true to myself, while also being careful with my audience and customers. But sometimes you do things that might be true to you, and others won't like it or understand. And I'm trying to be okay with that. So I might lose some followers over it! Get over it!
9.) How do you like to spend your free time/ what are your other hobbies?
I sketch. I do yoga, I bike a lot, walk a lot. I go shopping.. but mostly it's to look at things. That's how I get ideas for items. I love books, I love history. I spend time with my husband a lot. I love being with him. He is my closest friend. He keeps things real. I dated a lot of people before I knew he was the one I wanted in my life. People are so interesting, with their ulterior motives... selfishness... unkindness, baggage or experiences from childhood or just adult life that they hang onto. He has his own experiences, but is the most forgiving and guileless person I know. It's so important to find someone kind and willing to be unselfish. He is also a calmness to my "artistic temperament".
I write in journals a lot too. I have done that ever since I was small.
Please check out her website and etsy shop for more of her work and products!