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Meet Elle Powell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elle Powell.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Like most illustrators, I fell in love with drawing and painting as a little kid. It was by far my biggest passion and hobby, but I didn’t realize it was a viable career path until after I had graduated from college. I was working full time after graduation but gradually started painting more in the evenings. Because I worked at a small nonprofit and we all wore a lot of hats, I was able to get my foot in the door with graphic design. Plus, they embraced my illustration skills for things like silent auctions, invitations, and the like. 2015 is when the ball really got rolling. I realized I deeply wanted/needed a creative career, and I sold my first large painting in a gallery. I also got a second job at a local stationery and design company, which was one of the most fun and inspiring things to happen in my life.

That fall I officially registered my LLC, opened a business bank account, opened my own studio space in the Art District on Santa Fe, and began selling my work on Etsy. Those first stages of taking myself seriously and making money from my art were absolutely exhilarating! From there, I started booking more commissions (mostly from private individuals, but from some businesses as well).

After about a year of running my business while working 2-3 other part-time jobs, I decided to make another big commitment to my business and to myself. I went off to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, and after two very intense (but wonderful!) years, I received my MFA in illustration.

Since starting my business three and a half years ago, I’ve had the immense pleasure of illustrating live at NY and Paris Fashion Weeks, working with clients such as Nordstrom and Airbnb, and meeting countless incredible people. I’m so thrilled to be where I am today and consider myself exceedingly lucky to work with the great clients I do!

Has it been a smooth road?
Yes and no. It’s been smooth in that I’ve been so lucky to work with amazing clients from the beginning, and I’ve had many incredible opportunities. It’s also been smooth in that I’ve had the support of my friends and family. But starting your own small creative business is always going to have challenges, from learning about tax and copyright law to the income rollercoaster. One of the biggest struggles is how the work often comes in waves; I’ll be working on several commissions at once with no free time and not enough sleep, and then I’ll have a period where it’s just a few Etsy orders here and there. The lack of predictability is tough especially for those of us who value stability, but it’s also part of the fun – the day-to-day is always changing!

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I’m an independent freelancer, so it’s just me at my company (so far!). I specialize in portraiture, fashion, travel and lifestyle illustration. I love working in a range of media, but I typically mix watercolor and gouache with digital techniques. My graphic design projects range from event collateral for nonprofits to logo design for new businesses.

Overall I’m most proud of my risk-taking. It’s totally intimidating going to a portfolio review, opening an art studio, spending money on new equipment, and – most of all – putting your work out into the public view! Starting this business has been risk after risk, and sometimes it feels like taking blind leaps of faith off a cliff. Part of what makes me proud is that even if the risk doesn’t pay off in the form of new business, I’m able to learn from it and make a wiser decision in the future. I’m proud of staying optimistic and determined no matter what.

I seem to be pretty equally left and right-brained, which has practical benefits that I think set me apart from others in my field. I see this in prepping for a piece, for example, where I’ll do in-depth research and ensure the accuracy of all elements. I also see it in the hustle and in my business management; I take my work seriously and offer a high level of professionalism with my clients. I’m also deeply committed to my clients’ happiness and make every effort to understand their needs and desires for the given project. Within the work itself, I’m coming from a very optimistic place. I’m inspired by the real world around me and want to get others as jazzed about it as I am. I have so much fun creating this idealized reality and feel really happy when I create my work. I love that when someone buys one of my pieces, they get to take some of that positivity home!

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I’m extremely biased since I grew up in Denver and am utterly in love with it, but yes! I think Denver is a good place for illustrators and a great place for graphic designers. If you’re looking to work in-house, there are lots of graphic design jobs and creative agencies. If you’re looking to freelance as an illustrator, I still think New York offers the most work, but as long as you can book clients from afar, your physical location doesn’t matter as much.

I personally love the creative community in Denver and am so excited to see it growing. There are a plethora of individuals and businesses here that are deeply talented and motivated. Of course, the creative community here is smaller than some of the country’s other major cities, but it makes entering the creative world feel approachable and welcoming. It also means that you can be part of the growth, which is hugely exciting to me!

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