DREAM CAREER segment on The Marilyn Denis Show. Michelle pursued her dream career as an artist and illustrator just over a year ago. She tells Marilyn her story and gets a makeover for her new career.
5 CANADIAN ILLUSTRATORS THAT ARE ON OUR RADAR!
#5 @MICHELLEVELLART DVF discovered Toronto-based Michelle Vella on Insta when Vella drew some fan art of the designer. (See her interpretation of Iris Apfel on page 26.)
Honoured to be selected as one of ELLE CANADA's TOP 5 CDN ILLUSTRATORS ON THEIR RADAR. I am so flattered to be mentioned with fellow illustrators @blairz @unskilledworker @drawbertson @travelwritedraw whose work on instagram inspired me in developing my own individual BIGEYE style when I started this journey in 2015.
ELLE CANADA JANUARY 2017
I was honoured to have my portrait of IRIS APFEL as the cover image for ELLE CANADA's interview with Iris Apfel by Liz Guber.
Michelle: “I never felt I was taking a risk with my style as I was just being true to myself in what I painted. I found my own voice and I am grateful that people enjoy my style.”
Sian: You have been a part of the upward trend of figurative art. Do you feel like you were taking a risk using this style of painting? What inspired you to adopt this particular style?
Michelle: I never felt like I was taking a risk with my style as I was just being true to myself in what I painted. I found my own voice and I am grateful that people enjoy my style. I never knew that figurative art was on trend until recent, how fortunate for me.
Sian: I was attracted to those signature “big eyes” in your work. Can you please explain the significance behind this trait?
Michelle: I started with fashion gesture drawings and posting to Instagram less than two years ago. I started to take notice of fashion illustrators on Instagram and was influenced by their styles but determined to find my own signature style. My full figurative drawings evolved to portraits using acrylic paint and by the summer of 2015, my “Big Eyes” style came to life right before my eyes.
Sian: You have had the opportunity to work with a large celebrity client base. You were recently commissioned by Diane von Furstenberg to paint her portrait. How did this opportunity come about? What was working with Diane like?
Michelle: I have been very fortunate and owe so much of my success to Instagram. I started drawing/painting celebrity portraits and began posting to Instagram hoping that they would take notice, share and tag me. Last June 2015, I posted my portrait drawing and painting of Diane and as I was having coffee with my sister Marjorie, my phone lit up with “DVF is now following you” on Instagram and Twitter, then commenting “I love this, I want to buy it”, “I want this for my collection”. Well needless to say I almost fell off my chair. I was able to follow up through email and she replied immediately saying she wants to meet me and asked that I bring my portfolio. Since I was going to NYFW in September with W Magazine I was able to deliver the portrait to Diane in person. I waited in the lobby of the DVF headquarters, surrounded by portraits of Diane painted by artists like Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente and more. It was such an honour that my portrait of Diane would be amongst such famed artists. When we met she embraced me and was so kind, full of compliments about my work. We took photos in her office of us with the portrait in her office and then she introduced me to the DVF team parading my portrait around. Diane even gave me one of her Secret Agent handbags and invited me to her fashion show. A few weeks later, I was featured on the DVF.com blog and Instagram.
Sian: Your recent “Eyes of Desire” exhibition includes fashion icons and even a portrait of Penelope Cruz. What sparked inspiration for this collection?
Michelle: My figurative painting series were inspired by Artist Alex Katz who once said “ I am painting the society in which I live.” So I did just that in my first series called “Lake Life” was inspired by lifestyle at the cottage (lake house) and for me, I was painting my time in Muskoka. The “Eyes of Desire” series started out as “social lifestyle”, depicting social scenarios which soon evolved into the glances of desire between men and women. Fashion is definitely an influence and enjoy that I can incorporate it into my series as it is part of the society in which I live.
Sian: What message would you like to communicate through your work?
Michelle: When you look at my paintings I want the viewer to relate to it in their own way, create their own storyline and enjoy it for what it is to them. Two of the paintings “Eyes Inspired” and “Eyes on Fashion” are self-portraits and tell a bit more about me as I painted artists and fashion icons that have inspired me. I am not wearing shoes in either painting showing my respect. The eyes tell a lot and I enjoy hearing the different interpretations, there are no wrong answers.
Sian: You are currently working on an exciting fashion collaboration with an Italian designer. Do you enjoy the collaboration process?
Michelle: I am very excited about my current collaboration, it’s been so much fun and I can’t wait to tell you more when we launch in a few weeks. This collaboration started over a year ago and seemed impossible as we met on Instagram, I live in Toronto, Canada, she in Sydney, Australia while the product is designed and made in Italy. We have become great friends and even got to meet in Italy this past summer to work on our collaboration.
Sian: What’s next for you? Do you have any projects or shows you are looking forward to in the next year?
Michelle: Currently, I am painting a series called “Hats Squared2″, There are twelve 12″ x 12” (acrylic on canvas) in each series, they are close-up portraits of women and men wearing hats named after the months of the year. My next twelve will be “Eyes Squared2” where eyewear will be the focus. You can have 3 or 4 hanging on your wall, or just one. It’s so fun and affordable. They will be available for purchase on my website michellevella.com
Muskoka’s Brush with
Fame & Fashion
Fashion Artist & Instagram Star Michelle Vella Captures Supermodels, Design Icons, and Contemporary Lake Life in Muskoka
By: Lori Knowles
Interested in purchasing a Lake Life series or a custom Lake Life commission, please send us an email
After her year of jetset travel, supermodels, and emerging Instagram fame, Vella is looking forward to Summer 2016 in Muskoka. Inspired by dock life at her friends’ Lake Jo cottage, the artist has launched a Lake Life series — arresting paintings rendered in bright reds, blues, greens and oranges. The Lake Life series depicts Vella’s idea of Muskoka’s social gatherings—dock parties, socializing under the sun, cruises in classic boats.
Painting on the dock
“The draw to Muskoka is my friends and being by the water,” Vella explains. “In my paintings I want to interpret the social aspects of Muskoka: friends and family together, enjoying lake life, sitting on the dock, regatta games, boating, golf, and the Muskoka social life.”
Vella considers this new series an addition to the niche, high-fashion caricatures she’s quickly become known for. Inspired by the work of Alex Katz — an abstract impressionist the Smithsonian once called a “pathtaking painter” — Vella will spend Summer 2016 mixing her big-eyed portraits with colourful landscapes that include birds, loons, lakes, islands, and inlets.
© All Rights Reserved. Copyright Lori Knowles, MuskokaStyle.com
What a thrill to be personally invited to the DVF fashion show by Diane herself. This was my first major fashion show ever and being that it was a NYFW show couldn't get any better.
I arrive and as I get out of my cab, there are photographers everywhere taking photos of everyone crossing the street, I felt like a celebrity and had to laugh at myself. There was a crowd at the entrance and it started to rain. Luckily for me on of DVF's girls came out and pointed at a few of us to come in and whisked us in the elevator to the 6th floor of SPRING STUDIOS.
There I saw groups of photographers and journalists huddled around different celebrities taking their pictures and interviewing them. To my surprise I was seated a few rows behind Kate Upton, Malin Ackerman, Karolina Kurkov, Hailey Clauson, Nicki Hilton and even The Weekend whose music played during the show. It was thrilling but then the show started and wow. Karlie Kloss opens the show and behind her is Lineisy Montero, so excited for her, then Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner to name a few. It was a lot faster than I imagined, but it was 15 minutes of high energy, beauty and fashion. Seeing Diane von Furstenberg walk out to greet her friends and fans with such grace and confidence was inspiring. She is such a positive energy.
After the show I took the back stairs exit and found myself in the back alley where Diane was leaving and the models getting to their cars. To my surprise Karlie Kloss came around the corner and said “I love your bag”, so fun considering she is the face of the DVF Secret Agent bag. Then Lineisy Montero ran passed me as she was being rushed to her next show, but as soon as she knew it was me she stopped to dig her phone out of her bag to get a selfie of the two of us. I couldn't have been more flattered.
I didn't want this day to end. I am so grateful to Diane for inviting me into her world of fashion for the afternoon. Thank you.
IN CONVERSATION: FASHION ILLUSTRATOR MICHELLE VELLA
October 02, 2015
When did you start making portraits?
I started playing with painting portraits at the end of February; actually Diane was my subject very early on but it wasn’t until this year that I started to discover my personal trademark style. As an artist you need to be your true self and not a recreation of another artist’s style. I worked hard at this, going back and forth with techniques, mediums and styles and eventually it just happened. I was inspired by the portrait work of Francesco Clemente, and fell in love with how he depicted people with such big eyes. Now, fast forward to the moment I am waiting to meet with Diane von Furstenberg and sitting beneath a portrait of her by Francesco himself—I had to pinch myself.
Fashion illustration and portraiture have returned to prominence in the past few years. What do you think accounts for this rise, and what has it meant for your work?
Being so new in this industry, I can’t pretend to know why the rise in popularity of fashion illustration but from personal experience, I attribute it to the power of Instagram. It’s an amazing tool where a totally unknown Toronto artist like myself can find herself live illustrating for W Magazine at New York Fashion Week and meeting Diane von Furstenberg. By painting portraits of people in fashion you are able to get their attention and the attention of their followers.
In January of this year, I was inspired by posting on Instagram at @michellevellart and quickly became obsessed with drawing and posting my work on Instagram everyday. This is how Diane discovered me and started following me. She simply said that she wanted my portrait for her collection; you can imagine my excitement.
Tell us a bit about your technique, and what makes your work distinctive.
My distinctive style, “high art caricature,” is instantly recognizable for the big eyes brushed with long eye lashes extending well beyond the frame of the face. I start with a line drawing in marker, then paint over it with acrylic paint. I usually paint on paper but also paint on canvas and other surfaces including leather and fabrics.
What inspired you to paint Diane?
A friend suggested I read Diane’s book as well as paint her, so I did both. I looked through many photos of her and decided on this portrait. To me it said that she is the woman she wanted to be and empowered me to be just that for myself. I felt empowered as I could connect with Diane’s independent nature while being inspired by her honesty, energy, and love of life.
I was a portrait photographer turned graphic designer for the past 15 years, so finding a new creative outlet as a fashion illustrator and artist at 50 has been life changing.
In July of this year, I posted a portrait of Diane von Furstenberg on my Instagram and to my surprise, Diane saw it, started following me and asked for the portrait as part of her collection. With that we arranged to meet while I was in New York for Fashion Week with W Magazine and I personally delivered the portrait to her.
Diane was as wonderful as I imagined. Embracing me with a hug and taking a close look at my portrait and my portfolio. She presented a gift to me which turned out to be her wonderful DVF Secret Agent bag, I couldn't believe it. She then took my hand to get photos of the two of us in her office which was spectacularly decorated with hot pink walls and fabulous art. At this point Diane turned to me and asked if I was coming to her show... well you can imagine my answer.
She introduced me to her marketing team and social media director who followed up with featuring me on their WORLD OF DVF blog (see my next blog post for details).
Her assistant that has been with her for many years was so kind as was everyone that I met at DVF.
What an incredible day, I couldn't be more grateful.
Thank you Diane.
Michelle Vella Live illustrates the IT GIRLS of W magazine at their NYFW IT GIRL luncheon.