A bit about Michelle Vella

In her own words...

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

"As long as I can remember I liked to draw. Being creative is a part of me, it's like breathing, I can't live without it. I have been very fortunate to have made a living from being creative everyday having a graphic design business but it wasn't until recent that I decided that I want to be an artist. When I went to art school artists were always thought of as starving and I didn't want to starve. Funny how today so many artists are making a fine living from creating art demystifying the starving artist stigma.

Where does your style come from?

When I first watched the 1998 movie Great Expectations I fell in love with the artist style of Francesco Clemente. His portrayal of Gwenyth Paltrow's character Estella was engaging, her big eyes and obscure disproportions. It took years before I would actually start painting again and when I did I would avoid painting faces. Somehow his influence came through, almost an unconscious effort as my attention to big eyes and long lashes evolved. I love drawing hands and shoulders, the more disproportioned the better.

Why Fashion Illustration? 

I love fashion but I wasn't really into fashion, but now, I find myself knowing more designers and international top models by name, I call this "my brush with fashion" as it isn't something I saw myself doing. I think I am drawn to the faces of fashion. Personally I am into dressing in style but I don't actively keep up with the latest trends. I don't wear heals,rarely wear dresses, I wear a lot of black, love pink, love vintage, and my standard jewelry which consists of a Chrome Hearts cross and Bloodline dog tags on a long chain which completes my typical look. So I guess I am channeling my love for old Hollywood Glamor through my fashion illustrations. I love the silver screen beauties like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Faye Dunaway and Brigitte Bardot to mention a few. Their look inspired a lot of my work as it evolved, but today a great photo of a model with her hands close to her face is what I look for. Channeling the inner beauty. 

What do you wish for the world?

When I was a photographer I photographed inspiring woman and became so inspired by this project that in turn other woman were inspired by me... I was so surprised and it felt great. I want all woman to be strong and confident, to feel glamorous and beautiful, to be themselves and know that by being who they are is fabulous. Someone once told me "if you want to be something JUST BE IT" So I want all women to BE FABULOUS!  Being yourself with gratitude is the secret. Know that you can do anything you want, anything that you can see yourself doing everyday. A great quote by Beyonce that I reposted recently "I know the yes, I am powerful. I am more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand." Power is in all of us and it has always been there.

Who do you follow?

Before I go on you must know that I love instagram. It has connected me to some amazing talented people that I would not have discovered and they would have definitely not have discovered me. 

I follow and admire Instagram artist sensation Donald "DRAW"bertson (Robertson) and after reading an article about him in Vanity Fair I commented on his IG "you are from Toronto, it gives me hope" he kindly replied, "Michelle, I'm from Willowdale, THINK BIG" and ever since I have been DREAMING BIG and it's working.

Through @Donalddrawbertson I came to follow and admire Kara Ross, jewelry designer and boutique owner in NYC. She is a strong, successful and wonderful woman that has been so kind to me. Her hashtag #StrongWomenAreBeautiful says it all, she stands for empowering women and I admire her for that #GirlPower We are discussing the idea of doing a collaboration of some sort, it's like the greatest compliment I have ever received. Donald was right, THINK BIG and be yourself.

I love artists Blair Z and the unskilled worker - they had a bit of influence when I started but only to lead me to my own expressive style. I believe it is so important to be yourself and find what speaks to you, it has to come naturally. You just know it when you find it,  like it was always there.

--- Michelle Vella


Michelle Vella was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, except for a time when her Maltese parents moved the entire family back to Malta for a time. From the moment she held a crayon you could see she was an artist. Vella earned a Bachelor’s Degree at McMaster University in Fine Art in 1986. Immediately after graduation she moved to Toronto working for Helene Mazelow, Art Consultant to Sears Roebuck, Chicago and owner of Mazelow Gallery which once represented artist Harold Town.

In the 90’s Vella went on to work in marketing communications for Alias, a 3D Software Design Software company then on to Vancouver as Marketing Director for Motion Works, an Animation Software & Educational CD-ROM Development company. She started to develop her photoshop and design skills which later played a significant role in her career.

In 2003 Vella opened a live/work photography studio in Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West neighbourhood.  She was inspired by the creative culture which helped her blossom as a photographer. Vella exhibited her first portrait photography series “Women of Inspiration” in Toronto at WOW, presented by the Canadian Athletes Fund. This series was an editorial feature in Photo Life Magazine in October of 2004. Most notably her portrait of June Callwood was featured at the 2004 June Callwood Lifetime Achievement Award for the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

Vancouver beckoned once again, 2004 to 2010, where she continued to pursue her professional portrait photography career which segued into a successful graphic design business - realstudio.ca and mavelladesign.com. 

Today, Michelle Vella creates her art at her live/work studio located in Toronto’s Mt. Pleasant Village neighborhood.