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Inside Out: Art Comes in Many Forms

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Upon first graduating from art school I was determined to earn my living as an artist no matter what happened. I didn’t have a back up plan and just went for it, showing my work everywhere, meeting as many other artists as possible, and saying yes to every opportunity that looked like a challenge. Living in Los Angeles at the time made all of this very easy: there was a thriving gallery and museum scene and inspiring work being made everywhere. However, I always wanted to do more than create work that came solely of my own volition. I hoped to apply my natural problem-solving skills in ways that would help others make their projects happen too. Sensing the need to be a part of something larger than myself, I turned to illustration. Working as an illustrator was, and remains to this day, an exciting challenge. It engages my art-making and problem-solving skills in ways that wouldn’t normally happen with self-initiated projects. Above are some samples of that work.

Clients will come to me with a project in mind. Sometimes, as with the Julia Sweeney cover, the art director had a template of what he wanted. I simply embroidered his design. With Penguin, the Threads series art director Paul Buckley left the designs up to me, but I had to send them very detailed sketches of what I intended to do before I could go ahead with the final stitching. At O Magazine, I’ve been their Reading Room illustrator in residence for the past two years. They send me the two to three novels featured in the upcoming issue, I read them and send sketches inspired by those reads. It’s really quite fun.

The research, the reading, the sketching, and the motivation to help illuminate somebody’s story are what inspire the illustrations. I make word lists: all of the books are filled with scribbles and are dog-eared, and try to distill the novel or article into one beautiful, emotional, resonant image.

I never promoted my embroidery as as medium for illustration, rather Paul Buckley came to me with the idea. In the past, I had embroidered personal projects but never on that scale. It was a challenge. There were three wrap-around covers and sketches to make in three months. With the Julia Sweeney cover, Jason had taken care of the art part, and I had two weeks to embroider it. Two weeks sounds like quite a bit of time, but really because it was all type, and type is so precise, it took two weeks of back-to-back embroidering, night and day, to get it finished on time.

The publishing world is tightly knit and one thread leads to another. The work comes to me by word of mouth, or by asking art directors if they would look at my portfolio.

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About Author

Rachell Sumpter grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco. Swayed and beguiled by nature, she travels throughout the west coast of the US to find relics of inspiration. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and profiled in a variety of art, design and culture publications including Artforum.com, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Cronicle, Mean Magazine, Giant Robot, Artweek, The Art of McSweeneys, and Color magazine, to name a few. Sumpter graduated from ArtCenter College of Design in 2003 with honors.

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