An Afternoon Art Date With Marisol Ortega
Beyond providing beautiful wall decor, art plays an essential role in the home. From inspiring imagination to serving as an emotional outlet, there’s something innately comforting about exercising your creative muscles. These days we’ve found that pausing to practice something tactile brings positivity and some much-needed normalcy. So, as a celebration of creative expression, we spent some time with designer and illustrator, Marisol Ortega, to learn more about the art of the analog.
Based in Seattle, Marisol, is a first-generation Mexican-American artist and also the creative behind our popular Cherry Tomatoes Print. Inspired by the patterns and textures found in nature, she uses vibrant color and abstract shapes to create beautiful one of a kind works with widespread appeal. With clients like Lush, Starbucks, and Milk Bar, chances are, you’re already familiar with many of her illustrations. A freelance artist, mother, and overall inspiring individual, Marisol was kind enough to take some time to share her story and a few tips for hosting an afternoon art date with your kids.
Tell us a bit about your background - how did you get started as a designer/illustrator? Have you always been drawn to your craft?
Yes! I’ve always loved art. As a little kid, I was constantly drawing and filled every coloring book I owned. I was lucky enough to study abroad at an art high school in Perugia, Italy, during my sophomore year. I was hooked even more, and there was no going back.
"I come from a family of makers and was constantly surrounded by creativity in some form."
I ended up pursuing a career in the arts and went to school in Seattle. Although most of my career has been working in-house for local nonprofits and Seattle based companies, as a designer, my love for drawing and painting stayed in my sketchbooks. I dabbled in illustration when I worked at Seattle Symphony, but it wasn’t until working at Theo Chocolate that I started illustrating as part of my job. I’ve been doing both illustration and design ever since.
Marisol Ortega x ACLU
What does your creative process look like from inspiration to execution?
First, I spend time researching my topic or theme. Once I have a general direction, I look at reference materials (mostly books, trinkets and photos from travel, etc.). During this time, I would say I have a pretty clear vision of how I want to execute the drawing. It’s especially important because I work in several illustration styles. From there, I move onto quick thumbnails for composition, or sometimes I jump right into the color palette. If I’m piecing analog work, I start with that and then compose digitally. There are almost always lots of work snacks involved.
A hand-painted 500-piece puzzle for Jiggy Puzzles
I heard that you share an art studio with your daughter, Ellie! How did you start introducing and encouraging her to create drawings of her own?
Yes! It’s the best. We share art supplies, and I guess that’s how it all started. Every time she’d see me paint, she’d hop on my lap, and I’d set up pieces of paper - one for her and one for me. I kept thinking back to my childhood and how I wanted to be surrounded by art supplies at all times. I wanted Ellie to have access to that. We share what we’re working on regularly. She’s really into making books, clothes, and houses for her stuffed animals at the moment, and she’s taken on the role of art director, haha.
"Teacup" by Ellie
Could you outline a few simple steps to guide our readers on how to plan an afternoon art date with their kids?
Ellie and I spend a lot of time in our garden. She likes to check in on our growing veggies and flowers. First, we spend some time spotting shapes. Then, we draw the forms we see, always focusing on one plant. I like to keep it pretty low pressure, so asking “what shapes do you see?” without the expectation of it looking realistic is an easy way to start. We also enjoy gathering fallen leaves from our backyard and tracing them in our sketchbooks. We fill the pages later with watercolor or markers. Sometimes, it’s just a solid color, and other times there are patterns involved.
Lately, many of us are finding ourselves working and homeschooling our children. While this may be new for quite a few of us, you have been balancing both for years! Do you have any tips that you can share?
Well, I’m definitely no expert, but what has worked for us is making sure Ellie is always part of the plan. So, let’s say I had to do some sketching for a project - I would clue her into what I was drawing and either have her draw something similar or come up with a prompt such as “draw your favorite animal."
I always keep my high focus work for later in the evening after she’s gone to bed though. It’s a super tricky line of being present and having to work. I think one of the things that has also worked is giving her access to the same materials I work with because she feels included. But this is all on a good day, haha. We have our off days where she spends more time in front of a screen than I’d like to admit. It's all about balance.
Photography courtesy of Marisol Ortega