The Artist Spotlight is a series in which I interview artists, designers, and makers that have contributed to and collaborated with Unicorn Crate. I hope these interviews will serve as an inspiring look behind the scenes!

I have a treat for you fairy tale lovers today! An interview with the artist that created the Beauty and the Beast inspired piece for the wall scrolls in the January ‘Fairy Tale Favorites’ box! Jessica Gadra is a Buffalo based artist and specializes in pen and ink and watercolor. In her art she focuses on folktales, fairy tales, and mythologies. I also included her ‘Unicorns in the Sea’ piece as an art print in the November 2018 special edition crate celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Last Unicorn. I am, obviously, a major fan of her work and just had to learn more about the artist behind these wonderful illustrations.

Beauty and the Beast wall scroll for the January 2019 crate

Q & A

Thank you so much for answering a few questions! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as an artist? What is your background and how did you get into the type of illustration that you do?

I’ve been drawing since I can remember, though I’m not formally trained.  I’ve always been a collector of images something maybe having to do with being an army brat and traveling and wanting to fill my backpack with experiences in a minimal way – paper and pens pack easily – I just did it through the lens of fairy tales.  I also feel like I’ve been drawing the same thing forever, only in growing and growing circles.  The net that I cast for inspiration gets wider, but so many of the stories we tell each other filter down to the same essential truths, essential images.  

What is your favorite medium to work in? Any favorite colors to work with?

I work largely in pen and ink – I’m often switching between modern pens and more traditional nib and stylus – anything that can give me a clean but organic line.  I’ll go in after and add color with watercolor pencils/watercolor – sometimes just in bits, and sometimes putting down layers that give a deeper more finished look to a piece.  As for colors, there’s a standing joke in our household that I run out of sepias and greys fastest.  I have bright blue and green pencils that have been languishing unsharpened for two decades.  I prefer a neutral palette, but I’ve lately been trying to stretch myself.  

Much of your art is inspired by fairy tales. What are some of your favorites?

The woodsy ones bordering on fairy. Where the light and lines blur. Snow White and Rose Red is a favorite. And, Jorinda and Joringel. There’s something about the antagonist in J&J that arrests me. I’ve this notion that if you remain a captive princess (or prince) long enough, you eventually become the witch. It’s heart wrenching. There are also some strange and beautiful images that surprise you in that one. Good fare for drawing.  

What do fairy tales mean to you?

Everything.  They are my most familiar language.  You don’t get much wrong when you speak in their vernacular.  Their truths are both broadly pertinent and intensely personal.

Unicorns in the Sea, as printed for the special edition Last Unicorn box November 2018.

How would you say your art has evolved since you started?

Ha! See above. I’ve been making a stuttering start at using more color, but it’s scary for me. Not sure if I’ve evolved. Ask my nub of a burnt umber Faber-Castell.  

What is your process like when you work on a drawing or painting? Do you see the whole image in your mind first, or does it evolve as you work?

A little bit of both, I guess, now that I think of it.  I usually start off with jonesing for a specific scene for a story.  Then I seek out inspiration in shape and configuration – generally from nature, generally on a walk. Then there are times that the configuration comes first – a suggestion in nature of a scene.  “That grouping of dry autumn flowers looks like a fairy crib,” I might think, then I put down the vaguest of pencil sketches and start from there.  Does the paper sometimes whisper its own changes as I go?  If it’s feeling punky, it does.  

Do you listen to music while you work?

Oh, yes.  Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Bach, bunches of Renaissance composers like Thomas Tallis, anything pipa in Chinese folk music. 

What artists would you say have inspired your own work?

The turn of the century (the 19th century, that is) greats.  Rackham, Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clark, Willy Pogany, Bakst, Bilibin. They say it was a golden age for illustration. They are not wrong.  My work can often be called derivative. It is. But I like to think I studied under the masters, however removed in time.

What else inspires you / how do you stay inspired?

Nature.  Always nature.  I’m lucky to live in a place with definite seasons.  The city and region are always changing their aspect, presenting new faces.  Or reminding you of old ones.  It can leave you breathless and curious at once. 

You can purchase many of Jessica Gadra’s pieces on decor items on RedBubble.

What has been your favorite piece of art to create so far?

I have a version of Orpheus and Eurydice that I have a sentimental fondness for.  It’s not my most popular piece, nor is it even my most well-crafted, but I took some leaps with it.  And it took some with me.  We had no idea where we were going together, but I ended up using a palette that was completely foreign and the work took on a deco appearance that bordered on the alien.  It was a bizarre little trip, completely appropriate for a story that deals with a descent into the underworld.  We may have crossed some hands with silver.  I may have left the piece there and come back not entirely me.

What has been the most challenging piece of art to create so far?

In relation to my above answer – anything dealing with the gods.  I love them – any and all – but they are a testy bunch and I’m cautious in that knowledge.  What if I render them inaccurately?  What if I do them a disservice?  What if, heaven forfend, I OFFEND?  I remember hearing that Aphrodite is the least depicted god because what artist could ever do her justice?  What artist would dare?  Did I just make that fact up as a convenient excuse?  

What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.  Not that I don’t absolutely love me some Tolkien, but from what I hear, James breaks fantasy out of its Northern European comfort zone.  Very excited. 

That sounds fantastic! And, what are you excited to create next?

Something inspired by Russian or Balkan culture.  East and west have been meeting there for ages, sometimes melding, often battling.  That’s all I know, but it’s enough to make me incredibly curious about how those forces assert themselves in the folklore and art of the region.   

Jessica and Raider

Where can people find your work?

Find me on Instagram under @outgrabes, at my website jessicagadra.com, and on Redbubble under Jessica Gadra.

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I hope you all enjoyed that interview as much as I did! I just love learning more about artists’ processes, inspiration, and their work. Did you get a January crate? If so, I’d love to know where you hang your wall scroll!

– Naomi

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