Meet Madeleine

Image by Madeleine Welsch.

Meet Madeleine: illustrator, tree-hugging hiker, and emerging animator. Her playful and sincere style caught the eye of our latest Meet Series partner (Art Maze Magazine) and won her a spot in their upcoming issue! We love Madeleine’s commitments to colour, to the great outdoors, and to seeing art in every part of her life—her bright attitude and work charmed Art Maze (and us, too!). Read more about Madeleine’s journey including overcoming revision addiction, avoiding career pigeonholes, and merging environmental awareness with her personal practice. This is Madeleine: “playfully off-putting” emerging artist and member of the Zealous community. We can’t wait for you to meet her.

Meet Madeleine

LAB: With roots in rural Massachusetts and upstate New York, I assume your physical environment has quite a strong impact on your work. Describe your surroundings in 10 words or less to help us understand how you see things. (And tell us the best way for people to connect with their physical environment!)

MW: 10 words? I’m a wordy gal, so keeping it brief is hard: I’m actually on a short visit to my hometown right now, so I’m surrounded by a vibrant garden, lush fields, and lonely, winding roads. And you’re right to assume that! My rural upbringing fostered a consciousness of my surroundings and an insatiable call to answer the question “What impact do I have here?” My work stems from a need to understand my relationship with the natural world. I believe art can be a catalyst for change: a way to make sense of the complex environmental and social issues I struggle to digest. I have found that visuals make tough questions tangible, or at least worth talking about.

I’m always looking for new ways to connect to my physical environment. I often work indoors or behind a screen, so hiking is a huge release and one of my favourite leisure activities. I started camping when I joined the Outing Club in college and have completed three major treks in the last three years. There’s nothing like the feeling of being on top of a mountain. When I’m hiking I feel insignificantly small and part of an infinite whole at the same time. However, my recent interactions with nature have been separate from my work. My current goal is to combine my relationship with the outdoors and my art practice. I’m excited to say that, a week from now, I’ll head to Alaska as an artist-in-residence at the Sitka Fellows Program. I hope to find inspiration from Sitka & The Tongass (the massive, temperate rainforest blanketing southeast Alaska) as I set out to complete my next body of work.

LAB: What’s the main difference between drawings and animations? How do you make a drawing come alive on its own?

MW: I think I’m still figuring out how to answer this for myself! I’m a pretty young animator–until this past year, I was making exclusively still, two-dimensional pieces. Of course, the simple answer is that drawings don’t move – but I became interested in motion because I drew scenes and figures and imagined how their parts would wriggle and writhe about. So now I’m learning! My recent piece, Who Shall Watch the Watchers Themselves (a three-channel video installation loosely based on the environmental economic theory Tragedy of the Commons) is what I liked to call an “animated drawing.” I used this term to describe the piece because “animation” didn’t feel quite right: throughout the narrative, the scene stays relatively stagnant, but the system around it alters the main image. I like learning how to make things move because it adds another level of interaction and storytelling compared to an image frozen in time. However, a still drawing can be just as exciting–and often more immediate–than an animation. It’s just about picking the right medium to say whatever idea or feeling I’m trying to get across.

LAB: 3. Have you ever drawn something and thought, “No, nope. This isn’t me.” How did you discover and define your personal style as an artist?

MW: Ha! Absolutely. Doesn’t everyone struggle with this? I have so much work that’s never seen the light of day. Versions abound–most hidden in my drawers, my sketchbooks, my hard drives, and cluttered corners of my mind. Posting my work online was a huge step for me. Documentation is such an important part of my process, and I’m getting better at saving sketches. My most recent installation featured a book of my sketches and writing. Sometimes the loose, innocent qualities of a work-in-progress is more exciting than the final product! As an emerging artist, I’m still discovering my style (though I’ve never loved that word). I’m hesitant to pigeonhole myself into one specific area or style for fear of being stuck with it for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I’ve noticed a lot of patterns in my work in the past few years, especially in content and texture. In my drawings, I often seek out moments of tension—a lone pole trapped by a picket fence, sickly salmon-toned skies, a skewed elliptical rug that shatters the perspective of the chair atop it. I love colour, and like pairing strong, warm lights (particularly yellows) with darker, earthier tones. I think I’d define my “style” as playfully off-putting.

LAB: You can fill a room with anything you’d like – snacks, art, plants and animals, people, sounds, textures, anything. What’s there (and why)?

MW:  This would be such a fun space to draw. I think I’d want this room to be my dream studio, especially because I don’t have my own space to create yet and I’m not a fan of working where I live/sleep. Amazing windows are a must–I love sunlight and would need them for the plants I’d have all around. One of the walls would be plastered in a variety of maps, my favourite being the Hobo-Dyer equal area map that turns the conventional map “upside down” to challenge typical North-South perceptions. I’d want a snack bar/fridge filled with fresh fruits, veggies, and cheeses from all over the world. I’d drink unlimited iced cinnamon tea to my heart’s content. There would be an amazing library chock full of art & design books, accompanied by a couple plush chairs and couches for gatherings with friends and clients. I’d have a space to create a total mess with traditional media & fully set-up digital studio with every Mac product I’d ever dreamed of using. Since this a dream world, I’d set this personal hot-line/tube to Blick Art Materials where they could send me any art supply instantaneously, free of charge! In this building I’d be surrounded by other creatives who all had their own dream spaces: opportunities for collaboration just feet away. I went to a lecture once where the artist said his most loyal studio companion was his dog. So of course, I want a dog–a rescue!–which I hope will happen for real within the next few years.

Meet Madeleine

LAB: If you could travel 5 years into the future, what would you ask your future-self? What would you hope to hear?

MW: I just finished my undergraduate degree, so I’m in that strange limbo space where I’m figuring out what and where I want to be as an artist. In the next five years, I’m hoping to achieve the right balance of making freelance commercial work to sustain my personal & creative projects. I think I’d ask myself how I went about doing this and if I had any missteps along the way. It’s absolutely necessary to plan ahead into the future (I’m a totally goal-oriented person), but I don’t want to be too set on things. Opportunities tend to pop up at the strangest of times and I want to be ready for them.

There’s a book I love called Illustration Next which surveys fifty contemporary illustrators. One of the questions asked is “Are you happy?” and it received a wide range of positive, negative, matter-of-fact, and long-winded answers throughout the book. While happiness isn’t really quantifiable, I’d hope to hear that “future me” was happy in whatever form that may take. Above success and all other typical human goals, being happy with my choices and relationships is definitely most important to me.

LAB: What’s one of your worst traits / habits? What (if anything) are you doing to overcome that quality?

MW: As someone who works largely in digital spheres, I think I have a pretty unhealthy relationship with revision. That’s probably my worst habit–boy do I love the idea of an “undo” button! I was recently sketching on my iPad next to a friend and she kept laughing at the fact that I was drawing and re-drawing the same exact line for 30 minutes. It can definitely be a timesuck. To overcome my obsession with the digital “re-do,” I’ve been trying to sketch with pen and paper. There’s a wonderful, thoughtful quality of mark making that comes from not being able to erase, so I’m learning that I really want to make an effort to start every piece without a screen. I’ve also gotten into gouache as of late. It’s such a seductive paint that’s opaque and pretty forgiving!

One of my other big issues is learning to keep a satisfying work/life balance. I think almost everyone–artist or not–can relate to this. There are some months where I feel like all I want to do is work, work, work 24/7, and I end up neglecting my personal life. It can be hard when you love what you do so much, because the line is weirdly blurred: it’s never going to be a 9-5 job for me. Over the past year I’ve learned how important it is for me to make time for enriching things outside of my practice. I say to myself: If you don’t go on this hike, go to this museum, go out to see this friend and have an interesting conversation… then what will you make work about in the first place? Life informs art, so it’s important not to tip the scale too much in either direction.

LAB: Does your style as an artist affect (or originate from) your personal style? Which of your personal character qualities are most strongly reflected in your work?

MW: In a sense, yes. I’d say colour plays a big role. Colour and pattern are all over my wardrobe and my apartment, and so they probably influence the types of marks and textures I make in my work. As far as personal character qualities, I’d say my interest in nature is pretty apparent (flora often ends up in there somewhere). I like to have fun and I try to make that apparent when I draw!

LAB: How do you, practically speaking, put “your bit of weird” into the world? How (and why) would you encourage other creatives to do the same?

MW: I like to use that phrase because it relates back to my overarching question I always ask myself: “What impact do I have here?” Putting my bit of weird in the world is one of the ways I can make an impact: making images that are sometimes strange and off-putting but also fun and colourful, sharing my work, and getting together with others to collaborate on bizarre ideas or outlandish dreams. Being weird can be however you define it. I think I’d just encourage others to get out there and make something. And share it!

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Lauren Aguilera Brown

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Storyteller | Writer | Singsong Weirdo | Food Whisperer | Jane of All Trades Founder @monologues_the | Upcoming Album @weheartarts