Cultivating Creativity with Artist Chelsea Stephen

You may have seen some fun artwork on our Instagram over the past year, most of it was created by Chelsea Stephen (@itsmeceesea). Based in our home city of Portland, Chelsea never ceases to amaze us with her creativity. We sat down with her to chat about creativity, her favorite pieces, and more!

Tell us a bit about yourself!  

I grew up in the Chicago area but started my move west after college in 2006 and never really looked back. I’m not traditionally taught in the arts. My first degree was in Fisheries and Wildlife- which is basically the study of wildlife resources and the management and subsequent sustainability of our fisheries. While I ultimately chose to focus on a career in the arts – even dropping out halfway through a master’s program at OSU to do so – issues around sustainable practices, environmental justice, and the depletion of natural resources have and always will be at the core of my value system. 

How long have you been a full-time artist? 

Define “full-time,” haha. But really, I do have other work outside of my art practice. I work on staff at a small art college here, and I can say with certainty that working in such a creative environment that respects and encourages the art practices of its staff has majorly contributed to my personal growth as an artist – especially since I’m primarily self-taught. That said, I do feel that I’ve been an artist my whole life. It’s always been an important form of expression for me, but I’ve only started generating income from art since I moved to Portland in 2011, and even then I wasn’t too serious about it until about 5-6 years ago. 

Where do you gather inspiration for your art? 

Everything that I process emotionally ends up influencing my art. Interpersonal relationships, passions, life experiences, journalism, science, the books I read, the environments I surround myself in, the pain, the fear, the love I feel. The ocean. If it moves me in any way, it WILL come out in my artwork, one way or another. I think I’ve been a bit subdued in how much I let these influences shine through, but lately, I’ve been trying to bring them out much louder both visually and in my writing. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as an artist? 

Be intentional, have fun. These two things are not mutually exclusive. I have to remind myself sometimes what a privilege it is to get to make art. It’s not a chore, it’s a goddamn pleasure even when it’s challenging (especially when it’s challenging!). So if I’m not having fun, what am I doing? Also, a very long time ago, a teacher-turned-really good friend told me to think in shapes. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, but now it’s all I do. 

What do you do to pull yourself out of a creative rut? 

I surf. If I can’t surf, I go for a hike or a run. The best thing for me is to get out of my head for a little bit and come back with fresh eyes.  It kinda goes back to the answer on advice I received. If I’m in a rut it’s likely I’m not having fun. So I’ll usually ask myself, “what’s not fun about this process/what am I forcing here?” Sometimes that’s all it takes to shift my perspective a bit; and sometimes it means starting over entirely. I’m generally not afraid to start over any more. 

Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?

I’d say one of my new faves was a cover redesign of Glennon Doyle’s book, “Untamed” (created for my own pleasure, this wasn’t a paid assignment). I loved the book so much- and highly recommend it – and the redesign I did was pretty simple but I think that’s why I loved it so much. It was uncomplicated and I had a good idea of what I wanted to create from the start while still giving myself a lot of freedom to follow my intuition, push some boundaries, and play around! I like how it turned out. And I had fun 😉 

Are you a kombucha fan? What’s your favorite flavor?

YES! Oooh, Clear Mind! That mint and rosemary! The whole combination is like a little windowsill herb garden in a bottle. I love it!

What’s your favorite expression of art?

Drawing and painting- most of my painting is digital but I’ve been painting on a larger scale lately and there is something so satisfying about stepping away from your finished product and finding paint on your clothes and in your hair. I know this wasn’t your question, but if I could snap my fingers and be instantly talented in any other form of art, it would be dance. I just absolutely love contemporary dance. 

Check out more of Chelsea’s work at @itsmeceesea, and enjoy coloring these two downloadable pieces she created:

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