Gabrielle Fabunmi is a watercolor artist living in Northern Virginia with her husband and three kids. She grew up in Alaska where she first discovered her love of art. After getting a psychology degree and then working several unfulfilling desk jobs she decided to get back to her roots and start painting again. After doing it as a hobby for several years she recently opened The East Auklet where she sells open addition art prints of her watercolor paintings.
Tell us a little bit about The East Auklet.
I opened The East Auklet in February of this year, It’s home to my watercolor paintings which have been accumulating for several years. I’ve been selling digital files on Etsy since 2014, but I wanted a home for my paintings which feel more personal and authentic to who I am as an artist. The shop name comes from East Auklet street which is where I grew up in Palmer, Alaska. When I think about where my love for art began, it was there as a child watching my mom and grandma paint, quilt, crochet, build furniture and just about anything else that uses the right side of your brain.
When did you discover your love for watercolor? Did you ever receive formal training or are you self-taught?
I’m self taught, I used to paint a lot when I was younger and I primarily used acrylic. Later on in life when I decided to pick up a paint brush again, I needed something that I could do in a small space and didn’t make a big mess. I live in a rental right now and we have wall to wall beige carpet, I would love to do big messy paintings on canvas, but I simply don’t have the space. I love watercolor though; I love the way it moves, it’s unpredictable and each painting takes on a life of it’s own. I approach each painting with a vision but there’s always some anxiety because water does what it wants to do. With watercolor you end up throwing out the paper if you make a mistake, there’s no painting over the areas you dislike. In most cases the “mistakes” end up being my favorite part of the piece, you have to just relinquish control and submit to the process. It reminds me every day to relax and just go with the flow.
Do you have your own studio or a special space that you use for painting?
My “studio” is a wall in my bedroom. I set up a desk in there and told my husband I would use it during the day to paint and he could set up his laptop there when he needed to work from home. That was the plan, the reality is I never clean up my paint supplies well enough for him to use it, so he ends up setting up his laptop on the bed or the floor. Someday I would love to have a dedicated studio or room in my house to paint, but for now my little desk is working just fine.
How do you find inspiration for your work?
Inspiration comes in spurts for me, I go through manic phases where I paint for like 3 days straight and then I hit a wall where I’m out of fresh ideas. When I feel creativity waning, I get in the car and head to a park. I live in the beige suburbs which are very uninspiring, being in the trees feels more natural to me. I take my DSLR to the park and walk around for hours soaking up the trees and water, the birds and animals. I may not come home feeling inspired to paint any of those things, but my mind feels clear and refreshed and thats when I am most ready to create.
Who are some female artists that you admire?
I’ve been reading Alisa Burke’s blog for years, if you love art (and flowers) you will LOVE her blog, she’s amazing. I also love Helen Dealtry, Marta Spendowska, and Clare Elsaesser, their paintings make me feel both inferior and inspired to work harder at mastering my craft. Another huge source of inspiration for me is Justina Blakeney, she doesn’t brand herself as an artist per say, she does mostly interior design and product design, but she’s really an incredible artist who makes drool-worthy patterns and #FaceTheFoliage pieces.
What’s the best creative advice that you’ve received?
The best piece of advice I’ve received and that I would offer anyone starting out on a creative endeavor would be to avoid comparing yourself to other creatives. Actually, just don’t do it. Focus on yourself and what you do, get tunnel vision and head for the finish line. There will always be someone more successful, better connected, and better at branding; as an artist you will always find people who you feel are a “better artist.” Comparison truly is the killer of joy, no matter how good or bad you think you are, there are people out there who want to see what you have to paint, hear what you have to say or read what you have to write. Just focus on yourself and your vision, network, admire other peoples work but never allow yourself to feel like you aren’t good enough to be doing what you are doing. If you love it, just keep working at it.
Do you have certain music that you like to listen to while painting?
My daughter is the house DJ and her current obsession is Korean rap… We are not Korean, we’ve never been to Korea and we don’t speak a word of Korean. One of her friends (also not Korean) got her into Korean rap and that’s usually what’s playing in our home. On the rare occasion I get to pick my own music I have been listening to the new James Bay album “Chaos and the Calm.” The title is both poetic and symbolic of my life at the moment.
What are some of your favorite resources in the art world? Books? Magazines? Museums?
I live in probably the least inspiring place in America for an artist, all of the houses are beige both inside and out, the construction is new, the landscaping is cookie-cutter, and there are no museums or galleries within 30 miles (which in this area is a 1.5 hour drive). Instagram and Pinterest are where I spend the most time looking at art, but to be honest I try not to spend a lot of time looking at what other people create. I have several artists whom I admire, but when you spend too much time looking at what other people are doing it’s hard to come up with original ideas. A year or so ago I read Tom Hoffman’s book “Watercolor Painting” and I found that to be very inspiring. It’s not a how-to-guide for painting with watercolor, if you need to learn the basics that’s not the book for you, but what it did was help me think more about composition and approach. Even if you don’t want to paint with watercolor it’s a great book full of stunning art.
What are some other creative interests that you have aside from painting?
I love interior design, I drive my family crazy moving furniture on a weekly basis, constantly buying plants and thrifting home decor items. I also love graphic design, I took a graphic design class in high school and I fell in love. When I got to college I really wanted to be a graphic design major. My college (Virginia Commonwealth University) is a liberal arts school with a huge art program, I got really intimidated by the application process and ended up majoring in psychology instead. I wish I had been brave back then and just followed where my heart was pulling me, but I think the path I took was the right one to get me to the place I’m in today.
What’s your favorite thing about being a creative woman?
Creativity has always been a part of who I am it just wasn’t something I had a lot of time for when I was in college and then working full time. I’m so grateful that I’m in a place in my life where I can get immersed in the creative process. There are days when I feel like I don’t want to deal with the commerce side of things and I get discouraged, but when I think about the prospect of going back to a desk job in a few years when my youngest starts school, I get reenergized to really make this work. There is a reason why the words “starving artist” are so commonly used, selling art is HARD, but this is what I love so I keep working at it every day. I feel inspired knowing that I can create something that people can place in their home and look at every day. I love working with color and pattern and putting my thoughts onto a blank canvas