Megan Isabella is a proud Australian artist, designer and founder of Megan Isabella Design. She lives and works in her Perth studio, producing designs for a range of lifestyle products for the home and work space. Her designs begin with hand-illustrated motifs, which she digitally colours and manipulates into beautiful surface patterns.
Megan has taken many years to develop her unique illustrative style. She pours her heart and soul into her work, placing emphasis on linework and colour to create floral and botanical artwork, which is inspired by long walks in nature.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Megan. How did you discover your love of illustration?
I have loved it since I was little, I guess I just didn’t know it was called illustration then. I was always looking at children’s books and fascinated by the drawings. I particularly loved the Snugglepot & Cuddlepie stories by May Gibbs and the fairy-themed books by Shirley Barber. Both these women were talented illustrators and they gave me so much inspiration.
The books were full of characters that lived in the flowers and forests. I grew up in a place that was surrounded by rivers and bushland, I felt very connected to the natural environment. I think that’s why I loved the books so much, they were magical. That connection has an impact on the kind of work I do now.
Carrie: Tell us about your latest line, a pillow collection you designed. What inspired it?
The Tropical Collection is my debut series of botanical prints. I love the idea of making your space one that feels like a sanctuary. Homes and studios are personal, somewhere you can leave the world behind and be your most authentic self. I had this in mind when I designed this collection of cushions. I wanted designs that would create a sense of paradise, so I brought in leaves and blooms inspired by tropical rainforests and coastal retreats. I like the idea of having a holiday at home.
Carrie: How do you know when an illustration is finished?
I trust my gut instinct with this. I love the flexibility that computer-aided design gives me in my work. I can spend as much time as I want changing colours and scale until I’m happy. I’m finding that with surface design scaling back and keeping things simple works well. My designs tend to finish with fewer motifs than when I first start working on them.
Carrie: Do you have a specific creative process you use moving from idea to final product? Can you please describe it to us?
The first thing I start with is a moodboard. Ever since I did my Graphic Design training I have learned to set myself a brief, even if it is a loose theme. I look for images on the internet but I also look in books and I go for a walk and take photos, inspiration is everywhere outdoors! It’s good to get away from the computer, it helps to stay true to your style.
From there I do sketches and produce my hand-drawn motifs. These are scanned into the computer where I use a tablet and Photoshop to complete the designs. I prefer to colour digitally: I like the speed, the brush effects and having the ability to play around.
This collection took a few months to design, but many more to actually develop the product. The reality as a start-up is that only a small percentage of my time is spent designing and a lot more is taken up with business practices. I’m looking forward to building it to a point where the scales are tipped and I’m working a lot more on designs and outsourcing some of the day-to-day business operations.
Carrie: What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators?
It depends on what sort of illustrator you want to be as there are so many options! The best place to start is by working on your style. Once you have a strong sense of your style and ‘pencil personality’ you can find the right fit. Until you know what your strengths are it will be hard to know what your niche is in terms of commercializing your art. Show people your work and listen to them describe it. It will give you clues.
If you are the type that wants to be commissioned by advertising agencies, magazines and online editorials, then I highly recommend reading ‘How to Be An Illustrator’ by Darrel Rees and also getting your hands on a copy of The Graphic Arts Guild: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines for advice on freelancing. Build yourself a portfolio and find yourself an agent. My favorite here in Australia is The Jacky Winter Group.
There are many other ways to commercialize your art, such as muralists or surface designers (like me). It all comes down to what kind of lifestyle you want, what audience is the right fit for your style and what brings you the most joy.
Carrie: You express yourself creatively in several different ways, how does each creative interest help inform and support one another?
I’m grateful for the training I received to become a Graphic Designer. It has shown me how beneficial the structure of a brief and project management can be to a creative endeavor. I have learned so much about branding and marketing, how to package myself and run a business. It gave me the skills I needed to freelance, and right now is allowing me to work as a corporate designer part-time while I build my business.
Graphic designers are needed in so many different industries, all businesses need marketing, so I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different types of people, picking up new skills and experiences along the way.
And vice versa, possessing the ability to draw has attracted some great design projects and gives my portfolio an edge. Being able to quickly sketch out an idea or do my own artwork for a brand allows me to take on and complete a project without needing to outsource. My freelance jobs usually come to me specifically for my illustration style; I love being able to offer both of my talents as a service.
Carrie: What strategies do you use when you feel stuck?
Step away from the computer. Go for a walk outside. Move to another room, make a cup of tea or fold the washing! Sometimes it just helps to remove yourself from the task if you are getting too bogged down.
I try to make room for a 10 minute meditation in the middle of the day. It breaks up the day and re-calibrates my brain for the afternoon.
If I’m stuck on something bigger picture, like a career move or just feeling like life is stagnating, I tend to spend time working on my spiritual and personal growth. I write things down in a journal and I ask people for advice.
Participating in forums, reading books, listening to podcasts and attending events or Meetups are all really great for doing a reboot. It’s nice to remember that whatever you are experiencing right now you are never alone. There is always going to be a community of people somewhere who have gone through the same thing and can offer some advice on how to move through your blocks.
Carrie: Where do you get ideas for for your art?
Nature is first and foremost. I love flowers; botanical subjects are such a pleasure to draw. I also collect books and postcards from art galleries that inspire me. During my first trip to Europe in 2007 I visited the Alphonse Mucha Gallery in Prague and picked up some Art Nouveau prints; I love the girls with their swirling tendrils of hair becoming entwined with those elongated flowers! To me, these images are all about a woman’s connection with Mother Earth, the perfect symbol of the divine feminine.
Also, for gaining an understanding of what my ideal customer likes I will spend time looking at websites, magazines and blogs associated with her interests. It is an important part of making a living off your art and I embrace it fully.
Carrie: How does your life experience and emotional state feed into your art?
Creativity comes in cycles and I’m learning how to make these cycles work in my favour. There are times for creating and doing, and times for planning and reviewing what’s working and what no longer serves me.
I need to be in a very particular headspace in order to create my best work. I need space, solitude, to be in a very positive and calm mood. If I try and produce designs when I’m not feeling good, something is always off. I get frustrated because designs or colours aren’t working together and then realise its because I’m trying to force it.
The type of work I am producing now, like these decorative cushions, are a direct result of the new phase of life I am experiencing now. I am growing as a woman and I’m feeling a pull towards homemaking, nesting. The designs and the physical products are a reflection of what brings me joy.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I’ve gone through a lot of personal growth to get to where I am today. Deciding to step away from a corporate career path to pursue my dream of being an entrepreneur is very difficult. There are some people whose writings and teachings have really given me the courage to go for it (and keep going). These include:
Gala Darling (http://galadarling.com/)
Danielle LaPorte (http://www.daniellelaporte.com/)
Melissa Ambrosini (http://melissaambrosini.com/)
Deepak Chopra (https://www.deepakchopra.com/)
Joy Cho (http://ohjoy.blogs.com/)
Bri Emery (http://www.designlovefest.com/)
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
For me, creativity is the act of expressing yourself (your soul) in your own unique ways.
It’s not about talent, whether you can draw or paint. You can never lift a paint brush or a pair of scissors and still be creative. Anyone can be creative. Teaching children ‘creative thinking’ should be a high priority. Allowing children to think freely and express themselves without the fear of being wrong will grow a generation of people who are creative problem solvers. These are the kind of people we will need to tackle some of our future’s biggest problems. This is the kind of safe environment I will be gifting to my future family.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How does your mood play into your creative production? I want to know! Let’s talk about it in the comments below.