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Somerville creator sees brightly colored illustration as a form of storytelling

(Somerville Wire) – Stephanie Vecellio is an illustrator who dreamed of living in Somerville ever since her college years, when she interned in Davis Square. Now, she finds inspiration in the world she observes around her and is known for designing vivid, playful images that feature bold splashes of color. She recently received a Visual Arts Fellowship grant from the Somerville Arts Council and has also collaborated with them to do work for Yart Sale and ArtBeat. Here, she gives us a glimpse inside her process and upcoming work.

When did you know that you wanted to be an illustrator?  What inspires you, and how would you describe your approach or style?

Wanting to be an illustrator came later on in high school for me. I was in an agricultural program, on track to be a vet tech, but my senior year I didn’t have enough room in my schedule for that program and AP art class. That was a pivotal decision, as clearly, I chose art that year. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, so when I was applying to art schools, I learned that illustration is really about visual storytelling, so I was sold.

I’m inspired most by small moments and the things around me. Anytime I travel to a new place, I get really drawn to the different scenery and architecture, so I try to look at my own city through those eyes. Lately that means I love drawing houses and trees and bright, strong light. Somerville is a good place for all those things!

You’ve created comics, illustrations for children, editorial work, and more.  Could you highlight some of your favorite pieces and explain what your process was like?

One of my recent favorite pieces is this illustration I did in early October. I was taking an evening walk, at the time of year when the air starts to feel a little bit spooky, when this phrase and image came to my mind. I wanted to see if I could take the way I’d been urban sketching and use it in a finished illustration. So first I staked out which houses I wanted to draw. I took reference photographs and manipulated them into a composition. I knew I wanted a very long horizontal image that you could move through in three pieces, so the whole composition had to work on its own, and also in separate panels. I drew the houses in pen and marker, then brought that drawing into Photoshop, where I worked more on the color, and added in the little ghosties and cat and text.

Another favorite piece is this comic I did last year called “Pink Moon.” I wrote it during the height of the pandemic in April 2020, so there’s a lot of feelings attached to it. My process for comics usually starts with the words, and then I add imagery. Once I see how much of the story can be told in pictures, I see what words can be taken away. … [T]he fun and challenge in making comics, is that the words and pictures shouldn’t serve the same function—they can both tell their own story.

What is the graphic memoir that you are currently working on?

In 2019, I was invited to a friend’s wedding across the country, when I was in the depths of a physically debilitating health crisis. I was determined to keep living my life in spite of what I was dealing with medically, so I decided I was going to the wedding no matter what. The story chronicles my weeklong trip from Boston to San Francisco, against the backdrop of managing chronic pain. It’s a travelogue that could also fall into the genre of graphic medicine, and I hope it can find a home in the publishing world!

What do you like about Somerville, and how have you worked with the Somerville Arts Council?

I love the neighborhood feel of Somerville. I like that I can find a quiet nature spot close by, or be in the city, or be right at home. The feeling of community is strong here, and that’s some of the work I’ve done with the SAC. As a 2020 Visual Arts Fellowship grant recipient, I had to do a community benefit project. I worked with fellow grant recipient Kathryn Geismar on creating an exhibit for the Inside Out Gallery in Davis Square. We organized artists to play a giant game of Exquisite Corpse, bringing together 24 artists to work together from afar. I also had a blast working on the poster designs for ArtBeat and the Yart Sale. And I was recently named the SAC November Artist of the Month!

What has it been like to be an artist during the pandemic?

I definitely feel pretty lucky in my experience! I work out of a corner of my bedroom, so I was not affected by studio closures. In the beginning of the pandemic, doing a drawing a day helped me feel calm, and that practice made me find a way of sketching I really enjoy. It’s been helpful in that way to be forced outside. I’m a member of the Urban Sketchers Boston, a group that meets up in different locations around the city to sketch, so whenever I felt too isolated during the pandemic I knew I could go sketch outside safely with other artists.


This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.


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