October 25, 2018

I've met Michelle Vella this October during her tasteful pop up at Hillcrest Mall.  Crisp, bright portraits of iconic women who have been my inspiration since childhood such as Audrey Hepburn, Iris Apfel, Penelope Cruz painted in Michelle's unique style immediately captured my attention. I asked Michelle about her early inspiration, work & future plans.

How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?

I enjoy painting pop culture icons that are no longer with us or have a special place in our hearts. When I paint a portrait, I research their life story first. This allows me to learn about them, connecting me to who they are and helping me express them visually. I also paint words about them into the portrait, whether creating a pattern of words in their outfit or the texture of their hair.

Michelle paints Princess Diana, @michellevellart

Your #WIDEBIGEYES collection is inspired by Francesco Clemente’s way of painting eyes. Can you describe your feelings when you had seen his work for the first time?

I first saw Clemente’s work in the 1997 movie remake “Great Expectations” many years before I started painting WIDE BIG EYES. His portrait style made such an impact on me that almost 20 years later it influenced my signature style with a focus on the eyes.

Great Expectations (1997)


Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?

Not really. The portraits I do now are more of a biography about the person I’m painting. In my initial series of paintings, “Lake Life” and “Eyes of Desire”, I had a few paintings in each that were autobiographical. Those series were influenced by artist Alex Katz, “painting my surroundings” or what I knew.

What mediums do you work with? Why?

I work with Acrylic on canvas – sometimes a mix of Gold/Silver leaf. I like that Acrylic dries faster than oil and I feel more comfortable with acrylic. I have taken a liking to Gold Leaf, adding it to many backgrounds in my portraits.


Are there any fashion trends you are presently inspired by?

I have a new fashion collection and the fact that big patterns and imagery are on trend right now is fantastic for me. I love that it’s fun, colourful and eye-catching.

What does having a physical space to make art means for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?

Well, you need physical space to work. I especially like natural light, so my studio is south facing as I enjoy the sunshine. I know north facing studios are preferred by artists, but for me, since I spend so much time inside painting, having lots of light allows me to enjoy a beautiful day from inside. It’s a small studio space so I must be very organized. I create better when everything has a place.

What interests you the most when you mix illustration and fashion?

When creating my fashion collection, I enjoy creating patterns from the patterns I painted in the portrait and use them in an interesting way. When painting the portraits, I often create a unique pattern from biographical words. The research and the style I choose makes it interesting.

Can you name artists that inspire you?

Donald Robertson, famously known as @DonaldDrawbertson on Instagram, an early inspiration for me in how he utilized Instagram as a platform to make connections. He once told me, “Dream Big!” and I went with that and haven’t looked back. Right now, Ashley Longshore is a big inspiration. Her art is fun and provoking, but it’s her marketing and business sense that I am watching. She also shares her stories of failure and hard work in the beginning, but most of all she is her authentic self which I believe is compulsory to having success, Being an artist is running a business, part of which I enjoy as well.

Michelle Vella and Diane von Furstenberg  @michellevellart


Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

I was accepted into IDS (Interior Design Show Toronto) this January 2019. I had intended on printing my portraits on fabric and upholstering Louis VIIII Chairs, but I have seen this done before and I wanted to offer something different. So, I decided to combine high-end smart design with my pop art. I asked David Beaton, owner of studio b, if he knew of a furniture designer that I could collaborate with. He invited me to studio b on King St. East and he showed me the Eames Elephants by Vitra. They were perfect. I fell in love with these baby elephant sculptures immediately. The original Elephant was designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1940’s using plywood and now Vitra makes them in a robust plastic – in two sizes (small and large), and a variety of colours. With news of the accelerating loss of elephant lives to the ivory trade, I thought this could be a perfect opportunity to give back. studio b donated four Eames Elephants which I hand-painted for my capsule home collection. The small ones were on sale for $500 each at my Yorkville Village pop-up with a portion of sales donated to Save the Elephants. For IDS, I will have both large and small Elephants, plus a few hand-painted Panton Chairs, designed by Verner Panton for Vitra, again in collaboration with studio b. Who knows what the future could hold? If they sell well, I intend on painting many more Elephants.

For more:

www.michellevella.com | Instagram : @michellevellart

Join our newsletter

Receive 10% off your next order when you sign up for our newsletter