We first met Alyssa Norman of Ink by Alyssa, @inkillustrations on Instagram, in November of last year, during Public Espresso’s Peace, Love, and Grant Street events. And we were blown away by her technique and unique vibrancy of her watercolor work. So earlier this week, over a cup of coffee at Spot on Elmwood, we sat down with Alyssa to see how an up and coming artist got her start, dealt with her jitters about showing her work, and is on the way to becoming one of Buffalo’s best and most sought after artists.
Rise Collaborative: On your Etsy storefront, you have a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “…In all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” Why is that significant to you?
Alyssa Norman: I tend to be interested in minimal things, which is clear in my artwork. Nice clean lines, stark white backgrounds. It makes adding my own personal flair that much more impactful.
RC: How did you get your artistic start? Were you the kid always doodling in the margins?
AN: Oh yea! My schoolbooks were always full of TERRIBLE drawings. I’ve been interested in art my whole life and started using it as an emotional outlet. Only in the past year did I really start pouring myself into it and publicly displaying my work for sale. Before that, I would call myself a ‘sketchbook artist’.
RC: What was the first drawing you made that you were really proud of?
AN: When I was a young teenager, right around 14, I got my first REAL sketchbook and I was determined to fill it page to page. That was my first really big accomplishment. Just a book full of random drawings and thoughts.
RC: Do you still have that sketchbook?
AN: I do. And it’s all soooo embarrassing! I actually looked at it the other day. I found it on one of my bookshelves and I was like, “Oh my goodness”. I wanted to throw it out because it’s all so different than who I am now. When you’re a teenager your mind is just completely different.
RC: Who were/are your biggest mentors?
AN: I come from a pretty artistic family. My dad is a hobbyist painter and my sister, Shaunna, is Weekday Best. We’re all very interested in art. My brother too, but moreso in his writing.
But my biggest inspiration is probably my husband. He is very much an artistic person and has been since high school. What I admire about him is that he was never afraid to show people his artwork. I’ve always been a little apprehensive to show off my projects, as they’re all so personal and a part of me. He helped me realize that I needed to stop worrying about what other people thought and just be proud of what I can do.
RC: Where do you draw inspiration from?
AN: The bulk of my work are portraits of human faces. I like getting to know people and learning about them on a personal level. Even if you don’t know the subject, I want the person looking at my art to wonder about that person, and wonder what their life is like.
RC: I was scrolling through your portfolio and the Autumn Collection stood out to me as such a contrast to your portraits. I think that may be my favorite piece of yours.
AN: Thank you! Yea, the Autumn Collection ties back to the emotional aspect of my work. Knowing that someone took the time to collect these items and photograph them, and that dedication resonates in me.
RC: Was ink and quill pen always your preferred method?
AN: No, actually! The quill is actually fairly new to me. I decided to switch to that once I chose to make this my full time thing. With the quill, I love the old-fashioned style, but also love that I can have full control over the thickness of my lines without having to switch to different point pens. All you need to do is add or let off the pressure.
I’ve always been drawn to pen illustrations and I dabbled a little bit with acrylic painting, but I was never very good at it (laughs).
RC: When you added in the watercolor element to your illustrations, was it sort of an epiphany moment? To add that pop of color?
AN: I suppose you could say that. I was already mixing black ink with red tones here and there. So one day I decided to add watercolor into the mix and luckily it caught the attention of a lot of people.
My sister taught me so much! She does color splash which is watercolor with more experimental techniques. I’m more focused on the traditional brush work.
RC: What are your favorite places to present your artwork?
AN: Well there aren’t many places to show in the winter time, but social media has been a great place to launch myself and my work. I did a couple showings at Public Espresso during their Peace, Love, and Grant Street events late last year. Since I’ve only been publicly showing my work for about a year, I’ve only hit a few markets and arts and crafts shows, but I’m looking forward to more when the weather warms up.
Recently Potluck Mag featured my work and I’ve gotten a bit of attention from that. It’s been great!
RC: Where are favorite places to explore and find new inspiration?
AN: I’ve always been an Albright Knox girl. The modern art in there is incredible!
I like to travel and I always try to visit the art museums in each city. I just went to Pittsburgh and visited the Carnegie Museum, where it’s an art gallery and natural history museum all in one. It’s huge! The art and architecture of that place was really inspiring.
RC: Who is your favorite artist in the city?
AN: Maude White is INCREDIBLE! I bought a piece from her recently and it’s my favorite. She’s doing so well, being featured by Art Fido which is one of the biggest online galleries.
RC: What’s next? Any big projects planned? Or something you’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t tackle until now?
AN: I’m getting quite a few commission gigs for family photos and portraits, and while I love doing those and they pay the bills, I have more ideas that I’m looking to explore. The commission work is fun and is a good way for me to always stay in practice and improve every day.
I would love to do something huge! My sister and I have talked about a potential collaboration. We’ve discussed doing full wall murals in homes and create artwork as a design aspect of the room. That could be really cool to see come to life.
I’d like to do more consumer products too. To create artwork to be used on fabrics. Something that I can branch out with, not just being limited to pen and paper.
RC: Lastly, any advice for a young up and coming artist in Buffalo?
AN: Keep going! The important thing is to not get discouraged over a small stumbling block or failure… even if it means starting over on a project. Just do it! In the end, it’s going to teach you something. It can be hard to put yourself and your life’s work on display, but that open-mindedness will allow you to reap the benefits.
Also be willing to accept advice from an outside observer. Like when someone says, “what’s up with that thing”. (laughs)
Thanks again to Alyssa for sitting down with us! Follow more of her work on Instagram (@inkillustrations).