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Feb 04

Artist Q&A: Yellena James

Artist Q&A: Yellena James

Meet Yellena James, the Portland-based artist and illustrator known for her complex abstract imagery. Having worked with several of today's top brands, Yellena's work can be found in numerous galleries around the world, and now in Sakroots exclusive Seascape collection.

Follow along as we get to know Yellena...

What was your inspiration for Seascape?

My goal was to create a pattern that incorporates a sea turtle into a fresh, vivid design which pulls from and expands on the forms found in underwater flora and fauna.

artist yellena james

What inspires your art in general?

My artwork is about creating a whole range of imaginary ecosystems that are hauntingly exotic and yet somewhat familiar. I'm inspired by all of the potential life that could exist somewhere, sometime; unknown lifeforms, interacting with an unknown environment, trying to capture moments, feelings, movement and balance in an imaginary place.

Was being an artist your dream? Were you artistic as a child? 

Yes, I was always interested in the creative process, especially drawing and painting.  I would draw on any surface I could find, even on the walls in my room. I always knew I would end up doing something creative and I'm very grateful that I get to work as an artist for a living.  

How did you begin as a professional artist?

I went to art high school in Sarajevo and later got a degree in graphic design in the States.  After graduating college I did a lot of freelance design jobs but I wasn't really satisfied.  So I started drawing in my sketchbook a lot.  I began seeing things in my artwork that I was excited to explore more.

One day I decided to post my artwork online. Somehow it got noticed by few bloggers who shared my work, and then it just kind of took off. I started showing in galleries and collaborating with brands, creating surface pattern designs for their products and other various projects.

artist yellena james

What is your purpose when creating a piece of art?

I want to make people see beauty in a new way, to draw the viewer in and make them experience this imaginary place with a sense of longing and awe. I want them to want to stay in this place for just a bit longer and be reminded of that invisible world around us where anything is possible.  

My artwork has always been a space for me where there are no laws or rules, where the sense of wonder and exploring is always there waiting for me. Ultimately, I want the viewer to experience a bit of that feeling. 

Are there any causes you're currently active in supporting?

I love animals so I tend to donate to local animals shelters every year. I'm also very concerned for the state of our planet and am working to get more involved with organizations who are dedicated to saving and caring for this home that we all share.  I love the fact that every Sakroots artist collection is dedicated to supporting nature-related charities. 

When creating your artwork, what is your process?

I almost always start with no sketching or planning. I begin with one element and then keep adding other elements around it. I like the fact that I can get lost in the creative process and that I never know what the end result will be. There is a lot of thinking and decision making in between, and sometimes it takes a while before I know where the piece is going. But once that connection is made, everything makes sense and the piece comes to life almost effortlessly.

If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing for a living?  

For me, it would have to be something creative and challenging. I honestly can't see myself doing anything else.

yellena james art

What is the most interesting thing about you that most people do not know about you?

I can hold a beat on the drums.  

What’s your favorite kind of music?

I listen to a lot of music while I work. I'm a big fan of Radiohead and Arcade Fire.

Does fashion influence your art?

I follow a few fashion designers on social media. I love keeping up with the latest fashion trends, but I'm not sure how much it influences my artwork.

Your favorite neighborhood and restaurant to hang out?

I live in Portland, Oregon, and there are a lot of really interesting neighborhoods around here.  I live close to the Alberta Arts District and tend to go there often. My favorite restaurant is probably Navarre, my husband and I go there any chance we get. I also go on a lot of hikes. I'm minutes away from the beautiful Columbia Gorge, so there are lots of waterfalls and nature trails. 

Keep up with Yellena and see what she's working on at the moment by following her Instagram at @yellenajames.

Shop the Seascape collection, here.