Marcela Avelar Of The Artruist: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist

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You don’t become an artist, you are an artist. It took me a long time to be able to call myself an artist. It felt like it was a crown I needed to earn. And it was not until other people introduced me as one that I found the confidence in me to say it out loud as well.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcela Avelar.

Marcela Avelar is a mixed media artist based in New York City and the founder of a not-for-profit digital art collective called The Artruist. Her work varies in forms and shapes and can be seen in advertisements as well as album covers, from textiles, tiles to fine art. You can see her illustrations in the Children’s Book, Somebody to Love, which she collaborated on with Grammy nominated musician, Valerie June.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a town called Guadalajara, in Mexico. Between my chemical engineer parents, a very smart big sister that studied finance and a little brother who was always interested in tech, now a talented electronic engineer, an artist was born. My room was always the one with paint on the floor, and without noticing I would carve into the wood on the stairs, a mark that forever will live on. Sorry, Mom! I spent a lot of time at home, daydreaming and painting. I created alternate worlds. Drawing has always been a way of disappearing for me. Today I understand it’s like meditation, but as a child it was instinct.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always drawn, ever since I can remember. I loved to create and paint. It is a true gift that I am thankful for. But it was not until a teacher in high school, Andrés, made me realize that what I did was art. Big shout out to all the teachers out there, because you can change many lives; you changed mine.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Not sure it is the most interesting but is for sure funny. While working with Norah Jones and Sarah Oda on the art for a record cover, we did a listening party to help decide which song would make a good title and be graphically interesting. One song plays that catches my attention, I was imagining the whole cover “Don’t be the night”, I saw a man, he was the stars, the moon, the night…. and then they stopped me and said, that’s all great but the name of the song is actually “Don’t be denied” — — we laughed. Sometimes my Spanglish gets in the way. Finally, the name was Day Breaks.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am working on an installation, Kiss Me Goodnight. It walks you through the journey of depression. Even though it is so intimate and hard to share, it is also very relevant. My intention with this show is to give a little glimpse to the ones who don’t know how it feels and hope to the ones who live with it. Fingers crossed I can bring it to life very soon.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I just had the opportunity of doing a collaboration with Jodi Melnick (Choreographer), Devon Teucher (Dancer), Adam Tendler (Pianist), Mondo Morales (Costume Designer), Liz Yilmaz & Mara Driscoll (Creative Producers) & Cesar Abreu (Associate Producer). It was a magical experience; they are all top in their fields and it was our first time working together. I learned from all of them, grew as an artist and we slowly merged to make one piece, called Undone, for Artbath which is a salon series in New York. There was alchemy in that show; it felt rare and special.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

Inspiration comes in the most unexpected ways, but mostly from living. In my own experience, the more relaxed and open I am, the more ideas find me. I’ve had concepts in dreams, in the shower, looking at the ceiling, meditating, but sometimes when they don’t come easily, I created a cheat sheet with some tricks to ignite creativity when inspiration felt low.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Success is such a subjective word, that aside, I do try to use my work to support causes I care about. One day, thinking about doing something good for the world, I asked myself: “How as an artist, can I help?” I decided to donate prints of my art to charity, then I realized other artists might feel the same way. That’s how was founded. Today we are 10 artists and growing. We donate to four Non-profits: Rainforest Foundation US, NAACP LDF, Feeding America Covid-19 Response Fund, and Al Otro Lado.

On a more recent project, I illustrated a Children’s Book called Somebody to Love: The Story of Valerie June’s Sweet Little Baby Banjolele, with one of my best friends and super talented musician, Valerie June. The road felt long to find our partner for publishing, Thirdman Records, for which we are so grateful. One very important part of the project for us was that a portion of the proceeds was donated to children’s literacy. And now it is a reality. Thank you, Jack!

I believe art has the power to bring change and I’d like the be a part of it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

You don’t become an artist, you are an artist.

It took me a long time to be able to call myself an artist. It felt like it was a crown I needed to earn. And it was not until other people introduced me as one that I found the confidence in me to say it out loud as well.

You can abandon art, but art doesn’t abandon you.

I had a big block for many years after a painting live experience, but when I got back to it, art was there for me, like a loyal friend.

It doesn’t matter how many good artists exist in the world, there is always room for one more.

A friend of mine told me this, Pedro, and I will not forget it. Because it changes the goal from being-the-best artist to be-your own unique self as an artist. And that’s more than enough.

The process is a big part of the joy, not the results.

I used to be focused only on the results, on things to be perfect. That narrow vision makes the process almost unbearable. I still have to work on it, but when I do, each brush becomes a dance with the canvas. And we love dancing.

Mistakes don’t exist, only lessons.

I had to learn to not be afraid of mistakes, if not that white board is intimidating. Each of my paintings had a lesson. Sometimes it is technical, after one piece, Over the Hats, I will always check my uneven New York apartment floor before applying resin to the painting. Sometimes the lessons are for life, things look the worst before they find their place, like most of the portraits I’ve done.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to invite more artists to use their tools for good. Lift that brush for what you care about. Of course, I would love it if they become part of and it could grow together, thousands of artists, affordable art contributing to the non-profits fighting the fight every day to make our world better. Passion, purpose, and community.

We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.

This is a hard one but I would go with Mayor Eric Adams. I would like to show him my project that brings awareness to mental health, Kiss Me Good Night: A Tale About Depression, Melancholy, Joy & Other Drugs and get his support to make it happen.


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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Marcela Avelar Of The Artruist: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.