One of our favorite things at Shuffle is meeting artists and learning how they got started. We saw Becca Borrelli while strolling the SXSW Flatstock and Tradeshow in March. She caught my attention because she had an interactive coloring board where she was encouraging passersby to color in a section of the piece. How cool, right? Well, she definitely sucked me in and I wanted to learn more about her work and her process. Get to know Becca and her amazing work below!
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what your earliest memory of coloring or creating art was?
Becca: My name is Becca, and I’m an illustrator and art teacher in Austin. I primarily design coloring books, coloring style murals and artworks. My earliest memory of art was the hall closet in my family’s first house in Cleveland, Ohio. My Dad would bring home scrap printer paper from his job. If you were a kid in the ’80s you remember the kind – the pieces were attached accordion style with dotted perforated edges that ripped off. My parents left that paper in the bottom of the closet and told me I could help myself. It was like winning the lottery. My first memory of coloring books was when my junior high art teacher did an entire lesson on the way coloring books hurt artists. He really didn’t like them. I think of that often and it makes me laugh. Coloring books have been pretty great for me artistically and professionally.
When did you realize you were good at it and wanted to pursue this as a career?
Becca: To be honest, I didn’t consider art making seriously as a career until very recently. I definitely bought into the idea that art making wasn’t viable as a full-time option. I was the stereotypical spacey, disorganized, artsy-fartsy type as a kid. By the time I was thinking about careers, I felt like I needed a stable thing without a lot of question marks around it. I started off in graphic design and switched to art education for my undergrad. I absolutely loved teaching. I taught Pre-K for a year, and public school art for 5 years. Teaching public school is where I began to view myself in new ways. I realized I could be organized, entrepreneurial, and assertive. In my mind, school teachers are nothing short of business owners. I did the same things as a teacher that I do working for myself now… but I did it all with 25 kids in the room.
In 2010 I came to UT Austin for grad school. After graduation I missed the hiring round for school teachers in 2013. An artist friend of mine was coming to town to open Austin’s first Trader Joe’s. She was a sign painter, and suggested I apply for one of the opening art positions. I did on a whim and got the job! Painting signs with Trader Joe’s gave me a lot of confidence, and I worked there for 2 years. I think that’s when I started to view myself as a working artist.
You have a very distinct style that you incorporate to your drawings, murals, etc. Can you talk about how you found that? What/who are some of your influences or inspirations?
Becca: During undergrad I was classically trained in realistic styles of drawing and painting, but working that way took a lot out of me. When I began drawing regularly again during graduate school, I decided I would only draw in ways that felt energizing. My current style was born out of that. It looks a lot like the margins in my old high school and college notebooks: ruled pages filled with swirly doodles during long lectures. I could draw that way forever. One of my influences was the ’60s and ’70s cosmic art style of Peter Max. My mom had a book of his postcards and album art that I would pore over as a kid. I felt like I wanted to live inside his art, and I’m inspired to illustrate spaces like that as well.
I’m a Texan, born and raised (Mercedes, TX) and have lived in Austin for the last 11 years. Can you talk about your Texas drawings? What have you learned about the different cities/towns that has surprised you?
Becca: The Texas drawings have taught me a lot. One thing I wasn’t expecting was a light resistance people had to an outsider illustrating their towns. I discovered there’s a sensitivity to someone coming in and attempting to capitalize on a space without some type of investment first. To be fair, I think I understand now. Bandera still has horse ties outside the bank. In Terlingua, the community is deeply protective of their solitude. In Marfa, the rapid gentrification has sextupled property values and caused many of the original residents to leave. These places have special stories. Then here comes this Austin woman taking photos of spots found on Google, scouting retailers, and it’s off-putting. I quickly realized that if I was going to do a Texas coloring book justice, I would have to simply listen to locals. I’ve met some characters. People in small towns love to tell stories, and hearing their opinions and thoughts has been as much fun as the illustrating. It’s my hope that that kind of sincerity will translate once the book is published.
Also as a Texan, HEB is a sacred place in our hearts. What was it like to have your design on the HEB bag? (It’s super cool btw)
Becca: Landing gigs with HEB felt like winning the jackpot. The hype is real. HEB cares about Texas, they hire locally, and they are lovely to work with. It is definitely very cool seeing those bags floating around. I just saw one today when I was out to lunch and had to bite my tongue. I always want to run up like a seven-year-old kid and shout: “I made that!” I’ve done it before hoping to connect with a stranger or two, but I think it mostly just freaks people out.
You work with schools, hospitals and more. Can you talk about those experiences and how your art is used and how it feels to see people interact with your art?
Becca: The interactive component is my favorite part of the work at the moment. I’ve done some coloring style murals with schools, and published coloring books with the Dell Children’s Medical Center, Anti-Defamation League and the Downtown Alliance. It’s meaningful to me that kids and adults interact with designs. There’s a different energy to an illustration that has been worked on by more than just one person. I think we imbue pieces of ourselves into the things we create. My favorite example of this was the interactive coloring mural in Dripping Springs’s new middle school. The kids have been coloring it all year, and over the summer it will be sealed behind glass with a time capsule. For years to come, the walls of that school will hold marks that they made.
What is your favorite part about creating coloring books and coloring?
Becca: I believe that what we create in the world gets created on the inside of us as well. When we fill lined boundaries of a design with color, I think we get a chance to redefine boundaries inside ourselves. While we give attention to what we want on the page, we’re also giving attention what we want inside ourselves. For me, coloring is a meditative outlet, but it is also responsive in a way traditional meditation isn’t. When we are tired, our coloring will look tired. When we are stressed, our coloring will be erratic. Coloring offers visual feedback to our brain state and that’s unique.
What’s next? Do you have any upcoming shows, exhibitions, or partnerships you can tell us about?
Becca: At the moment I’m partnering on some exciting projects with the Blanton Art Museum and James Butler from Mindful Classrooms. I have a solo exhibition in the works for 2019, but plans aren’t hammered out yet. I’ll be announcing details on my monthly newsletter soon.
Anything else you want to add?
Becca: I have a piece of paper hanging in my studio with the Mister Rogers quote: “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” More than any other single thing, this sentiment helps me prioritize and make decisions throughout the day. I don’t know why I felt like sharing that here, but other than the work, it’s one of my favorite things in the studio.
If you want to learn more about Becca or see more of her artwork visit beccajborrelli.com