Through this series, Community Spotlight, we are highlighting a range of designers who inspire us with their boundless imagination and resilient spirit. We hope that in doing so, they too will bring inspiration to your doorstep.

This week, we had the opportunity to learn all about Elena Statham's life and follow her global art journey. Her cultural experiences inspire many of her pieces, leading her to create art that is uniquely bright and beautifully detailed. Elena is as humble and driven as they come, so we could not be more excited for you to get to know her as well as we did.

Q: Elena, can we know a little bit about you?

Hi Design Cutters, I’m Elena Statham and I’m a mostly self-taught artist. I was born in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, which is a small city surrounded by mountains and part of important historical routes of the Silk Road connecting the East and West. When I was 14, we had to flee the country due to a conflict in Afghanistan and from then on my adventures began as we moved to a tiny village in Russia where people believed in werewolves.

My next stop was St. Petersburg, where I would walk among the river and canals at sunset and visit the Hermitage museum a few times a week to absorb the amazing art created by the greats. I met my husband in London and we soon had our first son. While raising my son and trying to find myself, I discovered my passion for watercolour art. A few years later we moved to Japan where we lived for almost 8 years and by the time we left (reluctantly), it felt like home. I loved the culture, the food, many Matsuris, and most of all the wonderful people we got to know and call our friends. Now we are back in England trying to make a new home for our extended family. I have quite a few interests and hobbies: I’m a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, and I love graphic novels and weird monsters from Ultraman! I’m a collector of Japanese antiques including Kokeshi and Daruma, and I love computer games like No Man’s Sky or The Last of Us. However, my biggest passion is art. I love learning new media and techniques, giving life to my imagination.

Q: How long have you been with us as a Design Cutter?

I discovered Design Cuts on May 23, 2020, when my husband bought me my first watercolour brushes. Since then I’ve been collecting so many wonderful products. I remember seeing an ad on Facebook for the Procreate community and I thought “why not, perhaps I will learn a thing or two”, and indeed, I have learned so much since. Listening to Tom’s podcasts and reading Matt’s useful tips has helped me visualise my goals in a clearer way. Joining in engaging live sessions has really made me feel like I’m part of a big family.

Q: What was your graphic design journey?

Perhaps it started when I was a kid, watching my mother paint. She’s a fine art artist and art teacher. I loved playing with her brushes and pastels. I won a few art prizes when I was a kid and that was all for many years as my mother would say “Elena, don’t be a poor artist or a teacher”! But life is full of surprises so I ended up studying to be a teaching assistant in primary school, and now I’m creating my art! I also studied children's book illustration at London Art College and took evening classes for watercolour techniques at Morley College. I studied Suibokuga (ink wash painting) for two and a half years with my incredible sensei Ilan Yanizki and also learned digital photography for journalistic and landscape styles. Now, I am learning to create my art in Procreate.

Q: How did you develop your signature illustration style?

To be honest, I didn’t know the answer until recently. I was going through my old artwork and comparing it to my latest pieces. I realised that I had my style all along. My signature is my love of details and bright colours.

Q: Can you describe your design process?

Usually, I look for something that brings me joy, a memory or photograph of a perfect moment, then I try to replicate it in my own way. I usually trace or use reference photos with a faint sketching pencil. I also have a light table that helps me with tracing on to the tracing paper and then on to the watercolour paper. It’s much easier since I started using the iPad. A process that would usually take me weeks can be done in days.

Then I apply base colours, layer by layer and at that point, I look at the composition, colour balance, and shading. Most of the time I’m panicking by then and thinking “no, no it's a mess it's not going to work!”. I leave it for an hour or a day, just to give myself time to imagine what I want to express. After that, I will add darker shades and fine details. The goal is to capture the mood, the perfect moment that I’ve imagined at first. I don’t really have detailed plans. Sometimes I’m so engrossed in the process that I work for hours and finish the piece from beginning till the end, and other days I can’t see the image of what I want to create and then I take few days off and do something else. It gives me the opportunity for a fresh perspective.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

My inspiration mostly comes from happy memories that I want to preserve and keep as a reminder or something that gives me a happy feeling like a cute kokeshi.

Q: What design are you most proud of?

Oh, that’s hard. I’m proud of most of my pieces, but if I had to pick one it would be my Hydrangea sumie piece that I created during the second year of studying Suibokuga. Usually, the teacher's agenda is to teach students how to replicate their own personal style as close as possible. One day I came home after my lesson and felt the need to keep going, so I put down few strokes and then some more. Hours passed without me realising that I had created my own unique style. I was so proud of myself that in the next lesson I showed my piece to a teacher and he didn’t want to even look at it. He said that I could do what I wanted outside the class but in his class, I had to copy. That’s when I decided that it was time to move on my own journey. Now every time I look at my Hydrangea, I feel pride for choosing myself and keeping my own identity.

Q: Where do you hope to be in 5 years' time?

I would love to see myself as a book illustrator. After finishing the illustration course, I couldn’t find enough courage to start, so hopefully in the future I can begin my career as a book illustrator. I also like the idea of creating my own brand and selling my artwork online as design sets for artists like me.

Q: Which graphic designers do you look up to?

Definitely Tom Ross and Matt Slightam. They have inspired me to look beyond myself as a hobbyist and work towards my goals to become a creator! My first inspiration came from David Wiesner. His unique illustrations are so incredible, full of imagination and wonder. Anthony Browne is just an incredible artist and so is Oliver Jeffers. I could go on for ages as I love so many inspirational designers.

Q: What's your top tip for other designers?

Believe in yourself and embrace your uniqueness. Try practicing every day, even if it's only 10 minutes, and never stop learning!

Q: What are your favorite DC products to use?

I have so, so many favourites. Lisa Glanz's art and design bundles are state of the art. I love her Instant Artist and Character Builder, which really helped me gain confidence in creating characters. Her Aquareal and Plush brushes are also excellent. I love Debi Sementelli’s floral stamps and her and ShoutBAM's lettering bundle. The Ultimate Brush Toolbox that Nathan Brown and Matt created has been essential for my art projects. I also really like Jeremy’s sets of fine line art, brushes, Vintage Engraved. A new one just came out, the Celestial set. Abby's Pencil, paint and paper set has wonderful brushes that I love using and the Studio collection bundle has over 80 magnificent brushes. These are just a few from the top of my head, but there are many others.

Thank you, Elena, for sharing your story with us. If you would like to explore more of her illustrations or show her some love, you can head to her Instagram!