Your drawings are so intricate and full of tonal depth. What is it about creating drawings as finished art that you enjoy?

Thank you! I am an avid fan of nature, wildlife, and growing things. Having a deeper understanding in knowing a thing, and how it works, is something I enjoy a lot. As a kid, I would constantly be watching nature documentaries and spend a lot of time in the wild places nearby with my dad. Since he was a nature lover as well, he would take time to explain the natural processes behind what we were seeing whenever he had any knowledge about it. We’d talk a lot about what place an animal or plant has in its ecosystem and how it interacts with other organisms. So his teaching really carried over into how I see the world, interpret relationships, and filter my thought process through my work.

Many of your works of art feature flora and fauna intertwined. Why is that?

That’s a great question that I often have a lot of trouble answering in person because of all the nuance and wildlife nerdery involved. A lot of my pairings with flora, fauna, and fungi stems from my frustration and a hope for growth with human society and politics. I pair colonies of mushrooms with their foundations rooted within a living predator in a symbiotic relationship as a way to process imbalances in power among people groups.

To elaborate a bit further, mushrooms, being non-sentient, fully sedentary, ‘helpless’ organisms, are paired with a powerful predator whose lifestyle is to kill and destroy in order to nourish itself as a contrast. Fungi, also being nature’s decomposers, bringing all life’s physical forms down to base nutrients to fertilize plants and enrich its local ecosystem are the end and the beginning of many lives. By pairing them with living animals, I’m striving to emphasize a symbiotic relationship in which the predator is nourishing a less physically ‘able’ fungi despite its power to destroy and take from others. Ironically, in some cases, the predator I’ve chosen to use will regularly eat fungi, or its prey will frequently dine on mushrooms as well.

Pairings with flora are pretty similar to the fungi pieces. I’m taking (typically) a predator which kills others in order to nourish itself and pairing it with flowers. Like mushroom caps (which spread spores to root new mycelia colonies), flowers are the reproductive strategy in which plants spread their genetic material in order to propagate the next generation. It’s a fascinating strategy in which plants use beautiful, fragrant, colorful flowers to attract animals and offer energy-rich nectar to insects, birds, and small mammals in exchange for carrying their genes as pollinators to other flowers to fertilize the plant and ensure the production of seeds/fruit/etc.

For me, these pairings are a means of personally processing and coping with the reality that people groups with greater power oppress people groups with less means or access and a hope for future relationships will be more balanced, in the same way fungi and flora are nature’s rebalancers despite their place at the bottom of the food chain.

Who or what are some of your artistic influences?

The influences that come first to mind are all wildly different than what I create subject-wise, but, when I was younger: Disney animation, Norman Rockwell, and the work of Hiyao Miyazaki have been incredible inspirations for me. Disney’s films were the sort of gateway I took to becoming an avid art lover, and the way motion is captured through nuanced line has always been fascinating to me. Norman Rockwell’s work was also so realistic, believable, and attentive to the little details in life that can be overlooked but encapsulate so much beauty in life. Not only is his work rendered with incredible skill, but a lot of the subject matter I saw as a child nurtured an empathy for other experiences in life. With Hiyao Miyazaki’s work, I think his films are the most long-lasting influence for me. In the way movement, emotion, and narrative are depicted so beautifully visually. I also have a deep respect for the themes that carry through his stories and the detail and care he has for executing these ideas.

What does a typical day of art creation look like for you?

For me as a parent of young kids, I don’t know that I have a typical day of creating, but when they’re at school, in bed, or spending time with family I suppose then it comes down to where I am in the process of creating. When I’m starting an illustration, I’ll do pencil sketches and mess around with them digitally, or, with client work, I’ll start it out digitally after a few studies on their chosen subject.

After transferring a really ugly line drawing to paper with light board, I’ll dive into full value rendering bit by bit for as long as it takes to finish. Mechanical pencils being my favorite medium, it’s a time consuming process that can get boring, so often times I’ll listen to audiobooks and podcasts.

Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

There is! I’m working on a new apparel design for Year of the Dragon streetwear!

Last year I successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign to make my first collection of apparel featuring a Year of the Rabbit T-Shirt and a Year of the Snake Sweater, as it was my most requested piece as wearable art. It had been a goal for years and has since been really successful with multiple reprintings to restock for conventions.

I’m in the process of finalizing the design for a Dragon Sweater, featuring an Asian dragon with chrysanthemum blossoms tattooed along its body, a T-Shirt, new print, and possibly a new enamel pin depending on how much funding is pledged.

Right now the pre-launch page is live. If anyone wants to follow along or be a part of bringing this project to life, sign up to be notified on launch day 🙂


About Shawn

Shawn E. Russell is an award winning wildlife and fantasy artist specializing in creating detailed depictions of animals melded with plants and fungi in symbiotic relationships as a way to process the power struggles of the human world. She crafts her images with graphite pencil or ballpoint pen with occasional forays into other traditional mediums. Her illustrations highlight animal species with endangered status as a way to appreciate their natural beauty and raise awareness for the urgent need of conservation, with many Asian influences as a nod to her Chinese American heritage.

Shawn makes her living primarily by connecting with fans at comic and anime conventions across the country with personal work and merchandise for sale. She has worked with food-and-beverage packaging and private art collectors as well. Shawn also has a physical studio and gallery space in downtown Terre Haute, Indiana, where her work is on display to the public year round.


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