Amy Ruppel is a talented artist living and working in Portland, Oregon. When I stumbled upon one of her most recent works, a beautiful poster entitled "Tree Factory," I was thrilled to see that she will be donating 5% of the sales to the American Bird Conservancy. (You can see the poster to the left, and it can be purchased online at the ReForm School shop.) After visiting Amy's web site and seeing her gorgeous collection of bird artwork, I simply had to know more about her. She was gracious enough to take the time for a short interview, and to let us know all about why she loves birds, what inspires her to create art, and where she's headed in the future.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did you enjoy doing as a kid? Were you always "artsy"? Did you always have an interest in birds and the natural world? What's your educational background?
I grew up in rural Wisconsin, in the Kettle Moraine Forest -- plenty of birds and trees about. I always drew as a kid, mainly because both my parents were creative as well. I used to drag my pencils and paper into the woods, make a fort, and sketch all day until I heard mom ringing the dinner triangle. I had little "art studio forts" everywhere!
I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I started as a biology student but ended up with a printmaking degree. I've always had an interest in nature.
Why do you use birds in your artwork?
I just love the shape of the birds, and that they are always moving, never still. They're little bundles of mystery to me. Drawing them helps me figure them out and get a little closer. Even if by proxy ;) (Amy explains a little more about her passion for birds here.)
Do you always use birds as a theme in your artwork? Do you have any other favorite subjects?
I also have deer in my work (another animal that frequented our Wisconsin yard). I am currently working on adding some other woodland creatures to the pack. Keep reading after the jump.
Why do the materials you use (wax, wood, paper, etc.) work for you as an artist?
I was painting with acrylics before the wax. I loved it, but I wanted to incorporate my computer illustrations into my work. I took an encaustic painting class (painting with wax), and I was hooked. It was the perfect medium for combining the best of both worlds: hands-on and digital.
Tell us about your inspiration for the "Tree Factory" print, and your decision to donate some of the proceeds to the American Bird Conservancy.
ReForm School heavily promotes conservation, and I applaud them for that. The print was my answer to the ever-growing industrial world versus the clearing of trees to make room for it. Here the birds are overseeing the manufacturing of trees, their main home and place to roost.
Choosing the American Bird Conservancy was easy. They do great things, and the percentage of proceeds they collect and then use toward actual projects is impressive.
Do you consider yourself a birdwatcher? If so, what is your favorite place to watch birds?
I'm just an observer, really. I have a 100-foot hemlock in the corner of my yard, so there's plenty of action there! Flickers, crows, chickadees, robins, titmouse... and those pesky but pretty jays ;) A Cooper's Hawk comes through about once a month. (The crows let us know when that hawk is around!) I've planted lots of bird- and bee-friendly trees and shrubs in the backyard as well. When I want the big bird fix, I head out to the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area just outside of Portland here in Oregon.
Any personal bird experiences you'd like to share?
I keep the wild birds in my yard well watered and fed. I feel that one day they will pay me back by warning me about other things, like that hawk. I feel that watching how they behave and learning the pattern of their daily activities and instincts will alert me to something irregular when that pattern changes. We don't have that instinct, so I'll rely on theirs. Simple enough!
If you could be any kind of bird, what would you be? Why?
Hmm. Tough one! I think, a pelican. Probably because they are my favorite bird to watch when I'm on the shores of the Pacific. I find it fascinating that they haven't changed physically for millions of years. How fun would it be to plunge into the ocean like they do, and to soar so close to the surface? And, I like fish ;)
Where can we find your work?
I sell most of my work online through my own web site in monthly sales. I also carry a steady amount of work through great shops such as Velocity Art and Design in Seattle (new work is headed there soon!), Rare Device in San Francisco, and Office here in Portland, where I currently have a show, and all the work is posted online for viewing. More to come, I'm sure!
Any other exciting upcoming projects?
Well, if you wander into a Target store these days, you'll see some birdies up high on a wreath and branches. I'm their illustrator for this holiday season. The commercials are fun too! It's so wonderful and exciting so too see them on TV. Plus, there are always new projects on the horizon. I plan to work in a more three-dimensional realm with the wax and birds as well. -- J.E.