Pictures tell a thousand words, and we are smitten with the stories Riley Sheehey tells through her whimsical, lovely, delicately-drawn illustrations. So much so that we asked (okay, pleaded with!) her to please, please, please create something special for us at Helen Jon.
It’s a rare find when you stumble upon someone or something who can fully capture a moment, a mood, a feeling—and this is what Riley does through her art. Charming, playful, with each drawing evoking a distinct sense of place and of heart.
Meet Riley. You’ll be happy you did.
Where do you find your inspiration?
All over the place! I love patterns and surface design, so sometimes, my inspiration is already art-design-related (like interiors or textiles that I see on Pinterest), but other times, I’ll get inspired by random things that I love, like old movies I watched growing up (“The Parent Trap,” or “13 Going on 30”), favorite books (“Little Women”), etc.
I also love making things out of found objects, a box of bow-tie pasta, a collection of shells, that kind of thing. It’s fun to brainstorm what I can turn things into.
Always doodling? If so, what and where?
I have always been a doodler. I think I get it from my mom, who I grew up watching doodle in the margins of Post-its while she was on phone calls. When I taught, I drew so much during meetings that my principal bought sketchbooks for our staff retreat for me to use!
Your latest series of adorable animals doing real-people things makes us so happy. Penguins in Paris, giraffes in India, peacocks playing cards, too cute! We have fallen in love with the notion you present: a life filled with delight and whimsy is the perfect tonic for doldrums or cynicism. What was your inspiration?
Thank you so much!! I am not sure what brought that one on—I think I’d seen a Pinterest photo of the Jaipur interior and started sketching and thought “you know what this needs? A giraffe having coffee!”
You come from a family of teachers, you formerly were an elementary and an art teacher, and you credit one of your past teachers with words of wisdom that inspire you to keep striving. He told you for your final portfolio review: “You are good. You will get better.” How has this motivated and influenced you in your work and in your life?
Out of all of the feedback I’ve received about my artwork (and, really, any type of work!), I think that is one of my favorites. When I taught, I learned how important it is to provide positive feedback, because I think it’s important for everyone to hear at some point that they’re doing something right. If I hadn’t received positive feedback from people, especially my parents and husband, I think that I might have given up early on in the process of turning my hobby into my career.
All of that said, I think that it’s equally important to hear that there is always room for improvement, or else it’s easy to get comfortable with what you’re doing to the point where you’re not growing or changing. In my life, I’ve found that my best relationships are with people who appreciate who I am, while pushing me (and believing in me!) to always be and do better.
Imagine a quick-fire round in a game show… well, we have a few fun questions lined up for you:
Favorite painter or artist? Ludwig Bemelmans (the illustrator for “Madeline”)
Favorite flower to draw, to put in a vase, to smell? Draw: California poppy, Vase: hydrangeas, Smell: lavender!
Favorite beach? All of them! This one is too hard to choose.
Favorite beach read? Any psychological thrillers. I listen to audiobooks while I work, and always come back to thrillers!
Favorite beach wear? A swimsuit and pareo.
Hardest thing for you to draw? Hands and faces (but I’m working on it!).
Favorite palette? Anything with muted pastels—I love blush and dusty blue.
You said this about a recent trip to NYC: "When I am here, I feel so small and great at the same time. The smallness comes from realizing that I am such a tiny piece of this huge puzzle that is the world we live in. The greatness comes from the realization that I will never be too old or jaded to feel a profound sense of amazement at it."
We feel like that when we see your watercolors. Thank you for making the small merge with the great and for bringing a sense of wonder into our own lives.
Thank you so very much for creating something unique and wonderful for Helen Jon!