The next time you hear a parent tell a young painter with big dreams they need to get a “real job” or a “back-up plan”, tell them about Michelle Vinson, an exquisite watercolor artist and founder of Brush & Inc. She’s managed to use her unique talent to create a small but mighty empire that includes patterns and illustrations for prints, fabric and home décor found at Home Goods and beyond.
She lives in rural Shohola, PA, (the last train stop out from NYC) with her husband, two sweet little boys and toy “party” poodle (yeah, that’s a real breed). Here she tells us what inspires her, how she did it, and why travel is so important for any artist.
Oh, and she’s the nicest woman you’ll ever meet.
What inspires you?
My two little boys (Ivan 8, and Emerson 6) are a big inspiration for me. Everything is new and exciting to them and they help me see the beauty in the simplest things. They notice everything from the details on a trash can on the streets of NYC to the wings of a dragonfly. They teach me to open my eyes and pay attention. Their fascination with bugs in our wooded backyard was the inspiration for a series of insect paintings. I eventually turned them into prints and a textile pattern.
Does living in Shohola inspire you?
I think we live in one of the most beautiful places. We are surrounded by greenery, waterfalls, blue skies, and woodland creatures. The best color palettes and patterns come from nature.
What feeling are you trying to evoke with your work?
I want people to smile when they see my work. Sometimes I try to create characters that have a little wit. Sometimes I create things that remind me of my childhood, or a person in my life. When I feel connected to something, those pieces generally connect with my audience too.
What is your workday like?
I typically paint or draw every day. I usually need a few hours of uninterrupted time with music or a podcast playing and my phone notifications turned off. At night, I’ll scan in whatever I have painted and cut it out in Photoshop, clean up any pencil marks. Sometimes they work and sometimes they are hidden from the world… ha!
If I have client work to do, there is a juggle between Brush & Inc. work and client work. So, I have to carve out time and treat myself as a client. Sometimes I have super late nights when it is quiet and the world is sleeping, but other times I have the luxury of taking the boys to a pool or for a hike in the middle of the day. I work hard, but I also feel so lucky to have something that I love to do and a business I want to grow.
How did you get involved in fabric making/printing?
I am an expert in the world of paper. I know what finishes and weights and textures that I love. I am still learning about fabric and searching for the right fit at the quality and price that is good for my customers.
I have licensed my artwork to clients in the home and lifestyle business. This has definitely helped me when creating my own collection. I can sew, but my time and energy is better used in creating and designing. I am currently using a manufacturer that can both print and sew. If I need to sew something to get a project done I will do it.
What is your favorite medium to work in?
Watercolor, gouache and digital. Gouache is similar to watercolor, but the colors are a little more vibrant. If I need to create a pattern that translates better in digital form, I will hand draw it, scan it in and then make a digital file and color it in using illustrator or Photoshop. I love the hand to paper feeling when creating my art, so I always at least have to start that way.
How have your travels influenced your work?
Travel and exploring the world around me is everything. I think it is so important to get out to feel textures, see patterns and escape your everyday. You can look at a million photos of the beach or desert or a city, but you don’t notice details until you see them with your own eyes. Traveling also helps clear my mind. Some of my best ideas come when we are taking long car rides, or if we are somewhere with little or no cell service. Those little moments of forced unplugging can bring out some of my best ideas. We make regular visits out to see my family in California. This past summer, I spent a lot of time there photographing and looking at some of the tropical and desert plants that helped build my floral series.
How did you become involved with HomeGoods?
I guess it all started by painting things to fill our walls. Which then, lead to me having some fabric printed with patterns that I wanted, but couldn’t find anywhere, buying a sewing machine and watching YouTube videos on how to make pillow covers.
I signed up for my first craft show a couple of years ago and had a great response. So, I just kept showing up and showing my work at different shows. People started to ask if they could buy my artwork, I was being commissioned for projects and licensing my artwork and things just started to grow naturally. I have created patterns that have been used on aprons, oven mitts and gloves and shower curtains for my client, Simply Whimsical, that you see in HomeGoods, Marshalls and T.J.Maxx.
Where else can people find your work?
I have an online shop on my website: brushandinc.com
And on FB/IG: @brushandinc
What do you have coming in the future that you’re excited about?
I am building my collection of pillows and textile goods with coordinating patterns. They are bright and beautiful and go well together without being too matchy-matchy (which I think creates those different textures and layers). I am excited to have them in my own home. I hope other people will be excited about them, too. I will also continue to create wall art prints, note cards and paper goods. My hope is to decorate everyone’s home in Brush & Inc. one day!