Welcome to Maker Mondays, BYT’s newest weekly feature. On Mondays, we’ll be profiling a new D.C. “maker”: a local artisan who’s setting the game on fire with new and inventive fine art, crafts, music, or other creative ventures that we think you should take notice. This week, we’re introducing you to Marcella Kriebel, an illustrator, author, and artist whose work can be found in countless D.C. homes and at pop-ups and markets across the city.
Like many D.C. residents, I’m very familiar with Marcella’s work, so we exchange pleasantries and I ask her how she’d like to be referenced in this piece. After becoming acquainted, I shift the interview to ask a pretty open ended question that I kind of already know the answer to. But I want to hear what she has to say.
So at it’s most basic, what do you make?
Ummm…what do I make…philosophically? (we laugh) I create watercolor illustrations, and I like to make things that make people feel warm, and happy, and something that they can associate with, a narrative if you will. That’s why I love food. There’s a story behind everything, and everyone has their own personal narrative to share.
I currently have one illustrated cookbook out that is comprised of all of these different recipes I learned cooking with people in their homes throughout Latin America. And I was initially a study abroad student in Ecuador and after that a backpacker for a long time. Throughout a series of extended trips and travels through Central and South America, I took good notes and had a sketchbook journal with me this whole time. So I refined that series of sketchbooks and created this illustrated recipe book. After that, I did a whole series of food related prints that are associated I guess, because it’s all food.
But there’s a lot more variety in those?
Yeah, absolutely. So the series is called Illustrated Feast, and it has over 100 designs now.
I interject to point out that three of the prints: Lox and Bagel, Cannabis, and Some Sushi, are hanging in my home.
Awesome! So yeah, obviously it’s not all Latin American food. But after I did this book that was over 100 pages of food, I really became quite familiar with that theme, so that’s why this print series came to fruition. This time last year, I did a show with a lot of that work. I drew one original every single day of 2014, and that’s what really created a large body of that series. So I kind of picked my favorites, and now it’s the kind of thing where I’m adding here and there, but it’s fun because you can really mix and match and make your own collection of whatever seems to go together in your mind!
In this studio which I moved into last November, I have the originals and I have all the prints, and some more obscure stuff, like horseradish and kielbasa. Stuff that’s perhaps a little bit more unusual than the lox and bagel…And one of the gratifying things about selling my work in person is that I get to hear all these stories, about why you love Lox and Bagel, and what your favorite type of sushi is, and perhaps a restaurant that I should try out. So, with food, it’s definitely a commonality among all people. And it also is endless inspiration thematically: what haven’t I drawn yet, what’s in season, what’s the coolest cocktail right now.
So you said you like to make people feel warm, and I feel like you can see that a lot just based on the colors you use.
I love really rich, saturated colors. I think one of the misnomers about watercolors is that it’s this pastelly, washy thing. I mean it is washy but you can make really rich, deep, saturated tones and values with watercolor and that’s what I really like to showcase in my work. And again, food is the inspiration to that. Some weird speckly looking shell of some fruit, it’s fun to interpret those textures in this medium that I’ve actually never taken a class in. I have a studio art degree in printmaking, and so I consider myself an illustrator first and foremost, because I always start with a black line. After that, I illuminate it with the watercolor.
So watercolors are your preferred medium, then? Is there anything else you really like?
I love doing murals, I wish I had more time to do murals. I have a background in oil paints and I love working big scale and I hope to do more of that when I have time.
So why do you make all this?
Well, I love it! I love THE ACT of making. You know, creating something. If I look back on my week and go, “what is tangible that actually matters?” It’s the most satisfying thing to look at something that is physical. That’s honestly why I find it hard to work digitally. It’s so much more satisfying to have this physical experience.
What else is in store?
I’m working on a new cookbook, and it’s going to be about Cuban cuisine…It’s so current, with opening diplomatic relations again. And it’s changing every day, the opportunities for Cubans and Americans and vice versa. And so art, I think, is just a fantastic first step to really create a bridge. I went in March into April…and I’m going back in August, so I’m coordinating these trips to cook with people, to learn recipes, and doing all the design layout, so I’m just knee deep in this project.
And also, you have recipes, but not in the traditional list sense. I mean, those are illustrations in their own right.
Oh, 100 percent. Design layout is a big part of the whole process and I do every step myself. I’m testing these recipes, and then I put pencil to paper, and then ink over that. The composition is a really big part of it because it’s a dance between the words and the graphics themselves. You have to make sure the design is legible, but inspiring.
And how about D.C., how does this city inspire or influence your style?
I think that it’s driven by response. I always kind of have my finger on the pulse, what people are most excited about, that’s an area where I’ll explore more. Because I do so many events in the city, I do have the liberty of hearing from people about what they like.
I’m doing a monthly collaboration at Union Market. I do these classes where people get to enjoy an original cocktail prepared by Gina Chersevani (Buffalo & Bergen) and they get to illuminate my line art. So I design a composition of an original cocktail of Gina’s. The last one we did is a rickey. In the cannon of classic cocktails, it’s the only one that originated in D.C.
Can you describe the D.C. art scene in a sentence?
Just like the weather right now: it’s heating up.
It’s kind of small but mighty. It’s nice to be a part of a culture where you know the majority of everybody. This is also a community that embraces the arts. It’s a progressive atmosphere, and I like that.
Where can people go to see and support your art?
Instagram, that’s a fun narrative of the progress on the cookbook as well as new artwork and events. They can come to my studio. I’m open every Saturday, and the Farmer’s Market happens right outside my door. And on Thursday nights, they have live music here on the Arts Walk from 5 to 9 p.m. My next pop-up is at Union Market August 21 and 22. Also my website and Etsy.