Abby Ouellette (@abby_woolette) likes to mix mediums. While illustrations are her bread and butter, she works to incorporate elements of collage and photography into her art. Born and raised in southern New Hampshire, Ouellette, who is 22 and a recent college grad, has been making illustrations her whole life. It was once she went to college at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design that she fell in love with horticulture. So, she decided to mix her new passion with her old. At first glance, Ouellette’s art seems to have a lot going on. Bright colors, glaring eyes, and frantic strokes mask a meticulous process that has become her signature style.
Q. Besides being an illustrator, you’re a horticulturalist. How would you say the two intersect?
A. Well I always knew I wanted to be an artist. My mother is an artist, and my grandmother was an artist. But I only discovered my passion for horticulture four or five years ago, when I started school. Now, I work full-time as a horticulturalist for Cityscapes Boston. A lot of my work now includes plants. My illustration thesis in college was a comparison between the female experience when growing up and common weeds you’d find in a New England yard — the annoying kind, because growing up as a girl has quite a few annoying aspects. Having this job right now is a really significant part of my practice though.
Q. What are some examples of the matches you made between weeds and female growth?
A. Well, for example, I chose weeds that I would personally find in my yard growing up, like poison ivy, or dandelions. So the itching sensation associated with poison ivy would connect to the uncomfortable feeling that comes with having to wear a training bra. The whole project is named “Milkweed,” because it’s a plant that starts out beautifully. It’s a flowering plant, so it attracts all these butterflies. But with the seasons, it begins to evolve, and their seed pods make the plant a sticky mess. So that sense of change is what I wanted to capture with my project.
Q. Besides the use of plants, most of your illustrations have a unique way of portraying the human face.
A. That actually stems from my fascination with collage. I love drawing, of course, but it’s nice to have something more tactile in your creative process as well. So I started using found photographs, and it was nice to have a feeling of control over the image, because by cutting and pasting the eyes or mouth into a photo, I was completely manipulating the appearance of the face. At the same time, a photograph is fixed and unchangeable, so there is also a lack of control that challenges you as an artist. Now, I try using photos I’ve taken myself.
Q. Your use of color is consistently bright and vivid. What makes you choose such a palette?
A. I like to look at my art and see it as a direct representation of myself. I’m a very loud and outgoing person, so I think my art tends to be loud as well. It grabs people’s attentions with the use of color. Beyond that, though, they are all colors that make me happy and comfortable. I deal with nostalgia a lot in my art, and these are colors that bring me back to a time of comfort.
Q. You mention nostalgia. What do your illustrations mean to you?
A. I cherish my practice so much, precisely because of what they mean to me. My art is nostalgic, self-reflective, and a direct perspective of my experience growing up as a woman. While it is innately personal, it is also meant to be relatable, and I really get so much value out of my art when others approach me and tell me that they can relate to it. That’s what I live for.