Interview by M. Bullette
This will be Sheila Sunshine's 4th year participating in Delaware Fun-A-Day. From empowering teens to improving herself, learn a little about "what's behind the cute". Thank you, Sheila!
We like to know how people are connected to Delaware - are you a resident, born and raised? I live in Pennsylvania right now, but I was born in Delaware and have lived there most of my life. I'm from Townsend, which I don't think I appreciated when I was young, but was pretty idyllic looking back now. Most of my family still lives in Delaware and I don't live far from Newark, so I still have ties here and come down often.
This will be your fourth year participating! Did you have a favorite project from your past Delaware Fun-A-Days? Any Artists you are hoping to see participate again? I think my first project was probably my favorite. I called it "heartFELT" because most of the pieces were made of felt, but it was a daily sewing project. It's still my most ambitious Fun-A-Day because each piece took thought, sketching, sewing, and then I photographed each piece and put it in a book with why that item was made for each day. A lot of them I would start on the day mentioned, but then I would use most of my weekend to finish the details. I had to scale back for the following years, but looking back on heartFELT, I'm so glad I pushed myself because it's interesting to see what kind of 3D form I chose to represent each day. I learned so much from that project, improved my sewing skills, and really influenced my work moving forward.
My current logo is based on the lion key chain I made from that project for instance, and the envelope from the first day lives on my desk still. It's the only piece from that project I kept for myself. As for other artists, there are SO MANY. I always love to see what Meredith Keating (who encouraged me to do my first Fun-A-Day), Alyssa Molin-Graves, and Maggie McDermott are doing because I love their work and admire them for different reasons. There were two sisters that I think were about 9-12 years old that I thought were so brave for participating at such a young age and had clearly worked so hard to make something for each day. I would love to see them participate again just to see how their work has developed. My good friend Jason Walsh did his first Fun-A-Day last year, and I would love to see him come back, too.
What advice can you pass on for this year’s first timers? It's not really advice, but I'd like to remind people that they CAN do it. I think there's a lot of pressure with art to make something "good" but what most seasoned artists know that newcomers don't is that not every piece is a masterpiece; it can't be. What's important is to do your best and take away what you can from it. Each Fun-A-Day I've made has some pieces that are stronger than the rest, and some that aren't as successful. What's beautiful about Fun-A-Day is that all of your work is next to each other in a cluster, so you can see how the artist explored a certain thing, improved, or changed their focus over time.
How long have you been making art? How did you get started? I've been creating for as long as I can remember. I got started with typical kid stuff like crayons, markers, beads, and string, but I had a lot of different influences growing up. My dad liked to sew and cross stitch, my mother would make things out of wood and paint them, my Mimi was a painter and then a stained glass artist, my uncle would make elaborate LED designs, and my aunts would take me to craft fairs or do different kits with me. Whatever was around, as long as I asked first and cleaned up afterward, I could make what I wanted with it. I had a lot of free time when I was young and was encouraged to make myself busy so my interests grew very organically.
What types of themes do you like to pursue in your work? In an overarching way, it's all an exercise in exploring my own identity and searching for authenticity. I think I've always been overly aware of social boundaries, like oversharing or inconveniencing another person too much, and frequently keep my inner dialogue to myself. My work is usually two parts: the cover which either by color scheme or subject matter is inviting, and then an underside which depends on the piece but is essentially the core of the idea or feeling that motivated me to make the piece. Stripped down to bold lines, bright colors, and soft gradations, they seem simple and cute to most people, but I believe that "cute" can be a vehicle for nuance of emotion just like how we ask each other how our day is and we respond with "good" or "fine" but can sense something more. I think people are drawn to the perceived happiness of my work, but stay looking because of those nuances. The work I make is to share my inner dialogue in a way that separates myself from it to create a kind of common ground for others to share in that feeling. It may seem like a lofty idea for illustrations that look like they belong in a children's book, but I feel I'm successful because people look at them and supply their own narrative. I love that my work resonates with others and reminds them of other people or a feeling because that's when it becomes a shared experience.
Did you know that there is a Helianthus giganteus ‘Sheila’s Sunshine’ sunflower? What is your favorite flower? I didn't until I researched my business name which is a real shame because I do love sunflowers! I wish I could remember who called me Sheila Sunshine first, but I'm pretty sure it was a work nickname and then my friends liked it too, so pretty soon it was just who I was. When I started my own business for freelance illustration and graphic design, I knew that had to be my business name. I love many different kinds of flowers but lilacs, hydrangeas, and sunflowers are probably my top three.
You teach Magazine Design and other digital skills at Cecil College Summer Camp - what is your greatest challenge with working with 13-17 year olds? This is such a tough question because I think most people of any age group struggle to keep motivation when learning a new thing, especially artists. 13-17 year olds are no different, but because of their developmental stage, they additionally seek autonomy but can be afraid to try because exposing themselves through their work leaves them open to criticism. I think this combo has them generally more inclined to throw in the towel when the Adobe programs we use take practice and are not easy to master. The digital art and design classes I co-teach with Meredith Keating are kind of exceptional in that because it's a camp, our students are not required to master anything specifically by the end, so we can really tailor the class to their interests. This means that if a student gets frustrated with one thing, we can get them to tinker with something else and in a few minutes they usually decide whether the first thing is worth the energy to focus on, or if they like the second thing better. Meredith and I really try to keep the tone positive and encouraging because to us, what's most important is that they just keep creating. After that, it's just striking that balance between building their skills within their confidence level and the occasional hurdle to see if they rise to meet that challenge.
What is your favorite part about Dover Comic Con? (a wonderful free outdoor comic book convention on Saturday, August 19, Dover Public Library): I'm so glad you asked about this event, because it's another favorite local event of mine that I also look forward to annually! It has all the makings of a great community building event: it's free to attend, run by a local library, has amazing volunteers, and is geared towards all ages. Kerri Hollyday is one of the key coordinators I've had to interact with and she's so kind and helpful. I've met so many amazing people there, so that's probably my favorite part. I love having the chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends.
List 5 things that have been inspiring to you lately…
1. My Hero Academia - an awesome anime about a boy that has no superpowers of his own, but works hard and tries his best. His determination fires me up!
2. Lo-fi hip hop because it feels like summer and I could draw or paint with it on in the background for hours.
3. The #meetheartist and #whatsinmybag hastags because it's almost like a peek into someone's diary. I love seeing how people describe themselves and what they carry with them all the time.
4. The Art of Loish, a book by the artist Lois van Baarle, who I've followed on deviantART since I was about 16.
5. Hiking. I've been going weekly and it's acted as a great reset button for me. The colors and smells are relaxing and frequently come to mind later when I'm working.
Please describe the project you plan to make for Delaware Fun-A-Day 2017: I'm not really sure yet! I'm leaning towards doing something graphic as I've done colored pencil work the last two years. It would be cool to do something 3D again, but I'm concerned about time. I've had ideas for a cut paper piece floating around for a year or two now as well.
Where can people check out more of your work?
My main website: www.sheilamcginnis.com
Square Store: https://squareup.com/store/sheila-sunshine
Definitely check out the facebook page if you want to see the various conventions and shows I'll be at!
Do you have anything additional for us? I'll have a piece in the Newark Arts Alliance's An Abstract Approach show which will have an opening reception on Friday July 14, and I'll be co-teaching Webcomic Design and Development at Cecil College with Meredith Keating of Grunge Muffin Designs July 24-30!