Growing up in a creative household with artist parents and a maker for a sister, there was little doubt that artist and designer Arielle Toelke would follow a creative path. With a formal art education to provide foundational skills, Arielle’s natural curiosity and spirit of adventure have opened doors to painting, collage, eco-dyeing, screen printing and more. All of this in addition to her “day job” as a makeup artist in the television and film industry. All of those actors you didn’t recognize because the makeup and prosthetics are so realistic? That might be Arielle’s artistic magic that creates the illusion.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I am lucky to have artist parents. My father was an illustrator back in the 70s and 80s. Once computers became consumer items my father made the switch to graphic design and my mother started working with him. Both my sister and I were encouraged to make art, be creative and to always use the right tools. We learned how to use x-acto knives and a very young age. I’m so grateful that we have been encouraged our whole lives to make art. I can’t imagine my life without it.
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Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
Both my sister and I were always making. We would have little companies where we would make things and try and sell it to my parents’ friends. It was all about creating the packaging and the design. For a little while we made jewelry and sold it at a local store (my sister has always been an amazing jeweler and now has a master’s in metal smithing and a jewelry company www.charmstand.com ).
We would make our own Barbie furniture, sew clothes and costumes and put on little plays. Since my parents had a studio there were always supplies at our disposal. If they didn’t have something we would take special trips to the art store out of town to get what we needed for whatever project we were working on at the time.
My mom sewed quite often when we were young and she taught me how to use a sewing machine. We made so many home sewn projects, both on the machine and by hand.
What motivates you artistically?
Life. As I mentioned I can’t imagine not creating. It’s the reason I get up in the morning. I’m constantly inspired by my environment. Even if it’s a place I’ve been 100 times before, there is always something new to see. I believe you can learn to be creative, but if you are born a creative person there will always be an internal fire that keeps you going artistically.
You have explored a lot of different creative outlets. Can you give us a brief tour? What prompts you to explore a new medium?
Being a curious person, I love trying new things. Taking workshops and classes is a way that I explore new mediums, connect with other artists and deepen the techniques in my existing practice.
For example, I’m always trying to figure out how to get my drawings and collages on paper onto fabric. There are many ways of doing that. I have used digital printing, block printing, screen printing and most recently cyanotypes. Each technique has its own set of pros and cons and is suitable for certain items I am making. This leads me to try a variety of techniques. Most recently cyanotype. There is still so much to learn! I sometimes use many different mediums to make one final artwork.
I might create a number of collages, expose those on cyanotype treated fabric, dye the fabric, sew that fabric together and embroider on top of it.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I have a career as a makeup artist in film and television. My formal art training has helped in many aspects of being a makeup artist. Seeing and learning to mix color both with oil paints and egg tempera have been extremely useful to mixing foundations and painting prosthetics. I used to have a special effects studio, and foundry basics gave me a good foundation for mold making. Figure classes in painting, drawing, sculpting have made me a better special effects fabricator, sculptor, and painter.
As an artist I think it certainly helped, too. Again, color is such a large part of my work and so much color theory is taught in the nuances of oil painting.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My use of color and graphic imagery in both my collage work and textile work tend to make my work stand out. Cleverness as well, such as my series of Bandana Board Games I sell on my Four Rabbit website www.fourrabbit.com
Many artists experienced major disruptions in their creative lives during the pandemic. How did it affect your work, and how did you adapt?
Luckier than others, I was extremely grateful that the pandemic didn’t throw my life upside down. I was working on a television series and we took a 5 month hiatus in the middle of it. I used the pandemic lockdown as time to be creative. It was the first time ever in my adult life I could not work, be distracted by work, or make plans to do anything than spend time at home making. I was able to have the uninterrupted head space to create the whole time.
It was a welcome break from the long hours of television production and gave me time to focus on my side business.
I have always been fascinated by tarot and had the chance to create my own tarot deck, Radical Vision Tarot (https://www.fourrabbit.com/radical-vision) Had it not been for the pandemic I don’t know if I ever would have found the time for such a huge project. Seen from inception to completion in just a few months.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Both! I plan and flow. I keep a sketchbook and am constantly taking notes, doodling, ideating. So much of those doodles end up being final artworks.
That said, if I am doing something like the embroidered denim vest, I’ll plan the shape and cut of the vest, but the stitched line work is improvisational. I’ll make a few chalk lines, stitch those, then add more lines and shapes as I see fit and work in smaller sections until the entire piece has been stitiched all over.
I’ll do similar things with collage. Cut a million shapes and just move them around the page until something works. It’s a very mediative process.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
Practice, experiment, and read everything on the subject. With natural dyeing there is so much to learn. I take workshops, read blogs, listen to podcasts, anything that will expand my knowledge on the subject.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I lost my studio in 2017 and now work from my home. While not totally ideal, I have plenty of space create. My apartment has a funny tiny standing shower that most people have turned into a linen closet. I have kept mine as a wet space for dyeing and drying. I call it my dye shower. Without my tiny shower, I don’t think I would be able to do any dyeing or cyanotypes.
For bigger projects such as silk screening yardage I rent space nearby at the Textile Art Center.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
There are so many tools I can’t live without. My Kai scissors for cutting paper. A cutting mat and x-acto knives. Of course, my sewing machine. My favorite clear ruler, metal ruler, circle stencil and sketchbook. I’m very particular about pens and love all the writing tools from Muji. This could be a very exhaustive list so I’ll leave it at that.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Depends on my mood. I work in silence a lot. There are a few great podcasts I’ve been into lately (natural dye podcasts and nature podcasts). Spotify is great if I just want to zone out.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
I have a career as a makeup artist, which is its own creative field, comes with its own challenges. Working in the film and television industry is intense in many ways, but also super fun and rewarding. So much of being a makeup artist is determination, learning the industry, and the ability to work as a team. Production work is so collaborative, much different than having a solo studio art practice.
Being a visual artist (I think) is much more challenging. Navigating the art world as a maker, trying to market and sell yourself, is very hard. In the production world you have a whole crew of people behind you working with you. As an artist it’s so much harder to go it alone. I have a small soft goods business; and hope that I make things people will want to buy or get insprired by. Just because I love something doesn’t mean someone/everyone else will. That is certainly a challenge.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
Go on vacation!
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
I recently had the opportunity to paint a gas tank for a Harley Davidson exhibit. While the imagery was something I had designed, I had never painted a gas tank before. Creatively it wasn’t a stretch, but technically it was a challenge. Painting metal with enamel paints, I’m not sure if I had ever done that before. You can see the tank at www.ariellecutspaper.com
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I have two websites. www.ariellecutspaper.com which is my illustration and services site. You can also see a little of my makeup work there too. This site is fun for me because it shows off the wide scope of things that I do. My collage work is bright and bold, and I hope that whoever takes a look enjoys the kaleidoscope of colors on the page as much as me.
My other site www.fourrabbit.com is my soft goods company. I sell bandanas and my line of Bandana Board Games, clothing and accessories. As you have read, I’m a natural dye fanatic and have a series of tutorials for easy at home dyeing. If you head to the shop I have natural dye kits and dye instructions for sale.
Interview posted April 2022
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