Elizabeth Graeber is VisArts’ Summer 2017 Illustrator-in-Residence
Elizabeth Graeber has a thing for patterns.
“I taught myself how to make patterns,” says the Washington, D.C.-based illustrator. “I like fun imagery, faces or animals, and love the [patterns] where you can’t see the repeat.”
Graeber is the Visual Arts Center of Richmond’s newest illustrator-in-residence. In addition to illustrating VisArts’ summer catalog, which features a very zany assortment of brightly colored birds, she’ll also lead a special one-day workshop, Patterned Illustrations + Their Products, in which she’ll share tricks for creating great patterns.
Graeber, who says she draws inspiration from Marimeko and Joseph Frank, recently launched a line of patterned wallpaper through Spoonflower, a web-based company that specializes in printing custom fabric and wallpaper on demand.
Wallpaper is just one of Graeber’s illustrative outputs. Her illustrations, which begin as pen and ink drawings and later get bright washes of paint, look great on just about anything. Graeber’s Etsy shop is chockfull of tote bags, stickers and stationary. Her birds grace a line of Alice + Olivia tees, and Graeber recently partnered with a ceramicist friend to produce a series of whimsical planters that bear her signature faces.
“I like creating usable things that make people happy,” says Graeber.
Graeber now claims Edible DC, The Wall Street Journal, Warby Parker, The Washington Post, and Whole Foods as clients but that wasn’t always the case. “It took me a couple of years to figure out how to get jobs and money,” says Graeber.
After graduating with a degree in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Graeber moved to D.C. and began working two jobs—one as a dog walker and the other as a ticket seller at The Phillips Collection. Someone who worked on the museum’s website noticed that Graeber was always drawing in a notebook, and hired her to illustrate some of the museum’s blog posts. It was her first big break.
Another break came a couple of years later. Graeber teamed up with Orr Shtuhl, a writer she knew at D.C.’s City Paper, to create an illustrated guide to cocktails. Initially, they self-published the slim 30-page guide, which they titled, appropriately, “An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails.”
When the book was featured on the blog, Design Sponge, copies started flying off Graeber’s blog, and when retailer Anthropologie ordered 3,000 copies to carry in their stores, Shtuhl and Graeber had to print another run. Ultimately, the book was so successful that they signed with Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, to re-publish an expanded version of it with more recipes and more illustrations.
Next up, Graeber illustrated “A Field Guide to Redheads,” which was published by Workman Publishing in September of 2016. The book is a quirky ode to some of the world’s most famous redheads. Graeber, who is herself a ginger, paired fun facts about redheads with illustrations of everyone from David Bowie and Rita Hayworth to Anne of Green Gables and Shirley Temple. The book was a New York Times Bestseller and has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, bust.com and DCist.com.
Richmonders who can’t get enough of Graeber will be happy to learn that, after her stint as VisArts’ illustrator-in-residence, she has plans to return to the River City. In January of 2018 she’ll open an exhibition of some of her works on paper, along with select merchandise, at Quirk Gallery.
Expect lots of color and plenty of patterns.