Riley Sheehey founder of Make Things Co, a Custom Watercolor Illustration company, has been a source of constant inspiration thanks to her Instagram feed and Insta-Stories. I just love the whimsy nature of her watercolor illustrations that she’s created for brands such as Ralph Lauren and Vivi et Margot. Riley has even painted illustrations based on photos from the royal wedding of Prince Harry & Megan Markle, including one of my favorite photos of the bride and groom in their carriage.
In this interview, Riley shares about how she first became interested in watercolor, what it was like transitioning to pursuing freelance art full-time and what inspires her.
When did you first become interested in creating watercolor illustrations?
Summer 2014, while I was on summer break from teaching.
What was it like transitioning from teaching elementary school to pursuing freelance art full time?
Very busy! In the fall of 2016, I started to get more inquiries about my artwork and found that I was working as soon as I got home from school until 10 or 11 each night, and spending most of my weekends painting. I approached my principal, who helped me shift my schedule to four days a week for the spring. That gave me a sense of what my day-to-day would look like. Around March, I spoke with my parents and my fiancé and decided that I would take my art career full-time at the end of the school year.
Many artists have reasons why they love working with watercolors, what drew you to this particular medium?
I’ve always loved drawing with pencils, but I also love color- I feel like watercolor is a great mix between drawing and painting.
Do you have a certain brand of watercolor paint and brushes that you prefer?
For paints, I use Winsor and Newton watercolor paints- for brushes, I don’t really have a preference!
Hot or cold-pressed paper, and why?
I actually use Strathmore Mixed Media paper instead of classic watercolor paper, because I like how smooth the surface is. I like to draw on a pretty small scale, and tiny details can get lost on a bumpy surface.
Tell me about your freelance design & illustration company, ‘Make Things Co.’
I started my illustration company in 2014, and in the beginning, I was painting mostly wedding-related artwork and portraits. While I still create a lot of wedding-related commissions, my work has expanded to different things, like designing packaging and even patterns for textiles!
How do your surroundings in Falls Church, Virginia inspire your work?
I paint a lot of Washington DC architecture/restaurants/etc. and go into the city when I can to go to the museums (they’re free in DC!) for inspiration.
Out of all the places, you have traveled to, what place or places have inspired you the most as an artist?
Charleston always has a special place in my heart because I go every year in May with my fiancé. I love the pastel colors, palm trees, and architecture!
What was it like working on the project for Ralph Lauren this Spring?
Really exciting! It was a small project for The Polo Bar’s social media accounts, but it was still really neat to work with a company that’s so well-known.
I love the summer-inspired project you created for Vivi et Margot where you created a custom illustration for one of their French market baskets. What place inspired the final piece?
Thanks! Charlotte (the owner of Vivi et Margot) asked me to keep the Hamptons in mind while I worked, and so I would say the Hamptons (although I’ve never been- but the pictures are beautiful!)
You captured one of my favorite pictures of Harry & Megan on their wedding day, how excited did you feel as you were putting brush to paper?
Thanks so much! It was really fun to work on something inspired by their wedding. I’ve loved reading about both of them and woke up early to watch the wedding, and was excited to pick out photos to paint from the wedding.
What has been your favorite commission to date?
I have a lot of favorites, so it’s hard to pick just one! I would say that when a client comes to me and asks me to paint something that I would have chosen to paint on my own for a daily “fun sketch” (this actually happens more often than I’d have thought!), it usually ends up being a favorite.
Do you have a favorite fashion designer?
Tanya Taylor and/or Rebecca Taylor