Known for her distinct style, warm-hearted illustrations, and whimsical characters...

Mary Engelbreit has captured our hearts and millions of others around the globe for decades. Here at Elle Crée, we've been fans of Marys since the 1990s and were thrilled to collaborate with this extraordinary artist and visionary. With this new collection, fans - both new and old - will have the chance to immerse themselves in her imaginative world and interact with her artwork in a new way. As part of this our paint-by-number collaboration, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Mary for a Q&A about her artistic inspirations. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in art, and how did you get started as an artist?

I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. There was never any doubt in my mind that that’s what I would do. My first job was at an art supply store, where I met lots of working artists coming in to buy their supplies, so I knew it was possible to earn a living making art. My next job was at a very small advertising agency, where I learned the business end of a career in art. So I took what I had learned and started freelancing — I never looked back.

Many of your illustrations feature strong, empowered women. Can you speak to the importance of representing women in your work?

I was raised by an independent, strong woman and supported by a father who thought I could do anything. I have also always had very strong and loyal parents, and groups of friends, so featuring strong women in my art just came naturally.

With what you know now, if you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career - what would it be?

I’ve always been pretty confident, so I guess I would tell my young self to keep it up and carry on believing in myself, that if I stayed true to myself, things would work out.

You have created a vast body of work. Are there any pieces or collections that are particularly meaningful to you, and why?

I like the drawings I do for friends because they have special meaning for me and for them. It doesn’t matter which drawings they are because they only mean something to me and the recipient, but I do hope other people find something personal in other drawings.

Your artwork often features typography with uplifting and inspiring messages. How do you choose which messages to include in your illustrations and which comes first - the illustration or the quote?

I love typography and I love finding quotes that I think will speak to people. It’s always fun and challenging to make sure the lettering and the quote work together with the drawing. I usually already have a quote when I start the drawing, but I’ve done it the other way, too.

Your illustrations have been featured in a wide range of products, from books and greeting cards to home decor and clothing. How do you approach creating designs for different mediums? Is there a particular type of product that you enjoy designing for the most?

I still like drawing for cards and calendars the best. Lately, I’ve been designing for wallpaper and fabric, though, and that’s also really fun. Completely different than illustrating quotes!

You've been in the industry for several decades now. How has your style evolved over the years, and what influences have played a role in your artistic development?

I think my drawings have gotten simpler and cleaner over the years as tastes change. I’m influenced by changing styles and like to see what other illustrators and designers are doing. I like following trends as long as I put my own spin on it. I’m a big fan of change and I like to try new things.

We picked some of our favorite ME illustrations to create paint-by-number designs from but what are your favorite things to draw?

I like to draw things that have a good quote, or if there’s a certain mood I want to get across in a drawing — that’s always fun. I like to draw things that have some kind of meaning, even if it’s just meaningful to me. I just like to draw!

When did you first start illustrating bowls of cherries? Did you ever think cherries would become something you’re known for?

No, I did not! It was kind of funny that cherries turned into such a signature thing. That original drawing I did for a friend of mine. His father was yelling at his older brother and he said “Life is not a chair of bowlies” which we thought was just hysterical so I illustrated that for him and I used cherries in the background. I don’t know how or why I kept drawing cherries — I don’t even like cherries.

Do you ever get creative blocks, and if so how do you overcome them?

I definitely do. I don’t panic anymore when I have them, even though I used to. I look at other illustrations, I do something totally different like felt embroidery, or I’ll try and paint…doing something different usually works pretty quickly, and eventually, I’ll start getting ideas.

You have a large following of devoted fans who love your work. How do you stay connected with your audience, and do they play a role in inspiring and motivating you as an artist?

They definitely do. Instagram is a great way to showcase the drawings and I get a lot of responses when I post illustrations. People let me know what they like and it’s important to me to keep them happy.

When and how did your Engeldark series come to be?

I was making jokes about it for decades — making lists of funny things to put on cards. As I got older I…didn’t care — we were printing our own cards, and we decided to try it in 2018. I was posting some of the illustrations on Instagram not intending to publish them, and they were getting a lot of positive feedback so we put them out and they just took off. I guess everyone was in a cynical mood when they were released!

Your artwork often incorporates elements of humor and whimsy. How do you balance the lighthearted with the meaningful, and why do you think humor is an important part of your work?

I always like to try and put a little humor in the drawings, even if it’s a little background character or a funny face on a cat. I think I look at everything with a good sense of balance because love combining humor and sentiment.

Lastly, why are you excited to collaborate with us at Elle Crée & why do you think this is a good brand fit for you?

I think Elle Cree is a perfect fit because it gives fans the opportunity to make art themselves! It provides a unique opportunity for my fans to engage with my art in a hands-on way and unleash their own creativity. There’s no better way to spend a few hours than painting, drawing, or making stuff! I hope that these kits bring hours of relaxation and inspiration to everyone who embarks on the painting journey.

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