Meet Bend Artist Megan Myers
by Jim Teece
I had a chance to interview Bend Artist Megan Myers.
Megan’s art is all over Bend and on the products that are made there.
She has been featured in other publications around the state but they focused on her art and I wanted to focus on her business.
Were you born in Bend or how did you get there?
I’m an independent fine artist, freelance illustrator, and owner of Megan Marie Myers Art LLC. I have an online shop where I sell my own line of greeting cards, fine art prints, calendars, and other paper goods. I also wholesale and participate in a number of art fairs.
I was born and raised in Medford, Oregon. After high school, I moved to Seattle for University where I focused on painting and received a BA in Visual Arts.
After school, painting remained a regular side-hustle, but my main-gig for about a decade was a career in arts administration. Early in that profession, I worked for municipalities in the Seattle Metro area as a specialist for their cultural arts, visual arts, and public art programs. In my mid-twenties, I took a position in Seattle at Chihuly Studio where my job was to coordinate the logistics of creating and installing full scale gallery exhibitions of Dale Chihuly’s artwork as well as private commissions of large-scale glass and steel art installations for public and private clients worldwide.
I moved to Portland in 2013 to be with my partner, Matt. At this time, I decided to make a major career shift. I took a job at the Hollywood District Trader Joes, where I was a sign maker. It was a blast. And with the new-found free time this position afforded me, I began working on creating and showing my personal artwork more seriously. The years in Portland mark the foundation-building period for my business. All this is to say, I didn’t just immediately quit my day job. I just found a job that I enjoyed, helped me refine my painting skills, and didn’t consume all of my time and energy. I would come home and still have gas in the tank to work on my artwork and learn how to start a business.
Matt and I moved to Bend in 2015 because we both love the outdoors. At this time, I was faced with the decision to transfer to the Trader Joe’s in Bend or to take the leap and work on my business and artwork full time. Feeling the security that I could always go back to Trader Joe’s if I needed to, I decided to give the business a fighting chance. By this point, I had been creating artwork and working in the industry for about 10 years. So, I just felt like I’d done a lot of legwork and that it was the right time to go for it.
What makes Bend’s economy work for you to set up shop there?
At the time, I don’t think I fully realized what an ideal time it was to start working on something like this in Bend. I personally feel like there are a number of contributing factors to why the work has done well here so far. First, Bend residents LOVE living here and are very proud of our city, our outdoors, our people, and our active lifestyle. Residents seem to be very intentional about supporting local businesses and artists; they love to see work that reflects the unique qualities we love about this place. I felt like the most important thing I could do for my life and my business in Bend was to make connections as a resident sharing the values of my community. I spent a lot of time making artwork that was inspired specifically by places in Central Oregon. I listened to people when they’d tell me why they loved living here and I listened to myself about why I loved it here. These sentiments became the heart of my work. For me, making art is about connection, so in a lot of ways, I just think it hit a nerve because people who choose to live here all want to feel a connection to place, nature, and each other in this tight-knit community.
With the population growth here, many businesses are popping up rapidly and their needs for artwork are increasing too (think promotional merch, web and social media content, display on their walls, new retail items to sell) so there have been more opportunities than ever to collaborate. From the beginning, I thought it was important to connect face to face with as much of the community as I could. So I just tried to be present and show up to everything! I attended events whether I had a booth or not. I shopped local and introduced myself to the owners of different businesses. I went door to door to see if different shops or cafes would have any interest in hosting an exhibition of my artwork. The businesses in Bend are so generous about showing local art and we have a very well-attended art walk the first Friday of every month in which all the downtown businesses participate. I have a personal relationship with all of my wholesale accounts in town or places where I’ve displayed my work, which makes it really special. We want to see each other succeed and we lift each other up. So if I have a special project in mind, or if they do, we think about how to come together on it.
And then, of course, Bend has been seeing astounding growth in tourism. This has resulted in an enormous amount of opportunity for someone like me because there are so many events that invite local artists to participate. Visitors to our town have their own special connection to this place and are making their own fun memories enjoying the outdoors. When they return home, it’s nice to take home a memento of a memorable trip. I’ve felt lucky because the work is getting distributed far and wide just by visitors taking something home to share with their friends and family.
Your art is very nature oriented. What inspires that? Is it market driven?
When I’m not making artwork, I’m trail running, hiking, camping, or just staring up at the trees. The work is nature oriented because that is where I feel most at home, most exhilarated, and most inspired. And actually, I would say that while the work is nature-oriented, it is foremost about relationships: our relationships to nature, our relationships to each other, and our relationships to ourselves. That’s why I don’t typically paint landscapes alone; there are always characters in my work. By including them, a relationship is created. The characters function as our guides into the natural settings and I think that’s what makes the work feel approachable. So, I wouldn’t say that my initial intent was to find a hole in the market. It might have been something I stumbled into just from listening to people and what spiritually fills them up. It’s been really cool to find that it’s resonating and I feel like the sentiment of the work sort of compliments the outdoor industry in an interesting way and it’s starting to get recognized for that a bit. Like, the idea that being an outdoors-(wo)man isn’t necessarily just about being a badass or winning races or whatever. It’s about doing something that fills your heart and connects you to the natural world and your community. Whenever I get a chance to collaborate with the outdoor industry to help build the connections between people and place, I’m always excited for the opportunity. Zooming out, I also really hope that my work can do a small part to build healthy relationships between people and nature. If the work does anything to help create reverence for our planet, it may encourage each of us to do what we can to preserve and protect it.
Besides nature, here is a little list of other influences if you’re interested:
- The themes from the children’s book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupery. This book had a significant impact on me as a young person and still today. The themes in this book are presented simply, subtly, yet poignantly. It’s an approachable and gentle exploration of friendship, priorities, tenderness, resilience, growth and love. These are themes that I wish to present in my own way through my artwork and I strive to capture them with the lightness, sincerity, adventurousness, and timelessness that the Little Prince has achieved so successfully.
- I’m stylistically influenced by hand-drawn cartoons from the 60’s and 70’s. Specifically, you can see whispers of angles and line-work derivative of Hannah Barbara cartoons such as Yogi the Bear, Huckleberry Hound, The Jetsons, and the Flintstones. I find that the hat-tip to this style also conjure feelings of nostalgia and familiarly in the viewers, which makes it easier to enter the world through my paintings.
- The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson is another huge influence from my youth thematically. Calvin’s imagination enhances his settings; giving them a vividness that is beyond the literal; you see the world through his eyes. That is the way I try to use my characters too, they are the filters. Also, Calvin’s relationship with Hobbes is so genuine and deep; they are thick as thieves. In a lot of ways, they teach us how to enjoy life together. Bill Waterson is a master of showing Calvin and Hobbes’ adventures as epic yet light—never crossing the line into goofy or silly. And every-so-often he hits us with a poignant moment; the appearance of which is rare enough to move us. My characters are never quite as mischievous as Calvin and Hobbes, but they do embrace a similar adventurousness and steadfastness in their relationships to one another.
- Adventurous and mighty women! While I do paint both boy and girl characters now, my series began with a little girl taking on the wilderness. She was a bit autobiographical and a bit of a metaphor. But I continue to strive to make work that lifts girls and women up and illuminates them as strong, independent, resilient, capable, loving, and brave! I am inspired by so many strong women in my life and often find myself expressing their spirits in my work. Most of my personal work uses animals and children as central figures. They are not necessarily intended to be taken literally, but more as a representation of the limitless sense of wonder, the yearning to explore, and the and the resilience that each of us carry within.
What is your studio like? Where do you create?
My studio is walking distance from downtown Bend and it is in my yard across from the house. It was formerly a spider-filled toolshed! But we upgraded it before I moved in, so it’s got a nice north-facing window, lights, drywall, plenty of shelving, and a heater for the winter. It’s not beautiful; nothing like what you would see on Pinterest! It’s pretty bare-bones and definitely a work space. Paint is all over the floor. All the fixtures are hand-built and unfinished. I’ve got an area dedicated to shipping, and I have a large plywood easel for my big paintings. My splurge on the studio was a dutch door, which I painted teal, so in the summer, I can swing the top of the door open and get a nice breeze.
Do you have a day job or is your art your full time work now?
It’s full time. Haha – beyond full time. And I can’t remember how I ever did it without putting in so many hours. But creating art is only half of the work and running the business is the other half; sometimes more. There is ALWAYS stuff to do. The last few years have been a real lesson in trying to find balance between creating, business, and having a life and staying healthy. I just hired a part time employee this year which has made an indescribable difference. I’ve also taken some important time to read more business books and learn more about workflow, which has helped a lot.
Explain the creation of your art for me. Is it digitally created? Painted? Pencils? do you stand in a forest and just make it up there or do you work in a studio and work on ideas for a long time until one comes together and you pursue that.
Up until recently, I drew and painted everything, and it’s still my preference when it makes sense. My paintings are all quite large; I don’t typically paint anything smaller than a 18×24” anymore and I’ve got paintings all the way up to 48×60” (which hardly fit in a vehicle). I also paint murals. Working at the larger size is the most fun for me and creates the most impact. For the paintings, I use acrylic on canvas. In my online shop, pretty much all of the cards and prints you’ll find there are reproductions of the hand-painted artwork.
I get most of my inspiration from the outdoors, and I’ll sketch outside once in awhile, but I do all the heavy lifting in the studio. When I’m outdoors taking in an experience, I like to just feel it and let it sort of steep inside me without the pressure of making something on the spot. Also, I feel like there is an alchemy that takes place in that time between having an experience and remembering it. I think it’s good for my work when I give myself a chance to allow the emotions to fully form about the initial experience. and I also find that the act of remembering can color and abstract the experience in really lovely ways. I work on ideas for a long time when I’m back in the studio. I love design and am very thoughtful about composition, color, visual hierarchy. The design process can be so critical to setting the mood of the piece. Sometimes I think it would probably be good to “play” a little more and just go at the canvas intuitively; but it’s just not my preferred way of working.
For client work, I’ve started to create more illustrations digitally using an iPad Pro. Working collaboratively often involves making a lot of changes or needing to efficiently communicate visual ideas. I’ve found that in many cases, digital work can offer an enormous amount of flexibility and efficiency. Clients also typically need a digital file as a deliverable anyhow, so it’s nice to skip the step of digitizing an original piece of artwork if you can. I don’t see one method of creating as better than the other; I think there is the right tool for every job. I’ll admit that I used to resist working digitally and never expected that I’d enjoy it as much as I do.
Congratulations on your success. What has that been like for you? Your art is everywhere now in Bend it seems. It’s on walls as murals and on products. How did that happen?
Thank you so much! It is really neat to see the work take form in different ways over the last few years. And I’m just happy to see that it resonates with people and means something special to them; that’s really the whole point. I couldn’t be more grateful to the Bend community and beyond who have embraced what I’m doing and have hired me or lifted me up by buying my work so that I can keep doing this for a living. I don’t take the support lightly.
I can’t say for sure how it happened. I was just hustling so hard for what felt like a very long time and then suddenly there seemed to be a shift and I was gaining a little momentum instead of treading water. I think that if you just keep showing up to something in your life and don’t give up, something has to happen. But it goes both ways – I was showing up so much for this, that it became very difficult for me to show up consistently in other parts of my life. Social engagements definitely suffered, as my very patient friends and family can attest.
I know you are an artist, but you are also a small business owner. Has that been hard for you to do both? How do you juggle both the creative part of your craft and the need to make sure income is coming in and expenses are under control.
Yes! It’s been very challenging. I’ve felt very lucky to have a working skillset from my arts administration career. Past experience was so important to keeping my business organized. Project management, administration, installation logistics, communication, client relationship management, and event coordination was nothing new. But there were (and still are!) so many unknowns to me about wholesaling, setting up the business, and the finances. I’ve learned a lot on the job and I also use every resource that comes my way. Talking shop with other people who have creative careers or run small businesses has hands-down been the best way to gain wisdom about the business-side of things that I never learned in school. This year especially, I’ve been devouring any audiobooks or podcasts that I can find on creative entrepreneurship and work flow. Until this year, I had a bad-habit that I formed in my project-management days, where I would get hyper-focused on executing details and wouldn’t make time to zoom out to see the big picture. Because of that, I’d find myself sacrificing creative work for office work constantly (E-mail !!! Filling orders! Admin!). I learned more about work flow for creatives and have been so much better about juggling. There have been three major changes that have been transformative: 1) Unless utterly necessary, I don’t open e-mail or schedule meetings until after lunch. I spend my best hours of the morning on highly-concentrated creative work. 2) I hired a part time employee to help with the day-to-day tasks, so I don’t fall behind on customer service while I’m doing creative work 3) I stopped doing all of my own bookkeeping and turned over my accounting to an actual accountant. It took me a few years of feeling completely under water to be able to support these changes financially, but it was also becoming clear that it wasn’t healthy or a sustainable business model to do everything by myself.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m currently working on illustrations for a children’s book and am making moves to do more work in that field.
I’m also excited to get through event season (basically now – Christmas) and then spend some time creating new paintings and rolling out new products of my own. The last year has been heavy on client work and commissions, so I’m dying to put some focus on my personal work and a new portfolio website. I’ve been really enjoying my freelance illustration jobs this year and want to give my website and portfolio a facelift to start seeking out some more commercial illustration work that might be a good fit.
Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to share with aspiring artists that want to be successful like you? What do you wish you knew when you started?
When I was in school, it never occurred to me that if you decided to make art for a living, then it is a business. And you need to know about business just as much, or more, than you know about art. That said, foremost, I would advise anyone starting out to take business classes alongside your art classes if you’re serious about making a living at it. I can’t believe that business classes aren’t required in an art program. There is nothing wrong with making art as a side-gig or hobby, but if you want to go full time with it – learn everything you can about business and know that at least half of your time will not be creating. A harsh reality! But don’t get down on the business side, because it is SO fulfilling and you get so many friends along the way. I would also encourage aspiring artists to have mentors. And collaborate as often as you can with other artists or businesses. Connect with other creative entrepreneurs (in person, not just online!) and talk openly about your struggles, triumphs, and be generous in sharing information. We can learn a lot from each other. Every huge leap I’ve made in my business was because another generous business owner shared their knowledge with me. And of course, cheer others on in your community and in your industry; a rising tide lifts all boats.