CONNECT: Michelle Favin, Whys LA

Artist, educator and purveyor of curiosity and creativity, Michelle Favin is the brain and hand behind WHYS, an LA based stationary brand with a difference. Creating art that carries messages between lovers, friends and families the world over, Michelle’s cards, original artworks and commissioned illustrations are focused around the exhibition of feminine forms and the moon. This week, we caught up with Michelle to discuss her creative process, her inspirations and her commitment to giving back through her work and her teachings.

Describe the journey that led to you embarking on a career as an artist?

The journey has been one of returning to myself. I've always been an artist, always felt the drive to create with my hands, to make pieces of art for those I love in lieu of buying presents, to spend hours imagining and bringing into existence new worlds, softer worlds, more just; worlds. I actually think that everyone is born an artist - didn't we once paint with our fingers, without inhibition? Daydream for hours? Bang on the ground, making beats? I think sometimes, it's just a matter of remembering this innate human need to create. 

With that being said, my career as an artist came quite organically. I was teaching before pursuing art full-time, and truly, the catalysts were my students. My lessons always involved painting, writing poetry, moving our bodies, making videos, anything creative. In the process of watching my students flourish and strengthen with the guidance of an artistic, creative practice, I realised how important it was to make art more central to my own life again. My students saw themselves as artists again and believed in their unique capacity to create. It inspired me to pick up my paintbrush daily, create the worlds I had always dreamed of, and slowly but surely, begin to share my work with the world. I have been so grateful for the support I have received since then. 

Your work mostly focuses on the female form and the moon, another powerful feminine force. What is it that inspires your deep connection with the feminine?

My lineage and chosen family is full of powerful, soft, mystic, multifaceted feminine energy, from every person I am connected to. I feel the feminine in all humans I meet and it is what inspires me daily. I find feminine energy complex, elusive, mysterious, subtle yet incredibly, palpably strong. It is also often misunderstood and its oppressed history yet continuously rising presence inspires me to explore its multitudes in all the work I do -- my art, my studies, my activism, and my relationships.

Where else do you draw your inspiration from?

On my best days, I gather inspiration from every walk I take, every corner I may miss if in a rush, every conversation I have, the good and the bad, and definitely, every person I meet. Everything, to me, can be a form of inspiration, tension, or provocation, as long we we approach life with intentionality and curiosity.

For example, I started using liquid chlorophyll as part of my wellness regimen, but every time I dropped the liquid into my water, I was completely fascinated by its hue. There is absolutely no richer, more beautiful shade of green out there. I've been painting with it now for a year and it has completely shifted my line of work, drawing me to paint more plant life and explore using natural elements like turmeric and phycocyanin.

Describe your unique creative process of creating a piece of art, from start to finish

1. It always begins with a hunger, a hunger to make, create, express something, though I don't always know what that "something" will be. It is a feeling I can't ignore though, like an itch that must be scratched. 

2. Then, there is a bit of atmosphere making. For me, this is mostly created by two simple things -- smell and a clean studio. If you step into my apartment, you'd laugh at how many candles, palo santo sticks, and incense sticks I have laying around. My friends definitely make fun of me and can tell when I've been in my apartment making art for too long. "Oh, Michelle...you definitely smell like Michelle today," they often say. These smells though, are the beginning of my ritual, my creative process, signaling my body that I am about to create. The clean studio is necessary to quiet any stimulation that may get in the way of that "something" I want to create. 

3. At this point, I am seated on the floor (my favourite place to paint), faced with that hunger to express and a large blank piece of water-colour paper. I take a few deep breaths to settle in, dip my paint brush in water, and begin. 

4. The rest is incredibly intuitive. I try not to think too much -- when I do, the piece does not feel right. I let my hands do the work of uncovering whatever it is that I want to express, thinking of the colours I use and my style of painting as another language. It isn't always pretty. I can start and stop many, many times, making what may seem to be a mistake quite often. This is the fun part though, I try to follow mistakes, little flecks of paint accidentally dropped, as signs to continue working with them, to not start over, to follow whatever happened. 

5. It's funny, I always know when a piece is done. This is funny because I am actually a pretty indecisive person.  Yet when making art, I know, with a sense of conviction, when to not add or take anything away. It is the closest I feel to knowing myself. When I know a piece is done, I take a moment to study it, usually surprised at how that "something" I needed to express manifested. The painting usually tells me something about myself, my state, or the world around me. And this is the most rewarding part of the process: the discovery. 

What other artists / creators do you admire?

There are so many! I will list 5 that I have been thinking about in the past week. The poet, Shinji Moon. The artist, Tasya Van Ree. The poet, Yrsa-Daley Ward. The musician, Solange. The activist, Grace Lee Boggs. 

Tell us more about the ‘giving back’ initiative WHYS LA is aligned with. What inspired you to associate yourself with the charity you do, and what do the proceeds contribute towards?

When I created Whys LA, I knew that I would be most motivated to enter the world of business if I knew that I could also raise funds for an organisation I was involved with, cared about, and believed in. At the time, I was volunteering in their "Creativity Lab," which was a space for students to explore engineering, art, and creativity. Though it is many things, in a nutshell, Inner-City Arts is a non-profit arts organisation with beautiful facilities, professional teaching artists, and a determined mission to provide the highest quality arts education to at-risk youth in Los Angeles. Like me, they believe that arts education has the power to improve the lives of students, guiding the development of confidence, agency, and belief in one's unique way of being in the world. The funds that we have raised contribute towards the maintenance of their programming. 

Discover more of Michelle's soul-inspiring work here

Portrait of Michelle Favin

Portrait of Michelle Favin