Getting to Know Tucson Illustrator, Emily Orzel


Drawing in her sketchbook every single day is key for Illustrator and graphic designer, Emily Orzel. Always having explored in the realms of art; from it being something to keep her occupied as a kid to a fine art study to now drawing up pretty illustrations of women, random objects, and food - this artist has developed her dreamy illustration style for years in the creating.

An admired local artist in Tucson, Arizona and an Insta page to follow, Emily Orzel shares with us a bit more about her journey not only as an illustrator but also as an artist in business (because we all know it gets real). Shop some of her makings here, follow her here, and learn more about her below!

When did drawing and illustrating begin for you? 

I’ve always done it! Ever since I was a little kid. It was how my mom would keep me occupied. So I’ve always been drawn to it.

Illustrating didn’t come until around the end of college. I was actually a painting and drawing major for the majority of my college career and then did graphic design. At the very end I did a couple independent studies that were more illustration based.

I ended up getting my major in communications but it was the graphic design route of it.

I had a bunch of friends that did illustration and was learning from them at the start, since I wasn't taking any actual illustration classes. I took one but it was because it was a prerequisite to the design course. I had never used any Adobe programs before college!

What does your journey look like in regards to discovering your own illustration style?

A lot of drawing. That’s the only way you can really discover your own illustration style: drawing consistently and everyday and failing a lot. After college, I decided this was what I wanted to keep doing. The difficult part was sharing it because I am not a natural sharer, which I feel like you have to be in this world. You have to put yourself out there and share a lot, which doesn’t come naturally to me so that was the harder part. Once I started doing that, I started growing as an illustrator more.

Were there times where you struggled to discover what your unique style really was? 

Throughout all of college I was confused. I was doing a lot of fine art so it looked nothing like what I do now. It was a lot more physical art, like I was making books, doing letterpress and large scale paintings. I even took a garbage art class where I was just making art out of garbage. That’s what my art looked like for so long. It wasn’t what it is now. It took a lot of confusion and trying new things. I still try different things because I think something that is important to your own craft is to explore outside of it.

[My style] wasn’t what it is now. It took a lot of confusion and trying new things.
— Emily Orzel

What have you found to be resourceful and valuable in your artistic journey?

Doing everyday drawing. Just getting a sketchbook that’s a certain amount of pages and sticking to it every single day, making yourself draw. I typically do sixty days at a time. So I do that a few times a year and that’s been the most valuable thing!

In terms of inspiration, what fuels your art and creativity?

Probably other illustrators obviously but that can be a slippery slope because you start losing sight of your own style and niche. I'm also inspired by other artists in general that are outside of my own medium. A lot of artists in Tucson inspire me.

One of my favorite illustrators is Tuesday Bassen. She’s an LA illustrator and I’ve always liked her. Even when I was in college and wasn’t doing illustration. She’s an artist I really looked up to and followed. Penelope Gazin is another I follow. She’s all over the place and works with a lot of different products, which is inspiring to me. She pushes the boundaries!

How do you balance admiring other artists of your kind, yet keeping your own focus?

It’s just the balance of letting yourself be inspired but not letting yourself feel restricted by those inspirations. It takes a lot of practice and it’s something I still get caught up in a lot.


What do you hope your art translates to the viewer?

Well, in many ways it’s not up to me. Coming from a fine art background where you would try to express yourself through the viewer as much as you could but ultimately it was up to them to feel what they want to feel and think what they want to think. That translates over to illustration. You hope that someone will connect with you on an idea or thought or feeling and it’s a really magical thing when they do, that’s why I like it so much. I like illustration because it’s more of a direct line to someone.

Since you’re in the business realm of selling your art, collaborating with others, participating in pop-up shops, etc. How have you navigated that business space as an artist? 

That’s probably been the most challenging thing. Having support from others who are willing to push you and having those support systems is so important! It is a lot of work and learning. At the end of the day it is a job, and like any new job you have to learn new skills that you didn’t have before. For me, it's been very helpful get good support from others and have those affirmations along the way.

Have you found business to affect your creativity?

It can sometimes, not the actual selling of goods though. I’ve noticed it’s different for every artist. I’ve talked to other illustrators who’ve found doing product-based work to be draining and for me it’s not as draining. Commission work can be draining, which for others isn’t! So it’s really about finding what works best for you so that the business aspect doesn't affect your creativity as much!

What skills or personality traits would you say you have gained since exploring the business side?

It’s really pushed me to be more consistent, have more follow through, and take things more seriously that I haven't in the past. Consistency has been the biggest challenge and a skill I’ve really worked on!

It’s okay if reality doesn’t meet your imagination. Enjoy it anyways!
— Emily Orzel

Where do you wish your drawing and illustrations to take you?

I try not to focus too hard on goals. Eventually I’d love to do this full-time and I’m not at the moment.

I try not to get too caught up on goals because I find that when you hit a goal you set for yourself, it’s not as momentous (to me). It’s not like you’re going to hit a goal and stop. So for me it’s just enjoying the process and all parts of it without getting caught up on goals. Goals can create room for feelings of failure and that can be distracting. So I just keep creating and keep pushing myself!

What would you say has been a moment where you felt like you were really struggling as an artist?

Well, there’s two sides to it. On the business side, it’s been the actual business part of it: taxes, accounting, and all those things I am not super strong at. What's helped has been finding resources and accepting it’s not my strength but someone else's strength. And I can reach out to those people.

On the creative side, mental health has been the biggest challenge. Dealing with your own mental health, making sure you’re in a good place. That’s what messes me up and messes up other artists up a lot of the time too. It’s not always like you find inspiration from that, sometimes it’s debilitating and that’s when it becomes a problem. Reaching out to people when you need help and finding ways to regain that strength has been helpful for me.

What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your artistic journey?

It’s okay to not be perfect and it’s okay to not have everything just as you imagined. It’s okay if reality doesn’t meet your imagination. Enjoy it anyways! It’s okay if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, just trust yourself. Even if you don’t have a clear path, it’s okay, things work out! Try to just keep going and keep making things as an artist. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s also okay to pivot and change direction. 

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