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Molly Scannell began her artistic life as a pencil illustrator, making painstaking drawings that were as realistic as photographs. But as time went on, she found herself feeling trapped by the tedious medium. So, in both a literal and figurative way to free herself from the mechanical pencil, she started to xerox images, rip them into pieces, and experiment with collage—which is now what she is best known for.
“With illustration, I had to work so close to my paper, and it had to be perfect,” she said. “And if it wasn’t, it just messed with me emotionally.”
Scannell grew up in the small coastal Massachusetts town of Lanesville, which was a strong Finnish community at that time. Art was everywhere: It was home to the Folly Cove designers, who became well-known for block-printing in the 1940s; the family of sculptor Paul Manship, who designed the gilded Promethius sculpture in Rockefeller Center; and Scannell’s own mother, who was a gifted illustrator.
“The Manships lived smack-dab in the middle of the quarry, so we’d knock on the door and ask if we could pick berries, play on all the sculptures, and go swimming,” she said. “Art just seemed like what people did. I loved it and fell into it.”
Scannell went on to create art for the likes of Cartier, YouTube, Adobe, and now Wagner Custom. Her work has shown around the world in galleries from Hong Kong, Japan, London, Paris, Boston, NYC, Cincinnati, Miami, and more. She has work in the private collections of You Tube, Berklee College of Music, Iowa State University, Cartier, and was featured in Making the Cut Vol.1: The World's Best Collage Artists.
We caught up with Scannell recently at her home outside of Boston. Here’s what she had to say.
Wagner: Deciding to be an artist must have been a risky endeavor for you as a young person just starting out. How did you get the courage to do it?
Scannell: Growing up, I would just draw all day with my best friend, and I became obsessed with the idea of doing that forever. I had a wonderful art teacher who believed in me—we’re still in touch to this day. She taught me about commercial art, and how to sell art as a commercial-style business. That’s what landed me in college.
Wagner: How did you make a living after college?
Scannell: Like every illustrator I know, we graduated and said, “What are we doing with ourselves?” So we all went into graphic design. I specifically went into the web world. I barely knew how to use a computer, but I learned, and that’s how I manifested as a designer.
Wagner: How did you find your way back to making collage art?
Scannell: After I had my third daughter, we were stuck inside and I was, like, “What am I going to do with these children?” So I just made our dining room table into a studio. I said, “Here’s glue, here’s paper, here’s some plastic things and feathers, and I was sitting with my kids doing this collage stuff again. And I was realized I really missed it, so I started keeping a sketch book. I had a personal Instagram account, and I was putting stuff on there, and people really loved it. For some reason I found it to be very meditative.
Wagner: Did collage totally free you from perfectionism? I mean, I imagine you can still feel like you’ve made mistakes, regardless of the medium.
Scannell: I made the choice not to use reusable glue, because I found that some of my biggest mistakes were my biggest victories. And you don’t know it until you look at it later.
Wagner: What was it like designing topsheets for the first time?
Scannell: I remember being super excited, and then they handed the templates to me and I was, like, “Oh shit.” Then I started to research how people design long objects, and I had all these secret Pintrest boards. It was just practice. I had to think about it from the perspective of the human on the snow. When I’m on the ski lift, carrying them, how does that look and feel? How does it look to see the skis slipping in and out of powder? I thought the graphics should feel like something moving in some capacity.