Six years after graduating college with a degree in art education, artist Riley Sheehey turned her side business into her full-time job, pivoting careers as an elementary school art teacher and becoming a full-time artist. Her artwork reflects this childlike view of the world with fun color palettes and an attention to detail that evokes a viewer’s curiosity. Riley Sheehey’s collection of watercolor paintings and multimedia art pieces spark joy and playfulness for all. Keep reading to learn about her background and to read her three tips on how to incorporate play and curiosity into day-to-day life.
01 / We love your whimsical and playful approach to art. Could you share a little about your creative background?
Thank you so much!! I have always loved art and making things from a very young age. I also love children, and so when it came time for me to choose a major at school, I decided on art education. I taught art to elementary schoolers for my first six years out of college before taking my career as an artist full time.
02 / When did you make the pivot into becoming a multimedia artist and textile designer full-time? What did that look like for you?
I made the jump in June 2017, but I had been planning for it for the previous 8 months or so. I was lucky to have a principal/boss who was super understanding and supportive of the fact that my career as an artist was something that had been taking up more and more of my time as more projects were coming in, and she helped me rearrange my schedule so that I was able to go part-time with my teaching job in January 2017. That gave me about six months to see what it would be like one day a week to be a full time artist, and to make sure that I have enough savings set aside that if things didn’t work out, I would be able to pivot.
03 / It must have been a big step to take a chance on creating art full-time. Looking back, is there a piece of advice you’d give your past self?
Take your time! I think that there is a popular narrative right now that if you aren’t able to immediately go full-time with a side business or a passion project, then it’s just a hobby, or that if you have a side business, you need to take it full time right away or else it isn’t legitimate. The best advice I got was from my parents—and it was also the most boring advice, ha! They told me to make sure that I had six months of savings set aside, and to make sure that I sat down and really looked at my expenses so that I knew exactly how much I needed to make from a full-time career in order to pay my bills. There were times where I really wanted to make the jump before I was ready, and I am so glad now that I waited, and didn’t do it too soon!
04 / You often mention that your artwork reflects a childlike view of the world. In what ways has teaching elementary school art and becoming a mother opened your eyes to this new perspective of the world?
Being a teacher and being a mom have both allowed me to see the world through a child’s eyes, where everything is really new and positive and exciting. Being a mother has made me more playful, more optimistic, and genuinely just more excited about life in general. I am hopeful that that is all reflected in my artwork!
05 / You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with an exciting range of clients, including interior designers, clothing and product designers, restaurant owners and retailers. What does your collaboration process look like with interior designers specifically?
I have been so lucky to work with a lot of extremely talented people over the past couple of years, and collaborating is one of my favorite parts of my job—it makes me a better artist, and challenges me to incorporate another point of view into my work! Right now, I am working with a couple of interior designers on custom wallpaper projects for both their clients and their own homes. We typically start with a shared moodboard, and then move into sketching and sampling. It really is such a fun process, and it’s a little different for every project that I work on.
06 / We’re so inspired by all the lively elements in your newest Summer & Fall collection, Play. What does this collection mean to you?
Thank you so much! The “Play” collection really is my favorite series of artwork I’ve ever been able to work on. After an exciting but slightly stressful spring, I took the summer to really slow down and have fun with new processes and materials. I am so proud of how it all came together, and it is definitely indicative of what I hope is a new direction for me as an artist in my personal work!
07 / One of our favorite things about your work is how spirited each piece is, each evoking a cheery mood with a joyous palette and personal elements throughout. How do you continue to find new inspiration for your designs?
Honestly, I am terrible at answering this question because I feel like I find inspiration everywhere sometimes—I can be inspired by a random children’s book that I pick up at the library for my daughter, or the front of pasta sauce packaging. I will say that if I’m ever in a creative rut (which happens all of the time!), it’s super helpful for me to go on a run. I think better when I’m outside running, and try to jot down any ideas I have in a sketchbook as soon as I get home so that I can explore them later.
08 / When you’re not working, what does your day-to-day look like?
I usually wake up, feed my daughter breakfast, and will take her on a walk or a run to the park by our house if it’s nice out. If it’s gross out, sometimes we’ll go to the library. When we get back, either I or my husband make her lunch, then we hang out for a bit before nap time. If my husband is home, I’ll go for a run while by daughter is napping, and if he’s at work, I’ll run on the treadmill. In the afternoon/evening, we’ll go to a restaurant or brewery in the area, or make dinner at home. It is slow and boring but also wonderful—I am really loving this season!
09 / What are you working on at the moment, and what’s next for Riley Sheehey?
Right now, I am working on a couple of designs for a product collaboration that will launch next holiday season (which is crazy to me!!)—I am really excited, as it will be a totally new category for us. I also have an idea for my next collection of original artwork, and am so anxious to get started.
10 / Could you share 3 tips with our readers on how to incorporate play and curiosity into their day-to-day life?
1 / Try something new! I was in a bad creative rut a couple of years ago, and went to one of those paint your own pottery studios and picked up some paint and plates to experiment with. I think that using new materials or trying something new in general is always helpful.
2 / Host a craft night (if my friends are reading this, it’s a hint—I’ve been wanting to do this for years and no one will bite, ha!)—I have some material lists and directions for things like marbling and blockprinting on my website Journal section, and I feel like they could be really fun things to do with a group of friends.
3 / Go to the library—this one probably sounds boring since this is something that most people probably do all of the time, but I hadn’t stepped foot in a library in years before I started taking my daughter this year. I have been so inspired just walking around and picking up different picture books.
Doesn’t Riley just feel like a breath of fresh air? We hope you got inspiration from today’s interview with Riley Sheehey. Follow along with her on Instagram to stay up to date on her work and head to her website to shop your favorite prints and textiles. For more of our one-on-one creator interviews, check out our recent sit-downs with Jeffrey Dungan and Lorraine Pennington. Thanks so much for tuning in – Let us know who you’d like us to interview next in the comments!