Interview with Artist Rhea Ewing

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

My work has been heavily influenced by fine artists like Do Ho Suh and Kate MccGwire. I love both of these artists’ use of many small things to create a powerful whole. Graphic novelists like Alison Bechdel, Craig Thompson, and Leanne Franson have been my biggest influences in the comics side of my work. All of these artists have created things that inspired that “art moment” in me–where ideas and experiences connect together and a profound way.

Collaborations by Rhea Ewing


You are currently leading the Dream Foundry’s Official Media Exploration Club in a discussion of the theme of vulnerability in art. Can you tell us a little about the theme of vulnerability in your own work, and why you find it particularly compelling as a topic of discussion?

In my fine arts and illustration work I’m very interested in the intersection of human ideas and the natural world. I’m very deliberate in my choices of the species of plants and animals I depict, but there’s a level of metaphor and visual language that removes it from the more raw, personal vulnerability that’s in my comics and graphic novel work. In comics, I work in non-fiction, largely personal stories, that place me in a much more vulnerable position. I tend to want to downplay my own experiences and approach things in a very academic way, which doesn’t make for good comics. I’m lucky to have an agent and editor who understand my work so well and have guided me to show more of my own vulnerability.

This tension in my work between the academic and the personal made vulnerability and especially intriguing topic. It’s been a delight to dive into all these different illustrators’ work with the lens of vulnerability.

Insight by Rhea Ewing

How has the field been changing in the past ten years, and how do you see the current health crisis impacting the field?

Woof, I sure would love to have a crystal ball here. The biggest way the health crisis has impacted me personally is the lack of art shows, galleries, and fairs. I actually make most of my income through the fine arts market (go figure), so the loss of all of that for 2020 has been rough. For me personally, that’s meant I’ve been much more focused on production for my upcoming graphic novel FINE: a comic about gender.

As for how the field has changed, I’m not sure I can speak to that. I feel like my path to where I am now has been so weird and has run against so much of what others know to be true, I’m not sure I can generalize it in a useful way for overall industry trends.

Affection 1 (detail) by Rhea Ewing

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

I think my biggest challenge has been finding a place where I feel authentic in my creative work, knowing what my work is doing and why. Pretty much all of the advice I got in school–to pursue graphic design and illustration and comics to support my fine arts work, that sort of thing–turned out not to work for me. Freelancing left me miserable and broke. Graphic design brings out my inner perfectionist asshole. Though it will probably be different this year due to the pandemic, for the last few years my fine art work funded my graphic novel work and not the other way around. I’ve found a lot of joy in connecting with people who “get” my work, and in exploring what I can do with my mediums of choice.

Panels from FINE: a comic about gender by Rhea Ewing

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Creative advice: Keep focused on what you like and want to grow about your artistic practice. It’s easy to get very focused on what “success” is and worry about failing. Embrace it. Perfect art is an illusion anyway, just communicate.

Business advice: Always have a contract, don’t work for minimum wage or less, and remember that it’s better to have a side job than waste your creative efforts working 80-hour weeks freelancing for peanuts.

Panels from FINE: a comic about gender by Rhea Ewing
Rhea Ewing

Rhea Ewing is a fine artist and graphic novelist. Rhea Ewing calls upon personal and political themes of queer identity, finding connections to the natural world, and building safe spaces for all people. The value of art, by their reasoning, is the ability to create connections, question assumptions, and inspire others to do the same. Rhea currently lives and works in California, taking inspiration from the state’s diverse landscapes for their work. they/them/theirs pronouns