Collingswood native and artist Ally Averell works in variety of media for a variety of reasons. This week she tells Patch about how she uses her talents to fulfill commissions, celebrate the things she loves, and bring attention to a cause that's very close to her heart.
Collingswood Patch: Did you go to school for art or are you self-taught?
Ally Averell: A little bit of both. I've always painted and drawn ever since I was born. I copied Disney stuff, animal stuff, everything.
In high school I was pretty good at art, but never serious about it. I was always a jock. I played soccer, so I thought sports were going to be my forte. But then I had a couple teachers for drawing who said, “You're really good at this. You have to do it more.”
I ended up getting hurt [playing soccer, and] having all this time on my hands; [I] realized I was getting better and better at art.
I ended up leaving college because I wanted to learn illustration and they wouldn't teach that. Everything was digital and graphic design. So I said, “You know what, I'm just going to go do it myself.” So I left school because they didn't have what I wanted to do.
Averell: I like wood because it's unique. Not a lot of people do that. And it smells really good! I dabble in carving too; I just started carving.
I like the body painting too because I like turning someone into something else that's living and breathing. It's like they become that character.
Patch: Tell me about the process of wood-burning.
Averell: A lot of tattoo artist do wood-burning still. For me, my dad had a kit when I was little, and, I don't know, one day I just thought I'd try it again, so I went out and bought a wood-burning kit.
It's like a little gun that gets hot and it has different tips on it. You just draw your image really light and it's doing like pen and ink. It's really trial and error because every wood is different. That's why I really like it. It's a challenge.
Patch: You paint the bellies of pregnant moms to prepare them for photo shoots. Tell me what that experience is like.
Averell: It's a lot of fun because you can be really creative with it. You can try to match the nursery or paint something the mother really loves on her belly. It's something cool and different to have when the baby's old enough to understand.
My sister was the first mom I painted, and my niece is almost two now. She can say that it's a turtle, but don't think she knows yet that that was her in there!
Patch: So what are you working on right now?
Averell: I'm actually working on a commission right now for a man whose brother worked at Disney World in the Haunted Mansion. He wanted to remember that time in his life. So for Christmas I'm going to paint him in his uniform in the Haunted Mansion and all the characters around him like a collage piece. It's going to be really cool. He's going to love it.
Patch: Have you ever had any strange or unusual commissions?
Averell: I don't really consider anything strange. I like weird stuff. I would never say to someone, “That's weird.” I just say, “Oh, that's creative!”
Patch: Have you taken advantage of anything here in town to get more exposure to your art?
Averell: I've done Second Saturdays here and there for a long time. I actually did a show at Grooveground a few years ago too, that was a lot of fun. I tabled at the Before the Bridge Festival. I'm probably going to do some more Second Saturdays outside of Kenkojuku Karate when I can fit it into my schedule.
I love Collingswood. Being on the avenue is just great because you get so much traffic up and down.
Patch: Your work is so diverse, everything from Pee Wee Herman to comic book heroes to tigers and elephants. Is there a theme that unites all of your art? Is there a spirit or idea that ties it all together?
Averell: I paint what I love. I love music. I love Elvis. I love the Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald. I love movies. I love comic books. I'm just lucky other people like those things too.
I don't paint anything I don't like, pretty much. Everything you see on my table is something I love.
Patch: Is there a specific piece of art that you've made that means a lot to you? Something of which you're particularly proud.
Averell: I really like my Batman painting. It was all the villains. That was the first time I'd ever painted something that big. And it went to someone who I love. I just painted it and it sold like that.
Patch: Can you recall a time when you've made something for someone, and they were very moved and had a real emotional response to it?
Averell: I make people cry all the time. People always get emotional when I draw their animals. Especially if they're not expecting it and they get it as a gift.
Once, I did a painting of my father-in-law's dog for his birthday. Right after I painted it, the dog ended up passing away So, when I gave it to him it was a very emotional time, but it was happy too.
People appreciate having that, it's something nice to have when the animal's gone. Still, it was sad because when I gave it to him, everybody cried at the table. He's somebody who you never see cry, so it affected everybody.
Patch: You recently did a piece to promote Thyroid Awareness Month. How did you become involved in that cause?
I suffered from it very badly; I had every symptom. It took me four years to get it under control. It's hard to lose weight; it affects me mentally, physically, every aspect of my life.
I wanted to reach out to people and say, “I know what you're going through.” It's important to me because we need to be a support group for each other, because people don't really understand what we go through.
So, just by putting that picture out of me with the butterfly, I got over a hundred people who wrote to me to say, “Thank you, it's nice to know someone is going through what I'm going through.”
It's a daily battle, people don't realize, it's something that you have your whole life and it's not going to go away.
Patch: Has making art helped you as you've struggled with this illness?
Averell: Absolutely. It's definitely a release because I kind of zone out when I do it. Soccer used to be that release for me, but it kind of doesn't do it for me anymore. Definitely art has become a place where I can just go, be in my own little place, and relax.
Patch: Do you normally have a certain client or kind of client in mind when you start a painting?
Averell: To me, I feel like every time I paint something, there's someone out there that's made for that painting. I've done a lot of craft shows and I can't tell you how many times somebody comes up and says, “Oh my God, I love that! That's my favorite person in the world!”
And I'm very negotiable. Sometimes I'll practically give it away. If somebody really likes it, my feeling is, “It's made for you.” There's somebody out there for every piece that I make.
Averell is currently teaming up with photographer Joey DeMarco to create a calendar which features women transformed into superheroes by body-painting. WARNING: some images may be considered risqué. View the photo shoots here and and here.