Featured Artist: Hannah Rae Powell

Hannah Rae Powell began illustrating to distract herself from her career, and she did it so well that it became almost like a second one. Her playful, colorful illustrations evoke Matisse’s La Danse adorned with floral patterns. They have seduced thousands of followers on Instagram, as well as gallerists and fashion brands. Hannah lives in Melbourne, Australia. We discussed mental health, awkwardness, and how to feel legitimate as an artist.

Who are you? 

My name is Hannah Rae Powell. I became an artist about four years ago now when I decided to step away from the rigidity of my graphic design career and start making work that was really personal. I had never realised that I wanted to illustrate, or that I had it in me. I started organically making work out of a bad period of mental health and found I was able to self-soothe through drawing and creating and that really lead me to where I am now. 


How would you describe your aesthetic? 

I have a very distinct style (mainly because it’s the only way I can draw). It’s quite minimal and abstract. I love to use bold shapes and colour and play around with organic line work and the human form.

How did you find it? How has it evolved since you began making art? 

Through repetitive practice my work has developed into a strong visual style. I had to look back on my early pieces to answer this question. Having my very first pieces online allows me to keep an awkward (but nice) portfolio of my growth as an artist. My early pieces are a lot more minimal and I guess reserved, I definitely have evolved in the way I use colour and pattern and I am more confident in experimenting with my own style these days.

Have you ever thought of experimenting with other art forms? 

I took ceramics classes last year, which I really enjoyed and really need to get back into. I was in a bit of a creative block at the time and trying something completely different was really helpful in starting to move through that. Because I’m trained in graphic design and almost always am illustrating digitally, the process of ceramics is such a contrast, it was a really good lesson in having to slow down and plan things really carefully as opposed to being able to just hit Ctrl+Z and erase your mistake. It was also really cool to see my work in a 3D representation.

What is your creative process? 

I will start with an idea, or a phrase of a feeling. I will begin to draw in my sketchbook just with a fine- liner, usually stream of consciousness style. Sometimes if I’ve taken a photo of people or plants, I will use it as a reference, then I usually sit with that for a while, and if I like it enough I will scan it, trace it using Illustrator and start playing around with colour and pattern. 

Who / what inspires you to create? 

A lot of my work is quite personal, so I will often work out particular feelings, emotions and situations through my work. I journal a lot and often what comes up during that process is that a word or a sentence or a feeling will propel me to start drawing and creating around that idea. 

You said that you didn’t think you had it in you to be an illustrator. What do you think makes an illustrator? 

I never saw myself as creative, which probably says more about my self esteem than anything else. I think being an illustrator takes a strange mix of confidence and sensitivity.

You also talked about your mental health. Do you believe in art as therapy? 

Huge believer in art as therapy! I started this whole thing out of a pretty dark time for me and I think my brain just naturally was trying to sort out some peace and quiet, which I absolutely found through drawing. Sometimes I think it is the only time I can get that quiet. It’s a very meditative process for me. And I’m super interested in art therapy, I think if I was to go back and study something I would do that.


Let’s talk about consuming art instead of making it. What are some of your latest favorites? 

I have been reading a lot lately and I have found it so helpful in terms of creative thinking and inspiration. It’s hard to pick favourites but the books that had the most impact on me and my process over this summer period have been The Flame by Leonard Cohen, a book of his poems and sketches which is just magic, and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I am also a real sucker for self- improvement books that don’t sound as nice as interview answers. As for movies, at the moment I keep going back to watching Ladybird by Greta Gerwig, and music changes all the time but at the moment I have Weyes Blood, Aldous Harding, and Cate Le Bon on repeat, always.

What do you want people to feel through your work? 

I would love for them to recognise something within my work that reflects something they are going through, or a feeling or emotion. Because of the more abstract nature of my work I’ve often had people interpret them quite differently to how I made them, which I really love and find super interesting, so I’m happy for people to take from it what they will. 

What is a question you wish I had asked you? 

I’m awkward, so these are more than enough haha!


Hannah Rae Powell began illustrating to distract herself from her career, and she did it so well that it became almost like a second one. Her playful, colorful illustrations evoke Matisse’s La Danse adorned with floral patterns. They have seduced thousands of followers on Instagram, as well as gallerists and fashion brands. Hannah lives in Melbourne, Australia. We discussed mental health, awkwardness, and how to feel legitimate as an artist.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.