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Interview with Yellena James

This is our first collaboration with Yellena James and we couldn’t be more excited. Her work is a beautifully, tripped out nature walk…. walking through color, flowing lines, and experiencing the vibrancy and abstraction of flowers, pods, vines, and things you may have never seen. It’s another world, a perfect piece of art to remind you how surprising, colorful, and vulnerable our world is. Yellena is a Portland transplant from Sarajevo… in this interview she talks a little about her experience in Sarajevo, going to art school there, and walking to school under fire. Meet Yellena James.

Where do you go for creative inspiration?

I live in Portland, Oregon which is full of interesting spots to roam around… So many galleries, bookstores, café’s, shops, great music venues. I live very close to the Columbia Gorge which is full of waterfalls and amazing hiking trails. Walks through the forest over moss-covered ground do wonders for me. I also go to the ocean as often as I can.

Tell us a little about this work that was turned into the Poketo wallet.

The two images used for this wallet, “Cover” and “Pods,” are pen and inks drawings that I did for shows last year.

Considering the amazing level of detail and color in you artwork, how long does it usually take to complete a painting? How do you approach your work?

My pieces are usually small in scale, but they take many hours and sometimes days to complete. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to line work and there’s a lot of thinking and figuring out what goes where. It’s kind of like puzzle solving, where everything has to find it’s own place. After I finish one piece, there is always another idea of what else I could have done with the same elements. I like the intimacy that smaller pieces hold but I’m planning to go bigger in near future. I recently completed a 50″x92″ piece and I’m hoping to do more works in a larger scale now that I have a bigger studio.

How has moving from Sarajevo to the US affected your art?

I started my art education at art high school in Sarajevo. I got a very traditional art education with good, solid foundation and then I continued my studies in the US where I graduated with a degree in graphic design and painting. Along the way I had some amazing teachers and I believe I got a very eclectic education which greatly helped develop my own style.

What was it like to study art while there was a civil war going on around you in Sarajevo ?

I enrolled into art high school while the city was still under siege. I lived on the front line and had to walk past snipers and through trenches to get to school. The school was protected with sandbags and most of the time had electricity and for me it was a safe zone. That place kept me sane and it kept me hopeful. It felt good to create while everything around me was being destroyed.

What new projects do you have going on, what are you excited about coming up?

Well, I just got a silk-screening press and I’m planning to offer apparel and accessories with my designs very soon. I’m looking forward to branching out into other forms of design and making more functional items. I’m excited about my next show as well: GR2 in LA, this April with Elsa Mora and Ako Castuera.

Check out Yellena’s Poketo wallet at
More from Yellena James at

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