Art as service: Bodden Town illustrator creates a storybook world

By day, Michelle Bryan is a corporate administrator. By night, she creates fanciful illustrations that harken back to childhood.

Watercolour scenes of daydreams and story time, filled with friendly animal companions and cosy moments with family, appear straight out of a children’s book. And, in fact, the 28-year-old has already illustrated three local children’s books, set for publication soon.

Her artwork also captures the beauty of growing up in the Cayman Islands, from building ‘sandmen’ on the beach for Christmas to sailing on catboats (with Bryan’s favourite animal, the cat, in tow).

Artist Michelle Bryan, surrounded by the tools of her trade.- Photo: Alvaro Serey

The Bodden Town artist and owner of Michellustrations views her art as a way to serve others, by bringing a smile to a face or capturing a special moment.

Memories of childhood, books and Cayman heritage offer inspiration. But at the heart of her work is a Bible verse, Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

“So, how I use my gift of art is serving others, whether that be to cheer them up or give them a greeting card or just make someone smile with an illustration I draw,” Bryan said.

A self-taught artist, she returned to her childhood love of art with the encouragement of her husband, Michaiah, who asked her to decorate his sermon book for note-taking during church services.

“So he just encouraged me to keep on drawing and I kept on buying art supplies. Every Saturday, especially, I would be putting out work or practising calligraphy, watercolour paint,” she revealed.

From there, Bryan took to Instagram and YouTube for tutorials and ideas to improve her technique.

At the end of 2017, she founded Michellustrations, offering custom illustrations for businesses, events and gifts.

One of her major accomplishments to date was designing the 2019 advertisement for Taste of Cayman, where she appeared as a featured artist and performed live painting.

Much of her work draws from her Caymanian roots. A painting of Bryan and her cousin in the arms of their grandmother, for example, honours the legacy of her family.

“She was a major part of my life and I really miss her a lot,” she said.

“My grandmother was the type of woman where her family was her life. So, for example, she would have one peppermint left. She wouldn’t use it for herself. She would actually break it in half and give it to me and my cousin.”

Another Cayman Islands-inspired scene depicts national hero Sybil McLaughlin dancing with Commissioner Andrew Morris Gerrard.

“She had a chance to dance with the governor at the time and that was controversial back in the day because she was black and he was white. “People told him, ‘We don’t do that around here’ but he was like, ‘I don’t care.’ He’s just having a great time with Ms. Sybil,” Bryan said.

For Bryan, art brightens an often dark and difficult world.

“Art is the vehicle of my message and the message is to add beauty to the world,” she said.

“This is what I love to do. This is what I do until 2 in the morning. That’s how much I love drawing. I love painting. I love being able to express myself through painting and I just want to share it with other people.”

For more information on Michelle Bryan’s work, find her online at www.facebook.com/michellustrationsky/.