Meet Donnel Barnum, The Vermont Country Store Illustrator
At The Vermont Country Store, we’re fortunate to have talented folks on whom we rely to bring great color and creativity to our catalog, website and beyond. Donnel Barnum is one of these very special people. An employee since 1986, she’s always there with a ready smile and tremendous enthusiasm. And as the creative genius behind our catalog covers and product illustrations inside, she never fails to wow us with her talent.
Donnel has taken time out of her busy schedule to answer five questions about her creative roots, processes, and inspirations. The artwork in this blog is a selection of some of her favorites from over the years.
Can you tell us the story behind how you came to be the artist / illustrator at The Vermont Country Store?
In the summer of 1986 my husband and I moved into his family house in southern Vermont full time. I remember visiting The Vermont Country Store in Weston and being in heaven with all the colorful calico fabrics, penny candies, and nostalgic goods surrounding me. I picked up a copy of the black and white Voice of the Mountains catalog and fell in love with the interesting products and entertaining copy. The tiny catalog was filled with drawings, so I made an appointment to show my illustration portfolio and was greeted with open arms. The art director at the time was doing all the illustrations, all the photographs and the design. She was delighted to have my help.
My first assignment was a picnic cover for the 1987 summer catalog in graphite. While you’ll see quite a few photographs in our catalog today, back then almost all the apparel and sleepwear were illustrated, so I was kept busy sketching everything from sheets to muumuus.
Each season, year after year, you create a new series of catalog covers. Do you work with a creative team to develop themes for each cover, or do you brainstorm on your own?
My mind is always thinking about the perfect catalog cover for each season, whether driving to work through our beautiful Vermont countryside or brainstorming with our great group of creative folks here. We try to incorporate seasonality, Vermont, featured products and a touch of humor while coming up with sketches for the upcoming season. It always amazes me how one person can add the perfect suggestion to an idea to make a good cover sketch a great catalog cover.
When working on a catalog cover or product illustration, what medium(s) do you work in and why?
My mediums include oil paint, watercolor, gouache, scratchboard, graphite, as well as pen and ink. I use all of these mediums for different effects. The covers are colorful and eye catching and tend to be painted in oil and watercolor. We have used some striking scratchboard cover images with pops of color, too. I try to keep the cover images looking fresh and different from each other, so I vary the coloration and techniques within a season. The personal-care illustrations inside the book have a softer feeling and are done primarily in watercolor. The Vermont Country Store has a wonderful line of private labels for our food and apothecary items. I have developed a technique for the food items using a realistic graphite drawing, which I then overlay with color. The apothecary products lend themselves to an old-fashioned style that leans towards scratchboard and pen and ink. I often work with our designers to decide which would be the best technique for each project.
Your catalog cover art is quaint, colorful, and at times humorous; it conveys a true sense of our Vermont way-of-life. What inspires you?
The rural Vermont landscape that surrounds me is my main inspiration. Vermont has a natural beauty and rich history filled with farmed landscapes, quaint villages and the curious barnyard chick or cow! My hope is that our covers convey a touch of the joy of our Vermont surroundings.
Do you have any advice for young folks who aspire to be artist illustrators?
Keep a sketchbook with you and be on a constant lookout for inspiration. Remember working with others opens up new possibilities and keeps you fresh. You can benefit from the opinions of others.