When I was 15, my mother and I discovered a possum in the feed room of our horse barn. As I took in the creature, I did not find myself particularly marveled or inspired by it. For me, it was an everyday Appalachian animal with no standout qualities. After removing the hissing animal from its all-you-can-eat-buffet, I gave it little thought.
Unlike me, Elisha Rush finds inspiration in both the mundane and the magical. Her artwork features native Appalachian creatures such as possums and foxes, domestic pets, and mythical cryptids from local legends. Her cheerful, cartoony style makes even the Grafton Monster look like someone you would want to grab an ice cream cone with and gives possums the sweet look of a house cat.
It was a pleasure to meet with Elisha and learn how growing up in Appalachia has shaped her and her art. I’m grateful that she agreed to be interviewed and featured in Change Seven, and I am excited to share her work with our readers. ~Taylor Miller
Tell me about how you got into art?
I’ve been doing art since probably middle school. I’d say that is when I started keeping like a really dedicated sketchbook. I was a real nerdy kid, so I was mostly just drawing like anime in my notebooks.
As far as just kind of what was my biggest influence that got me to where I am today, I think that was going to the Governor’s School for the Arts. It was seriously very mind opening for me. I never was the kind of kid that got to go to art museums or do anything like that, so for me to be able to take part in that program, not only did I get to meet other young artists and the professors who taught us, but I also got to travel to Pittsburgh and go to the Warhol Museum. It showed me that there’s a whole world of arts, that it wasn’t just cartoons, so it was really eye opening for me.
Do you have any art influences?
Cartoons are always a huge influence for me. I was a kid of the 90s, so I was just glued to Nicktoons all day. I would say that’s a huge influence. Also, comics in general. You know, back in like late 90s, early 2000s there was a huge boom of alternative comics and graphic novels and things like that style. I inhaled that stuff as a teen and college student.
I also took a lot of printmaking classes in college, so that blocky color layering that you see in screen printing in particular is probably one of the biggest influences stylistically outside of cartoons for me. I did a lot of t-shirt designs. You can’t have a ton of color, so I like limiting my color palette to just like maybe two or three.
Is there a specific message that you try to send through your art?
I always try to be genuine with the message that I’m sending out. With all art, when you create something visual or creative in the world, you’re putting a message out that is either condoning something or supporting something. Even if you think it’s something light and fun, you’re still sending some sort of message out there. I just want my intent to be good in terms of causes and things.
For me personally, I’ve always valued supporting poor people and finding pride in being a poor person; that’s a message that I try to send home with my work. If there’s a message I’m trying to send home with my work that’s it. That’s why I love the possums and things, these “trash” animals, because I think there is something about being “trashy” or, you know, finding like your weird voice in who you are and really embracing that. Whether that means that you’re being proud of being poor or you’re being proud of being queer or whatever, you know that you’re proud. Get that out there and don’t care about what the world says about it. I guess that’s like the message that I always just want to like people to bring home. Just be trashy; be you, forget everyone else.
Do you have any specific routine that you follow when you create?
Honestly, I have a whole office setup where I keep all my craft stuff and my art stuff. I have a whole room for all that. However, I’m so lazy. I frequently find myself just sitting in a bad position on my couch watching movies, while I draw on my iPad. That’s the most tried and true method for me. I’d say that’s probably how 99% of the work gets done. I’d love to be one of those people that can dedicate to one chair and some good posture, but I’m going to be honest, it doesn’t happen.
How do you think growing up as an Appalachian Woman contributes to your identity?
I’m a native West Virginian. I grew up in Grafton, so I’m very much a small-town girl. I would guess you could say I grew up on a farm; I chased a lot of chickens. I would say it contributes a huge amount to my identity and that’s one of those things that I think as a teenager I would have never said. I was still very much sorting out who I was. I so desperately wanted to be something other than that, which I think a lot of young Appalachians experience. You know, their first thought is to get out. But as I got older and got to see more of the world and learned a little bit more about my place within it, I found that embracing what makes me unique and, in part, that is my Appalachian roots, felt like the right thing to do in terms of working out my identity. My family is a real kooky bunch of crazy hillbillies so it’s one of those things that I don’t think I could deny that part of who I am. It’s very much built into my taste and my humor and it’s not going away.
Has the pandemic affected your art at all?
The pandemic has impacted everybody in some way, shape or form. You know, none of us have been immune to it. The biggest thing for me was in February of 2020 I had like a game plan for my art, and I had just bought a bunch of stuff for my table set up to do more conventions and shows and really travel and sell merchandise. I was like, “this is the path I’m going down; I’ve been successful with this so far.” Then the pandemic happened, and every event got canceled. The first one that got cancelled actually was the HerdCon in Huntington. That was the first moment I knew that something was going on. I had to sit down and really think like, “okay, now all this stuff I got for my table is useless for however long this is going to be,” and all this merch I have, I’m just sitting on it.
I found that in terms of the stickers and things that I’d printed out, I partnered with some local businesses for consigning, and that’s honestly been a wonderful partnership. I really got to know a lot of local business owners that way, which has been really nice. The effort on my part has also been nice because I realized I really love making art, but in terms of selling it, that’s a that’s a whole other experience. I don’t think I signed on to this to necessarily just be a businessperson, but in February 2020 that’s where a lot of my time was going. It was going to just business and marketing and those types of things which are all very, very important, but I think over the course of the last year I realized that I really want to create. Creating is really important to me, so I have used this time to kind of buckle down and do some bigger projects and some bigger partnerships with people and really focus more on making work that I’m proud of, instead of just cranking out a bunch of little merchandise. That’s been a lot more satisfying to me as a creator, I think.
What have you been reading or watching during the pandemic?
I’ve been reading so much. It’s been a blessing. I remember a couple years ago being like, “oh man, I wish I had read more,” and now I’ve just been like blowing through books. I’ve definitely read some comics this year, but I can’t remember off the top of my head what those were. I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass right now, actually. It has been a super excellent read. I really love nature, and learning about botany has been a really fun kind of hobby this year. I’ve gotten so much better at growing trees, so all of that’s really worked its way in together. I’ve watched a bunch of shows and movies. Going back to talking about influences, I really love Studio Ghibli. Those movies are all very influential for me, so I’ve been revisiting a lot of those and kind of finding things that I never noticed before, and they’re a great comfort watch when the world is stressful.
Who would you say is your favorite artist?
It’s really tough. There are a lot of people who I take a lot of influence from currently. As a creator, I really love Lisa Hanawalt. She’s an illustrator and she’s worked on a couple of animated shows. She worked on BoJack Horseman and Tuca & Bertie and I really, really love her work, but she also draws goofy animals, right. She’s got this like cute illustrated style, but she uses that to work in the ability to be goofy and serious really really well and I’m super interested in that because that’s something I’ve struggled with in my own work a lot. It’s a lot of how much of a statement do you want to make versus how much are you doing this for fun, and I don’t know, I struggle with that a lot. Art, for me personally anyway, is about joy and, I really love bringing in joy and humor, but I don’t want that to be empty either. So, she’s a huge influence for me both stylistically.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
Well, I have a couple big projects that I just finished up that I’m really proud of. A little sneak peek, I designed a city map for the city of Morgantown that I’m really, really excited for them to unveil, so I feel really good about that. It was a really, really big project that kind of took in like all of my skill sets. There was an illustrator quality to it, and there was also a graphic design quality, so I was able to really combine a lot of that. And also, you know, I’ve lived in Morgantown for over 10 years now, so it’s my home. I really love it here, so to be able to kind of put my own little stamp on it, you know, at least for a little while, that felt like an accomplishment, and I feel really good about that.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m getting ready to do a fun little West Virginia project for a nonprofit. I love partnering with nonprofits. That’s my number one thing I like to do because I like working for a good cause, so I’m really excited to work on that. Other than that, I’m just kind of still practicing. You know, during the pandemic I’ve really taken a lot of time to hone a lot of skills that I’ve been neglecting over the past few years, so working watercolor and doing a lot of nature studies. That’s really where my focus has been the last year.
Who are some of your work partners?
Consistently I really go across the board. I’ve donated work to Morgantown Art Party. I’ve donated some work to the Taylor County FRN. I did like a little sketch request live stream back at the beginning of the pandemic to help their COVID relief fund where I just took you little sketch requests, and people could donate however much they wanted to pay for the sketch that I did for them. That raised over $100 for them, so it felt really nice to kind of be able to contribute a little bit. It’s a mixed bag for sure, but I’m happy to work with all of them.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would probably give her the same advice I give to a lot of young artists, which is don’t stress about it. I think young artists have this real need to find this art style, you know, the elusive art style, and it’s like, that doesn’t exist. You’re always in flux. You’re always changing, and you get inspiration from everywhere, so don’t stress about developing a style. It’ll come in time. And nothing is truly original, so don’t try to be like, “I’m going to come up with the most creative original thing that’s ever happened because someone’s probably done it.” So, don’t worry, just make stuff as often as you can. Draw every single day, Draw whatever. Draw bad stuff, just keep with it is the best advice I could give.
Another thing I would say on that note is don’t get too bogged down by your medium. I think that’s another thing that a lot of young artists are like, “should I get into digital art, should I buy all these paints?” I think there’s a lot of stress put on the actual medium you’re working with, and I say just go with what’s comfortable. Go with what you can afford because I think there is this weird conception about digital art that you have to get like the best, most expensive thing. You do not. Get whatever you can. Free programs are your friend. Don’t go jump out and get the adobe suite if you can’t afford it, you know.
Where can people buy your work?
So currently I have a website, which is elisharush.com. My Instagram is what I keep up with the most so that’s @pixel_sunshine. In terms of buying my work, currently I have some stuff at Hoot and Howl. I need to send her some more stuff, but she’ll be restocked soon. I frequently have work at both Morgantown Art Party and the MAC. Check in there, you might stumble across an original, which is always fun. Oh, in Gallery 62 West in Grafton, I try to keep some stuff there too.
Graduating from West Virginia University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art and Design, Elisha Rush takes inspiration from the natural world and legends of Appalachia to create artwork in various mediums, including graphics, t-shirt designs, and illustrations. She enjoys working with local businesses and organizations to sell, donate, or commission her art. She has created illustration, design, and multimedia work for many clients including WVU Medicine, STICK Tattoo, and Main Street Morgantown. Elisha also frequently contributes to various local exhibits and fundraisers. She is an active member of the Morgantown Collage Collective as well as Arts Monongahela’s Arts Collaborative Committee. If you would like to see more of her work, you can visit her website elisharush.com or her Instagram @pixel_sunshine. Elisha currently lives in Morgantown, WV.