Creativity & Empowerment Through Illustration

by Monica Amneus,


My name is Monica Amneus, and I work under the pseudonym “Monkah,” a nickname that caught on from people pronouncing my name too quickly. I started drawing six years ago while binge-watching the first five seasons of the TV show Lost. Somewhere in the second season I got bored, but didn’t want to quit, so I dug through my closet and found some pens and craft paint, and I started drawing while it played in the background. Unfortunately, Lost ended up being a huge disappointment, but I ended up discovering my love of art.

I love drawing and painting, but I didn’t have the confidence to pursue it as a career, so I went to community college to study graphic design. It clicked one day when I was listening to “Castaways and Cutouts” by The Decemberists and admiring the album artwork done by the lead singer’s wife, Carson Ellis. I realized that nothing would make me happier than to be able see my own work in the same way. Four years later, I am in my final semester at The Maryland Institute College of Art pursuing a bachelor’s in Illustration and I am living my dream. I’ve already illustrated work for brands and breweries in Baltimore and as a winner of the Adobe & Colossal Project I have used Adobe Creative Cloud to get my artwork featured on a wall in Brooklyn in the world’s biggest student art show.

Creativity and Empowerment

Self-empowerment is something that is really important to me, so I express that in my personal work. I reimagine women from literature that are traditionally portrayed as being weak, or in need of rescue, and draw them as modern powerful women, usually on motorcycles.Untitled1


As a child, I was never interested in reading the princess-centered fairy tales. I identified more with characters like Violet from A Series of Unfortunate Events, who is a strong, smart girl valued by others for her cleverness and creativity. I think girls need role models similar to Violet, instead of women who spend their valuable time waiting for someone to come save them. To me, being a female artist is brave and empowering because I strive to express my thoughts, ideas and feelings openly, loudly, and without fear. I hope other young women can learn from my fear and self-doubt, and view my art as motivation and inspiration to be brave and different, strong, and independent.

In August of 2015, I stumbled across the call for entries for female student artists from Adobe. A week later, I was notified that I had been selected to be one of ten women to have their art exhibited as a mural on the walls of Brooklyn.

My first reaction was disbelief. The following weeks were a surreal blur. I worked closely with Adobe and MRY to create my final piece. They provided thoughtful critiques on my work, and coordinated with Colossal Media, the company that painted the murals, to ensure that our work would be exhibited in the best possible way. Adobe and MRY then brought us to New York to see our final work and meet the Colossal Media representatives who painted our murals. The project focused on being a woman in the art world, and I was given complete artistic freedom, so I decided to draw a bad-ass biker version of The Little Mermaid.

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Getting Started 

I started my illustration process as usual with too much coffee and a stack of old books. I read different versions of “The Little Mermaid”, and took notes on imagery and themes. Then I started drawing thumbnails of the final composition and settled on a final sketch.


From there, I scanned in my sketch and opened it in Adobe Photoshop, where I cleaned it up by lowering the opacity and tracing over my existing lines on a new layer. This allowed me to finalize the composition more quickly, and I was able to use the lasso tool to cut things out and move them around, rather than erasing and redrawing them.


Once Adobe approved the sketch, I put together a color palette and started blocking in all my colors on separate layers. I frequently use Capture CC to create color themes, so I went through my Photoshop Library and chose a color theme that I had saved, and reworked it a bit to better fit the mood of the piece. I like to keep my files organized by labeling all my layers and folders so that it’s easy to change things if necessary.


Untitled6After everything is color blocked in, I lock the pixels on each layer and start rendering things within the shape. I create and use my own custom brushes using Capture CC, as well as brushes by Kyle T. Webster, to achieve the texture.


When I create brushes, I doodle on paper various types of plants, textures and shapes. Then, I use Capture CC to take a photo of my doodles and the app does the rest, creating unique brushes for me to work with. I name and save the brushes to one of my Creative Cloud Libraries where I can easily access them in Photoshop.


During the rendering process, I also add small details to my work. I love hiding things within my illustrations, and this stage is where my notes come in handy. I can take things from the stories and insert them into the illustration as tattoos, pins, stickers, or accessories to flesh out the character I have created, as well as create some interest for the viewer. I want people to spend time looking closely at my work, and feel rewarded when they catch my little jokes and clues.


The End Result


Two months later, I was standing in the middle of the street craning my neck to try to see all 28-feet of my illustration on the side of a building in Buschwick, Brooklyn and drinking champagne out of a plastic cup alongside the amazing people from Adobe, Colossal, and MRY who made it happen. Looking back on it now, I still can’t believe that I had this amazing opportunity.

T8185Delve into the vibrant history of contemporary illustration with Fifty Years of Illustration by Lawrence Zeegen and Caroline Roberts. Whether you want to learn more about the flagrant idealism of the 1960s, the austere realism of the 1970s, the superfluous consumerism of the 1980s, the digital eruption of the 1990s, or the rapid diversification of illustration in the early 2000s, get an in-depth look at the historical contexts pertaining to the important artifacts and artists of the illustration industry in the latter half of the 20th century.