Molly Magnell’s artwork combines illustration, design

| Staff Writer

A new senior’s artwork will be up on display in the Danforth University Center later this month as a part of Senior Class Council’s continuing initiative to showcase the achievements of Sam Fox students. Five works by Communication Design major Molly Magnell. whose work explores the intersection of illustration and design through a range of digital and traditional mediums, will be exhibited.

Magnell’s two loves—art and biology—were what initially drew her to Washington University, which has strong programs in both disciplines. She is drawn to design as a tool of education-related initiatives and is particularly interested in educating children in the realms of science and research. For her Illustration Capstone project, Molly is creating a book that explores the marine life and history of the Boston Harbor Islands.

Molly Magnell’s artwork is inspired by various loves of hers, including illustration, biology, typography and digital design.Jordan Chow | Student Life

Molly Magnell’s artwork is inspired by various loves of hers, including illustration, biology, typography and digital design.

“The book I wrote the content for initially came out to be 70 pages, which is too much,” Magnell said. “So I’m re-writing it as a more kid-friendly children’s book. I’m from Boston and grew up around the beach and always loved all the different things you could find there in a day. I also used to work at the New England Aquarium for one summer and visitor education, so, in general, I really like to geek out about the ocean.”

Magnell says that these days she does around 60 percent illustration and 40 percent design. Rather than being two exclusive fields, however, the two tend to inform one another in her work: “I like to work a lot with images, so when I’m composing things for a design project, I think a lot about space for imagery. When I illustrate things, I have to think about design principles. I love working with typography, so integrating the two is a really great space for me; it feels seamless,” she said.

discovering the past and unveiling the futureMolly Magnell

The typography-focused classes are among Magnell’s favorites in Sam Fox. “[Typography 1] was very nit-picky, learning how words look on a page and making sure everything is really precise,” she said. “It’s the little things you wouldn’t notice if you hadn’t taken that sort of course, but now I’m so acutely aware of it, which is kind of a blessing and a curse.”

“[Typography 2] is a little more experimental; dealing more with color, composition, figuring out how to lay out a book and make it really compelling and telling a story with design instead of just the words on the page,” she continued. “I became really interested in that sort of narrative, combining words with images and just making it really dynamic.”

One of Magnell’s pieces in the exhibit is a poster with a typeface she designed for course taken while studying abroad Florence, Italy. It includes an explanation of the mythology behind the flower Amaryllis, the inspiration for her design choices and the name she lent to the typeface.

“I struggled with this one for a while, and it really taught me how to use Illustrator better,” Magnell said. “Essentially, I was thinking flowers, magicians—how things vanish and come in and out and how much you can reduce from a letter before it becomes illegible, and figuring out how to tell those two apart.”

cape town stampMolly Magnell

A vibrant sketch of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge is another product of her Florence coursework. After living in Florence for four months, Magnell was questioning the extent to which the Italian city was her home and wondering if she should still consider herself a tourist. The bridge, a major tourist attraction, was the perfect observation spot for her research.

“I like drawing things from life, and I like drawing people,” Magnell said. “When I’m sketching things, it’s a lot rougher; I might trace over lines a few times. It’s a very different way of making, and it helps me figure out what’s important in a piece. Sometimes, if I am working from a photograph, I can overdraw it and emphasize everything to the same level, whereas drawing from life helps me kind of edit as I go.”

Magnell also likes doing personal projects to strengthen her skills and continue exploring outside of the classroom. Right now, she’s challenging herself to create a new Valentine a day. Her display includes her take on the draw-everything-in-your-backpack-challenge, which she created using a limited color palette and geometric approach to her layout. She also has a stylized, digital recreation of an Instagram photograph she found of someone she went to high school with. In contrast to the bright tones of that piece, her painting of a dinghy is a wash of dark, stormy color.

Looking over the wide range of work she submitted for the exhibit, Magnell says that each piece is important to her for a different reason. She considers her style to be fairly versatile.

“I feel like I don’t have a style, or at least one that’s defined as much as other people,” she said. “Some of my professors say, ‘Yeah go find your style right now,’ and some of them say, ‘Your versatility will help you in the end.’ So, I’m kind of just in the process of figuring out how to make things.”

Magnell is exploring careers that will let her use her diverse set of skills, including art direction, children’s books’ illustration and freelance design. With clearly raw talent in her tool belt and a future full of potential, Magnell doesn’t see any reason to stop testing the waters.

“I think I just get bored doing one thing always. That’s why I didn’t want to go to straight art school. My mom kept pushing me to go to a traditional art school like RISD and I kept pushing back because I really would just get bored doing one kind of art all the time,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure out the best things for me; I’m always trying to experiment.”

Look for Magnell’s five works on display in the DUC later this month. To see more of her portfolio, visit her website,