JILL OF ALL TRADES: Local Artist Sticks to Creative Drive
Alissa Salzwedel manages small business while working at Mabel Tainter
When Alissa Salzwedel sits down to work, it’s anyone’s guess what she’ll be creating next – the Chippewa Valley artist has done everything from stickers, GIFs, and posters to illustrations, greeting cards, pins, and much more.
A recent graduate of UW-Eau Claire with a degree in graphic communications, Salzwedel is a passionate artist, small business owner, and the events and marketing manager at Menomonie’s historic Mabel Tainter Theater.
With a lifetime of drawing and creating, in 2019, Salzwedel opened an online store, Art X Alissa (pronounced Art BY Alissa). Initially selling stickers, she soon expanded to pins, illustrations, and prints. As she put it, she “just got into” web design as well, curating her own website. Many of Salzwedel’s skills, including web design, were self-taught.
“Since I was a kid I always thought I wanted to animate Disney movies,” she said. “I changed my mind about that pretty quickly, but I was still curious, so I taught myself how to do frame-by-frame-animation.”
Using her sticker illustrations as a base, Salzwedel began to animate GIFs. In the short years since then, they’ve blown up. Her GIPHY site has more than 485 million total views, and her most popular gif – Baby Yoda, of course – clocks in at nearly 44 million views. Additionally, Salzwedel has designed the posters for UW-Eau Claire’s theater department productions over the past year, including Head Over Heels, Medea, Silent Sky, and most recently, Peter and the Starcatcher.
The work doesn’t always come easily though – it’s hard for her to separate her personal and professional art lives. Recently, Salzwedel said, a large focus has been on her mental health in relation to her art and work practice.
“Since I’m a professional working artist, I feel like everything I create has to be monetized in a way, or at least available,” she said. “It’s separating my work from my rest time. Being an artist feels like you’re never done working, because if you’re not creating then you’re wasting time.”
A lot of her process, she said, is just being kind and patient with herself before burnout sets in. One thing she said she doesn’t tire of is commissions. Art X Alissa offers a kind of collaboration between customers and Salzwedel to create a specialized, unique product. It parallels her work with UW-Eau Claire’s theater posters, she said: interpreting ideas and concepts and turning them into actual art.
“Someone has an idea in their head, but they don’t have the resources or ability to make it real,” Salzwedel said. “I feel like I’m a translator. Someone tells me what they want, what they want to feel, and I get to translate their ideas to reality.”
Her art-translating career has set her up for her newest venture, a job as events and marketing manager at the Mabel Tainter. There, she coordinates performances and does graphic design for advertising, among other duties.
Advertising for the Mabel Tainter is just another kind of translating, Salzwedel said. Plus, she added, the beautiful theater is an excellent place to connect with creatives, performers, artists, and the Chippewa Valley community.
As Salzwedel balances her job, small business, and personal art, she still, always has more on her list, like making longer animation videos, illustrations, paint-by-numbers, and using her new laser engraver. Salzwedel won’t run out of things to do anytime soon.
“I don’t want to be stagnant,” she said. “I want to be good at what I’m doing, but I also want to get better and be good at other things that I haven’t tried yet. I want to learn how to do everything.”