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VisArts illustrator-in-residence Oura Sananikone on this season’s class catalog and what drives his work

Each year, VisArts selects four artists to serve as illustrators-in-residence. The winter 2023 catalog was illustrated by Oura Sananikone, whose work includes painting, comics, zines, action figures, plush art, animation, and music.



The Visual Arts Center of Richmond (VisArts), one of the area’s premier arts organizations, offering more than 1,000 visual and creative arts classes in clay, wood, fiber, painting, photography, and much more, is preparing to launch its winter catalog of classes. This winter, over 250 adult, youth, and family art classes will be offered to members and the public alike. This season, the center has over 75 brand-new classes scheduled in a variety of media.

Each year, VisArts selects four artists to serve as illustrators-in-residence. Each artist illustrates a catalog and is invited to lead a workshop on the topic of their choice. The winter 2023 catalog was illustrated by Oura Sananikone. Oura’s work includes (but is not limited to) painting, comics, zines, action figures, plush art, animation, and music.

He has exhibited all over Richmond and currently has work at Velocity Comics, Toy Lair–the shop he helped open in Carytown–and his Threadless Artist Shop. Oura graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000.

Our conversation with Oura on what inspires and drives his artwork, as well as his creative process, follows below.

What inspired you to start illustrating?

I’ve never really thought of myself as an “illustrator,” which is funny because I’ve had more illustration jobs than I realized. Ever since I was a kid, all I’ve ever wanted to do is to make art all the time. My grandmother was a huge inspiration. She would do these beautiful watercolor and ink pieces of Laotian life constantly. I guess, in a way, she showed me the virtues of hard work and sticking to your personal vision.

What inspires your work?

Sometimes I feel like everything I see inspires me or influences me in some way: comics, cartoons, zines, other people’s sketchbooks, trips to museums or galleries, street art, fashion, toys, package design, trash by a dumpster, video games, and this new-fangled art being done by artificial intelligence.

How did you get involved with (or learn about) the Featured Illustrator program at VisArts?

I had secretly wanted to illustrate a VisArts class catalog for a while, and when I saw the application for it, I had to at least try. I’m so very glad I did!

Describe your creative process.

My process of creating art is pretty irregular, it seems. Sometimes I do sketches and thumbnails, but there are occasions when the image I had in mind just comes out fully formed. If I get stuck, I usually do a Google search, and that helps come up with different poses or compositions. I am typically sitting on my couch with my iPad late at night when my family is asleep.

What was the inspiration behind the 2022 Winter catalog design?

It’s funny I mentioned AI art before, but I suppose subconsciously, I was thinking about that when brainstorming for the catalog. I would like to think my robots are a little more soulful but who’s to say? Also, I just like drawing robots.
What past projects are you most proud of? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?

I am ecstatic that I finally made packs of my own trading cards. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and realized there was absolutely nothing stopping me from doing it all myself. It’s been a lot of work, and I’m definitely still learning, but they look pretty ok.

What class/workshops (if any) will you be teaching at VisArts this Winter?

Hopefully, I will be teaching my One Screen, Endless Possibilities screen printing class again. It’s always a fun time, and I am always inspired by what others bring to the table. I’ve also proposed a new Artventure class on drawing Pokémon comics!

Members of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond can register for winter classes starting at 9:00 AM on Wednesday, November 9th. Registration opens to the general public at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 16. Members can register online, over the phone, or at VisArts’ front desk. For more information about becoming a VisArts member, visit the join page.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated that Oura sold his artwork at local shop Oddballs.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.

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