Student uses artwork to face fears, find strength

Howell’s pop surrealism illustrations on display at local co-op
UW-Stout student Stephanie Howell with her artwork “Urbanology.” Howell’s illustrations are on display at the Menomonie Market Food Co-op gallery through April. /UW-Stout photos by Pam Powers
March 27, 2019

In her artwork, Stephanie Howell faces her fears and finds strength.

The University of Wisconsin-Stout sophomore majoring in industrial design with a minor in illustration is showing seven of her illustrations at the Menomonie Market Food Co-op Gallery, 814 Main St.

One of the illustrations is entitled “Bubble Gum Vapor” showing a woman surrounded by a vapor with her mouth covered. Smoke from tobacco products and vape from vaping products makes her anxious, Howell said. “I realized that painting was me trying to explore my feelings about smoking and vaping.”

Another one of the illustrations, most done with watercolor paints and pen and ink, is called “Bug Queen.” A former friend used to call Howell “the bug,” which bothered Howell.

“As time went by, I’m the kind of person who is not going to let things like that continue to make me uncomfortable. I am going to find strength in them,” Howell said. “I am going to be the Bug Queen.”

The illustration shows a woman with antennae. On her neck  are the words “something bugging you?”

​​Howell’s artwork “Bubble Gum Vapor”Howell, from Roberts, who started illustrating when she was around six years old, noted she used to fear skulls, but after using them in her artwork multiple times she has conquered that fear.

She also uses her industrial designs to help conquer fears. She recently designed a hair dryer using a lobster as an influence. “I forced me to find the parts of a lobster that are beautiful,” she said.

Creating artwork to overcome her fears and anxiety helps her deal with depression, Howell said.

When she first started drawing, she strived to create as much realism as possible in her work, but as she has matured Howell describes her work as pop surrealism. “It’s the idea the work does still play off emotions,” she said. “It’s realistic enough to be recognizable. But it is a bright media with color that affects feelings.”

The food co-op in January contacted Dave Beck, director of the School of Art and Design, to encourage more UW-Stout students to be a part of the co-op gallery that started in 2016. The gallery is free for artists to show their work, said Beth Martin, marketing manager.

“There is a lot of great talent at UW-Stout, and we thought it would be fun to get more students to participate,” Martin said. “It gives artists exposure and it is low risk.”

The gallery also serves as a dining area. Howell’s work will be up through Tuesday, April 30.

“It’s important to have this space,” Martin said. “It is part of the co-op’s mission to be central to a healthy community. We know the creative experience is one of the essential elements of being a healthy human being.”

Howell said she is pleased to be part of the gallery and share her artwork. She encouraged other students to apply to the co-op to share their work.

Howell has shown a couple of her works at Artists on Bailey Park in Baldwin, Art’s House in River Falls, a community art-based organization, and at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson but never had a solo gallery showing.

One illustration on display is entitled “Urbanology,” which was recognized by the Milwaukee Museum as part of the Scholastic Scholarship Foundation. Howell created it after learning about women teachers in low-income areas, predominantly African-American, putting children first.

Howell, who was home-schooled before attending UW-Stout, learned many of her art skills from the Abben Art Academy in Stillwater, Minn., where she took classes.

Martin said she enjoys Howell’s illustrations. “I was immediately impressed with her technical skills and the design of her work,” Martin said. “It’s very expressive.”

In May and June another UW-Stout student, Melissa Lackey, will have her watercolor illustrations up in the gallery. Lackey is a senior studio art major.

Howell said she often is asked why she chose to major in industrial design rather than art.

“Industrial art makes me feel good to know that I can make things to change people’s lives that go so far beyond me,” Howell said.

After graduation, she wants to work in educational toy design or do prop design for movies. She enjoys “cosplay,” also known as costume play. It’s an activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction both with costumes and makeup and having fun.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.



UW-Stout student Stephanie Howell with her artwork “Urbanology.” Howell’s illustrations are on display at the Menomonie Market Food Co-op gallery through April. /UW-Stout photos by Pam Powers

Howell’s artwork “Bubble Gum Vapor”