You Can Make a Difference in Any Field and With Any Project: With Russell Powell
“Regardless of your industry or passions, there are always opportunities to give.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Russell Powell, founder of Pangaean Studios. He is an accomplished oil painter and creator of a unique handstamping technique. His method is to create a portrait on his hand and then transfer the image to paper. Handstamping, which took over two and half years to refine, utilizes both color and black and white ink. Although each portrait is created on a raised surface, each piece is incredibly detailed. Many of his subjects are historic figures, indigenous people and exotic animals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
As a self-taught artist, I’ve been teaching elementary school art for the past sixteen years in Campbell, outside my hometown of San Jose, California. I credit my students as a major source of inspiration for my work. To showcase my passion, I founded Pangaean Studios in 2012. Most recently, I was proud to be featured on the cover of Content Magazine. Videos of my handstamping process have garnered millions of views on popular social media platforms and have been applauded by celebrities including Rohan Marley, Run DMC, Cedric The Entertainer, amongst others.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
At the 2016 Global Citizen Rally, I had the privilege of handstamping a portrait of Nelson Mandela on attendees, which was displayed on stage during the Eddie Vedder and Beyonce performance. I also had the honor to gift handstamp portraits to Malala and Ruby Bridges, two women whose contributions have advanced human and civil rights causes.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As far as standing out, its more on a personal level. I’ve had people reach out all around the world to me to tell me how my art has touched them. People going through cancer, some people with suicidal thoughts telling me my artwork and videos have helped them stay strong through dark times bringing them a little light. That is when I really started to realize how much the arts, and specifically mine, could mean to people.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
I will be forever grateful for the community at the Old Orchard School, specifically my boss, Bonnie Weston, and her late mother, Dannie Weston. This magical school they created and allow me to be a part of is something directly woven into my work. They believed in my teaching for many years and created an environment where I can explore my own creative process. I can say with absolute certainty if they didn’t hire me many years ago I would have never decided to try my hand at art.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I donate my work and money from commissioned pieces to causes I am passionate about, including the water protectors and documentary efforts taking place at Standing Rock. I recently partnered with Make Love Not Scars, an organization raising awareness for victims of acid attacks in India. I created a handstamp portrait of a survivor, which hangs in one of their clinics. I also work with the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts, which provides youth programming.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- Never settle.
- Find flow and a natural ease to your process—it may take years, but its there waiting to be discovered.
- Break everything down. There are shapes in everything, and math in all projects.
- Keep pushing yourself to your limit—as far as your progression and time allowed in any given sitting. Not your breaking limit, but your creative limit.
- Give. Regardless of your industry or passions, there are always opportunities to give.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would have brunch with the incredible Ashlee Vivo and just talk about life over micheladas.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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