Daydreams, Mushrooms and Magic
By Sarah Sherman
Editor’s Note: Madison Safer was the cover artist for the November/December 2018 issue of Fiddlehead. This is her story, which we were unable to include in that issue.
At only 23, Madison Safer has truly started to sketch out her career as an illustrator.
She was born in California, but moved around throughout her early years, living in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts before settling in the community of Milford, N.H. She attended New Hampshire Institute of Art for a year and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Montserrat College of Art in Massachusetts.
“I was hyperactive when I was young,” she said of her childhood. “I loved to be outside with my hands in the mud.”
Mud pies were only the beginning of her immersion in the outdoors. Her creative tendencies continued to emerge as she grew older. She dabbled in photography in high school, but it wasn’t until she met Jill Weber, a children’s book illustrator who encouraged her to pursue a career in illustration, that a potential direction in art truly clicked.
Her illustrations are inspired by her affinity for nature. She’s a self-described herbalist and a forager, who connects with each season and loves fungi and mycology. Because, as even her website notes, she’s “happiest in a forest full of mushrooms.”
And that adoration for plants just seems to sprout in her artwork, sometimes in tiny prints or patterns, and sometimes fantastical flowers dwarf the petite clothed animals that hold hands and dance beneath their colorful blossoms. The beautiful flora and fauna of the New England landscape are her greatest muse.
She sells her illustrations online as everything from prints and stickers to totes, buttons and mirrors in an Etsy shop and also takes commissions for illustration work in story books, agricultural books and field guides. At the time of this interview, she was working on an activity book project that was enabling her to take on a different role through authoring responsibilities.
Coming up with a manuscript has allowed her the opportunity to develop characters and evolve the story, creating worlds for them to live within. The children’s market, she said, is one of nostalgia and the goal is to remind the readers of their own childhood and evoke a sense of whimsy and imagination.
Her work has been included as part of a biannual exhibit (September and March) at Nahcotta Gallery in Portsmouth called “Enormous Tiny Art Show,” which is a curated collection of hundreds of original 10-by-10-inch or smaller pieces by artists from all over the world.
In addition to the endless wildlife and wildflowers that can be found right outside her door, she said she enjoys the circular community economy of New Hampshire living. She appreciates being able to see exactly where her food is grown and will often trade her artwork for maple syrup or honey from local purveyors.
“There’s a passion that can be found here,” she said of the area’s residents and their work.
And her passions are apparent, too, both through her illustrations and through the charming way she describes her favorite pastimes: drinking tea, daydreaming and stealing flowers. As one commenter put it in response to Safer’s recent Tumblr post: “Your artwork is so pure and magical, it’s like I’m looking at a fairytale. Everything is so enchanting and sweet. It makes me feel cozy, thank you.”
For more information or to view Madison Safer’s illustrations, visit madisonsafer.com or etsy.com/shop/MSaferillustration. Follow her on Instagram: madison.safer or Tumblr: madisonsaferillustration.tumblr.com.