Artist Madeline Estes

Hennepin Avenue Bridge, Madeline Estes

Madeline Estes likes to cross bridges. For many, the Mississippi River is enough of a natural barrier to not cross between Minneapolis and St. Paul. And, for many, it’s a daily occurrence, crossing over on one of the many bridges with ease.

For Estes, this month’s cover artist, Twin Cities bridges are a theme in her series of colored pencil drawings. These cityscapes are a combination of exacting architectural lines and details with the addition of color, which she uses in a more whimsical way, rather than being photographic. With color, she creates dreamlike worlds.

Bridges and spreadsheets

“Bridges get you from one place to another. Without a bridge, sometimes it’s not possible to get [where you want to go],” says Estes, who grew up in St. Paul and now lives in Minneapolis. “I like that bridges keep things moving. I like cities and how they ebb and flow with traffic and people. Bridges keep the flow moving.”

Estes has fond memories of frequently walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge and 10th Street Bridge when she was a student at the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus working toward a career in accounting – not art.

“I enjoyed the time to daydream or not think of anything at all,” she says of crossing the Mississippi River. “Being by water promotes your noticing your surroundings, thinking about bigger concepts, such as the flow of time.”

Estes’ first job out of college was as a tax accountant in a downtown Minneapolis firm. During an internship in Germany, she picked up her colored pencils and started to draw. It didn’t take long after returning to Minnesota for her to decide that suiting up as a business professional wasn’t for her.

She began working for a close-out wholesaler. “Actually, I really like numbers and spreadsheets. We buy and sell anything – a thousand beer glasses, battery-operated socks…” She says her full-time day job is the right match. “I have a certain amount of energy for spreadsheets and a certain amount of energy for art in a day. I like doing both. I’m just lucky, I guess.”

Cityscapes and figures

If you look closely, you’ll see that “Hennepin Avenue Bridge” depicted on the cover of this issue’s magazine has three bridges in it – it also includes the Stone Arch Bridge and the Central Avenue Bridge.

The bridges are structurally recognizable. Estes uses color to depict a feeling or memory. This bridge drawing was made when she was depressed, living away from home and missing her family and friends. “The drawing was me trying to escape my situation and creating a place I wanted to be. I wanted to be in the city, to be home, to be somewhere beautiful. It helped to think about [someplace] else,” she says.

It energizes Estes – the milestone moment of making a connection between an idea in her mind’s eye with her hand, and then executing it with pencil and paper. “It’s exciting, like opening a dam. The ideas pour out,” she says.

Rat Brain, Madeline Estes

In addition to drawing bridges and cityscapes, Estes also draws figures. These are more personal, she says, based on her own memories, experiences and emotions. They often feature a young girl. “They have a darker, weirder style. They are harder to share,” she says. Sometimes the figure drawings depict the challenge of having an eating disorder, a challenge she has faced personally.

“You can tell there’s a story there, a whole other layer going on, but I don’t explain what is going on in the drawings,” she says. She leaves it to viewers to create their own story or interpretation.

She refers to her figure drawings as “doodling.” From her sketchbook, she scans the “doodle” into a phone app – appropriately called “You Doodle” – where she adds patterns and colors. “I can do art [anywhere]. I like to play around. I do it because it’s fun. [With the app] I can make a lot of different versions of my drawings.”

Estes is committed to making time every day for drawing. “I know I have to have it in my life. I’m just lucky that I discovered how beneficial doing art is for me,” she says. “I was able to change my life around to keep art in it.”

Madeline Estes