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Santa Cruz Lifestyles of the Insta-Famous: Lili Arnold Studios

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

From her sunny back deck or her cozy bedroom decorated with original prints and watercolors, Lili Arnold (@liliarnoldstudios) can make up to 50 block prints in one day. Cacti are her primary subject but she also has a series of marine-inspired prints, petroglyphs, celestial prints, and has plans to do a wildflower series in the future.

“Leaves and flowers and plants in general have so much intricacy and beauty,” says Lili. “It’s amazing the beauty that this world can create on its own.”

Over the last year and a half as a professional printmaker, Lili has organically grown her Instagram following to over 116K followers. She’s been featured in major media outlets like The Huffington Post, sells her art to buyers as far away as China, and has effectively turned her bedroom (and recently living room) into a working studio.

The desk in her bedroom has just enough space for painting and pulling the actual prints. A small metal shelving unit filled with a rainbow of inks, hand rollers, and other essential block printing supplies sits tucked behind the door. When it’s too wet outside, prints hang from clothespins on a piece of twine strung up in front of the mirror in the connecting master bath. “It does make it a little hard to use the sinks …” Lili admits.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

On one of these wet afternoons that turns Lili’s bedroom into a cactus gallery, Lili welcomed me into her home on the Westside of Santa Cruz to watch her printing process and chat about her work. She’d chosen her favorite, the Protea Susara, although it’s actually an Australian shrub, not a cactus. At 15″ x 22″ it’s also one of her largest prints.

Donning an appropriately paint-splattered apron over her striped sweater and high-waisted jeans, Lili dipped brayers (little hand rollers) into green block printing ink to paint the Protea’s leaves. While she worked, Lili shared her favorite spot to recharge, why Santa Cruz is such an awesome community for artists, and the most challenging aspect of her work.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

Why cactus?

It wasn’t really intentional; actually, it was kind of a happy accident. I needed some form of creative release while I was still working full time, so I started gardening and print making on the weekends. I went to a nursery looking for plants and wandered into the cactus section. I found this one cactus that was blooming with vibrant magenta flowers and I just had to get it. After I got that cactus I started painting it and thought it might make a cool print because there’s so many cool textures. So, I made my first block print of a cactus and had such a blast doing it.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

It’s been about a year and a half of making cactus and I’m still not sick of it at all because there’s still so many to do. But I’m not blocking myself into just cactus. That just happens to be what’s exciting for me. There’s also so many exotic plants from around the world that have really drawn me in. I’ve already done one Protea but I want to do more. I also want to do Banksia-anything unusual and detailed, I love that.


What role has Instagram played in your success?

Instagram has given me a way to share what I do with an audience that is always growing. It connects me with people all over the world. To be able to share my craft and make sales through that is key for my business. That’s how it all got started.


What’s the furthest distance you’ve shipped your art?

This might not technically be the farthest but the most foreign order I got was from China. I had to translate Chinese characters to English for the address. The woman placed a really big order and then another a month later. So, I have a woman in China who is supporting my art! I ship orders all over Europe and Australia, a few to South America, but maybe 95% of the orders are in the U.S. I want to give everybody the chance to be able to get something if they want it.

Why have you chosen Santa Cruz as your home?

Santa Cruz gives me such a high quality of life every day. I wake up in the morning to a beautiful day surrounded by nature; I can drive or ride my bike a mile to a natural organic grocery store. I’m only a mile from Natural Bridges State Beach. I have all the things I love in one place.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

Most importantly though, the art community here is vibrant and strong. Artists, and the supporters of the artists in this town, create a really supportive network. No one is trying to step on each other’s toes to get ahead. It’s all mutually supportive and that feeling is hard to find in other places.

People always say it’s a dog eat dog world and I feel like that’s the opposite of Santa Cruz. Instead it’s, ‘Good job! Let’s collaborate!’ There’s so much positivity.

Where do you go in Santa Cruz for inspiration?

The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is one of my favorites. They have such a variety of exotic plants but also just being in a quiet, beautiful place like that you get into this peaceful mindset and it starts to inspire creativity or just thinking outside of your day to day life. I also love going to the local nurseries and seeing what plants they have in the cactus and succulent section.


Also, driving around Santa Cruz there are so many beautiful gardens. People really take pride in their gardens here compared to other places. There are a lot of tropical plants, desert plants, and drought-tolerant gardens which are right up my alley in terms of subject matter.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

One of the challenges to printmaking specifically is that a lot of people don’t really know what printmaking is. If they just see the print in a shop they don’t know how it’s made or that it’s handmade. Educating people on the process changes their perspective. Educating how much work goes into it, but also that it’s something anyone could do at home. I hope to inspire people to want to try it.

Photo by Molly (Lautamo) Ressler

Where to find Lili’s prints

You can find Lili’s gorgeous prints on her website and at several Santa Cruz County stores including Dig Gardens and Home/Work in Santa Cruz, Traders of the Lost Arts in Boulder Creek, and The Closet Shopper and Art Inspired in Capitola Village. And don’t forget to follow her on Instagram !

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