Ellen Surrey is a brilliant illustrator based at Los Angeles and she created very delightful and adorable illustration. These colorful creations bring back old memories. Working mostly with pencil and gauche, she sometimes uses Photoshop for quick ‘post-processing’ of scanned work. .She’s inherited her artistic talent from her illustrator father and grandmother who shared with her a lot from 40s – 60s… remembering those times gets her nostalgic and it shows it in her works. Ellen aspires to write and illustrate children’s books and make illustrations for products.
Tell us something about you, Ellen:
I was born in upstate New York, but grew up in Los Angeles, California. I currently live in Los Angeles where I graduated from Art Center College of Design and now work as a freelance illustrator. Some of my favorite things to do are going to thrift shops and finding unusual things, watching old movies and TV, and spending time with close friends and family.
I’ve had an interest in art for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents are artists and were very encouraging of anything I wanted to do, it just happened to be art. They are both different kinds of artist but I never really saw a difference. To me art was just art as long as you got to be creative and enjoy what you were making. It took me a while to realize I wanted to be an illustrator. When I was in the tenth grade I took a high school illustration class at Art Center College of Design. That was when I realized I wanted to be an illustrator. It just looked like so much fun. You could have any style you wanted, you could be funny or serious, and there were endless possibilities of where you artwork could end up. From then on I focused on illustration. And it paid off. I ended up going to Art Center for college and got to meet some amazing illustrators, some of which I admire like celebrities, and got a great education. I couldn’t be happier to have finally reached a goal I set for myself when I was just 3 years old.
Art is my life. There isn’t any time in the day where I don’t think about it. I am constantly coming up with new projects and occasionally get frustrated that I can’t produce them as fast as I think of them. A lot of times it does take over my personal life. I can very easily forget that I haven’t left the house in a couple days or haven’t spent any time with friends, but I do the best I can to balance everything. When you love what you do it’s very easy to forget about everything else. Thankfully I have a very supportive group of friends and family and they know that sometimes I am married to my work.
It really depends on what it is. If it’s something small, maybe a couple hours. If it’s something big, maybe a week or two. You also have to consider all of the sketch time into the equation. It’s during this time where all the real work is done. It’s time spent thinking, drawing, redrawing, and considering color. Once all of that is done it’s a piece of cake, all you have to do is the fun part, painting.
Tell us something about the style of your joyful illustrations:
I’ve adopted a very flat and graphic style, which is all about design and color. A lot of my influences are the mid century modern artists of the 50s and 60s. These days there are lots of artists doing something similar. I think what makes me different from all the rest is the way I use color and humor to get my point across. I want my work to bring back memories of childhood but still be modern. It’s a nostalgic way of looking at art.
I am constantly trying to push myself out of my comfort zones, whether it’s with color, theme, or design. Recently I’ve noticed that my default drawing is usually of a person, so in my personal work I’ve been trying to avoid portraits and move on to animals and architecture. These are things I like but for whatever reason have avoided. But for the most part I’m up to any challenge you throw at me as long as I get to draw.
What kind of materials do you mostly use for illustrations?
When I sketch I like to use a very light pencil, like a 5H, then I go over top of that with a 3B or darker. This makes it really easy to scan. As for painting I usually like to paint in gouache but sometimes will use a combination of gouache and acrylic. And recently I’ve been trying to get a handle on using Photoshop for those projects with a really fast turnaround.
I’ve been lucky enough to do some work for Oh Comely magazine in the UK. I did a lot of illustrations for the online fragrance company Commodity Goods. I will be published in the Chronicle book “The Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History” this October. I was one of four artists to participate in an illustrated look-book for the boutique MyrtleLA. And recently I did some work for the ICON 8 conference in Portland for this year. I will also be featured on this year on American Illustration’s website.
What do you think about contemporary art?
I’m excited about the direction in which it’s going. I feel like more and more great artists are popping up on the scene and are getting to do some pretty amazing projects. Because of the Internet, art is so accessible to so many people who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. I’m always amazed when I get a message from someone halfway across the world. You never expect that the artwork you do for fun will end up touching someone in England, Russia, or China. I think it’s an amazing time for artists.
One of my dreams is to illustrate a Little Golden Book. I love the history of them and they have a great line up of artists I admire. Other than children’s books, I would love to do something involving products. I also want to continue to pursue editorial illustration.
Tell us what inspires and motivates you to carry on:
I grew up with an animator as a father so I was around movies and TV constantly. He would introduce me to new movies and shows all the time. My grandmother was also a very big influence. She was just a kid during WWII and lived in London. She would tell me stories of the Blitz and her time working in a movie theater. She is probably the biggest reason for why I love classic films today. I love discovering new old movies and revisiting my favorites. They remind me of my grandmother and I find them charming. I’m a very nostalgic person, and even though I didn’t live through the 20s, 40s, or 60s I somehow feel nostalgic for them. I am also very nostalgic about my favorite artists like Mary Blair, Charley Harper, M. Sasek, and Aurillias Bataglia. Just about anything nostalgic I find inspiring, it’s probably why I love visiting thrift stores and flea markets regularly.