Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
I’m excited to start off our Artist Interview Series with an inspirational Boston-based Illustrator, Ellen T. Crenshaw. Ellen and her husband, Matt Boehm, who’s an Animator at Irrational Games (creators of BioShock), co-founded Tumblr super-blog FANARTICA with an impressive current 200,000+ followers. I have known Ellen since we were 8-years-old, but I’m a huge fan of hers regardless. Each of her illustrations look like they could just spring to life. She’s a watercolor master, a rare gem in this digital age. Her anatomical drawings skills and way of capturing mannerisms are impeccable, even when the figure has jellybones. She’s one of the 25 amazing artists you can check out at CLAW CLAW’s Launch Party at The Living Gallery on October 12.
SHANON WELTMAN: What are your favorite materials?
ELLEN T. CRENSHAW: Brush and ink, number one. Watercolor paints, and I work digitally too. So, Photoshop, I’ll say Photoshop.
SW: How have your environments influenced your work throughout your life?
ETC: Omg that’s a hard one! Um… I’m not sure if this counts, but an upbringing on tv, movies, cartoons, and newspaper strips certainly influenced the direction of my work—story-based compositions with a cartoony style. It wasn’t until I came to Boston that I noticed a shift in my interests. Colonial architecture. New England trees. City skylines. And winter clothes!
ETC: I listen to movies. I usually use a movie that I’ve seen a million times so that I know what’s happening. I listen to music too, but I dunno, I get bored with music. A movie activates my brain enough to keep me interested somewhat. It provides enough of a distraction, but not enough to make it so I can’t work.
SW: Do you want to give a shout out to that website you use [to listen to movies], or do you put on actual movies?
ETC: I do both. Listentoamovie.com is where it just has the audio and I’ll do that sometimes. Other times I’ll be working on my laptop or in my sketchbook or on paper, or what have you, and I’ll have a movie playing, like a DVD, but I’ll turn the screen away from me at a weird angle so I can’t get too distracted.
SW: Do you have any advice for anyone just starting out? Literally fresh out of school.
ETC: Sure, I would say if you haven’t already, have an online presence, start a blog. Find reasons to work, find reasons to give yourself a deadline. If there’s a contest or an event coming up that you want to have a piece done by or something like that, continue to give yourself deadlines. Be nice to everyone and keep in touch with your peers. It got really lonely after school because you’re so used to having constant support and stimulation by people all around all the time. Then after college people go home or move away for whatever reason, and it’s not even gradual, it instantly goes away and it can be very isolating. So, keeping in touch with people and maintaining a network of support is super important. It keeps your work from getting stale, you can be influenced by other people. Oh, and be nice to people because it’s a really small world. The Art world is smaller than you might think, and that’s how you get jobs. Be genuine, but be nice to people.
ETC: Fashion is a big inspiration for me right now because of texture, color combinations and patterns. I draw characters so much, how they’re clothed shows who they are. I feel like there’s a lot to be said in fashion and there’s a lot of fun [in fashion] as it relates to illustration.
As far as artists are concerned, Dupuy & Berberian, Bill Watterson, and Peter de Seve serve as my standard go-tos whenever I’m feeling lost, have a problem to solve or need particular inspiration. I’m otherwise inspired by a lot of my peers, people whose work rotates in and out of my radar depending on what I’m currently working on—right now it’s Craig Thompson, Jen Wang, Emily Carroll, Graham Annable, Ryan Andrews, Kali Ciesemier, Carolyn C. Nowak (still a student!), and Sam Bosma’s latest piece is rocking my socks. Then, of course, there’s Claw Claw Studio!
SW: Nightmare moment with a positive solution [within your career]?
ETC: I had this one client, we didn’t work well together. It turned out to be a nightmare because I didn’t want to offend anyone, but I had to get out of it. Then there was an issue with getting paid once I left. It was a really good lesson in the end, it was kind of a low stakes opportunity to be able to stand up for myself, and be able to seek money that I’m owed. To learn how to bow out of something respectfully. It was a really important experience to have to learn how to handle that type of situation. So, I think it was a positive thing in the end. Like how important it is to have a contract to refer to once something like that happens. To have interpersonal skills, to be able to talk to somebody and be firm without being rude.
ETC: I know a handful of my peers sketch on paper first then bring those drawings into Photoshop and proceed digitally. I sort of do it backwards, sketching digitally, then printing those sketches and lightboxing them to ink on paper. It’s been especially helpful to me since I bought Frenden’s brush set, as the penciling tools are excellent. First, I sketch a rough thumbnail with the blue pencil tool. Next, I tighten it up with the red pencil tool. Once I’m happy, I change the line to black and print it. I tape the printouts on the back of Arches 140lb hot press watercolor paper, pop on the lightbox, and ink. What’s great about this method is if I screw up the final, I can start again without losing the sketch—which means I can be much looser and spontaneous with my inking.
SW: How do you generate ideas?
ETC: Oof, I struggle with that actually, but usually my best ideas come to me in the shower. If I need to work on something, like an illustration for an article or something more direct and concrete, I’ll just read the article and then kind of ruminate over it for a while. Go outside and walk around and just let it toss around in my head, and usually given some time my brain will put something together. If it’s something kind of abstract, like making my own work or trying to find inspiration to do anything, to do something self driven, I’ll take a shower or go for a walk. Basically, something where I have no distractions. No TV or computer or anything like that, I have to be quiet with myself and just let my mind wander over things—that’s usually where ideas come from for me. And of course certain stimuli like being outside and actually experiencing things. If I’m working from home several days in a row I find inspiration to be really difficult after a while, because I have no stimulus. Going out with friends, going to a museum or the movies, just being out and experiencing something. Reading.
SW: Name a few people living or dead you’d like to have dinner with.
ETC: Mark Twain would be number one, he’d probably be the coolest person to hang out with for a day or have coffee with. He just seems cranky and sarcastic and hilarious. If Katharine Hepburn wanted to walk in, that’d be cool.