Drawing and painting from a memory of a feeling.
After completing a painting degree in Brighton, Ellie Walker has kept on experimenting with paint from her studio in her countryside home in Essex, where she draws from life, feeling, memory, imagination, and her own photography. Isolation from London’s creative buzz, and not having the encouragement of tutors or fellow peers has fortified the artist’s trust in her own judgement, overall building her confidence in taking risks, making mistakes, and enjoying the difficulties of making works along the way. “I find that my best paintings are my most difficult ones.” She remarks. Life in the countryside has proved to be productive for Walker, who uses drawing and painting as an outlet to help her release her internal worries, fears, and anxieties. As the artist puts it, “in a sense, it is a meditative process” in which her mood influences the final results of the work. Finding herself turning paintings upside down when blocked or escaping from overthinking through making, Walker shares with us the reasons why her titles are mysterious and mischievous at the same time, and how she’s overcome social anxiety and depression through creating. Embracing spontaneity, this is a new way of working for the artist, in which she finds excitement from making mistakes and not knowing. Or as Ellie puts it, if it already looks a mess, how much worse could it get?
You are a recent addition to Arpiq’s community of artists, where they allow emerging artists to kick-start their career through visibility, funding, development of artistic practice, and transparent sales. What is your position on their ethos towards emerging art?
Being a part of Artpiq has given me so many opportunities in terms of selling my work and gaining visibility to an audience I would have not reached by myself. I think it is such an amazing opportunity to be a part of, especially for artists who have recently graduated, as it gives you that extra support and help with networking.
Artpiq’s first summer residency took place last August in Düsseldorf, a remodeled horse house, adapted now to artist’s studios, where you spent a month working on new pieces. How was the experience? What was the best of the studio space? What about your peers?
It was such an amazing opportunity to be chosen for this residency, and to have three weeks to completely devote my time to painting. I was able to be in an environment in which I was with 5 other artists, in a place with no distractions. Surrounded by fields and farms, it gave me the headspace to be able to think about where I wanted my practice to go. The best of the studio space was being in such proximity to the other artists. There is no ‘art scene’ where I live, and my studio space is at home, so I do not get to talk to or see many people when I am making work. On the residency, we were able to talk to each other about our work and give/receive constructive criticism. We also did a group crit, which is something I haven’t been able to do since I left university last year, so, I found being back in that environment of having other creatives around very beneficial.
How has being part of Artpiq developed your confidence? Does this platform allow for you to concentrate on your practice without thinking about sourcing clients or the business side of the arts?
It definitely boosts your confidence when you sell a piece of work, and it boosted my confidence when Artpiq got in contact that they wanted me to be a part of their platform. It takes so much pressure off not having to source clients and I get to spend more time on my work. And of course, once I sell something, it allows me to keep on making more work.
BACKGROUND & PROCESS
You trained at the University of Brighton, with a Fine Art Painting BA. How would you describe your education there? What have you developed during your degree, and how does this apply to your current practice?
I found my first two years at university very difficult. I was very lost, and didn’t know what I was doing, so I lacked a lot of confidence in myself and in my work because of that. It was in my third year that I had a lightbulb moment, and suddenly, I just became very confident in where I wanted to go with my work. The one thing that was drilled into us by our tutors was to keep on experimenting and never stop, which I think was one of the best things that I have taken away from my degree.
As a recent graduate, how have you found working without having tutors or peers around, but instead, isolation?
After leaving university, I had to move back home to Essex. My parents are very supportive and kindly gave me a room to use as my studio, which is where I have been painting for the past year. At first, I found it difficult to find the motivation to make new work. I made some awful paintings in the first few months of moving back home, and so, I started to paint less and less. It’s been a challenge of not having tutors or peers around to talk to and ask for guidance. However, it has also been a very important time for me to start trusting in my own judgement, which has helped me build the confidence of taking risks, making mistakes, and also not giving myself such a hard time if I make a shit piece of work. I now enjoy the process when something goes terribly wrong, as you learn so much from it, I find my best paintings are my most difficult ones. I have found, however, it’s very easy to lose yourself in your work if you’re left alone with it for too long. You can’t see things that would appear so obvious to someone else, and so, sometimes it takes you a lot longer to understand what is happening with a painting, or what you need to do next. One thing I have really enjoyed is not having to share a studio space with anyone. I find it so stressful trying to make sure that my stuff doesn’t encroach into someone else’s space, so it’s nice being able to be as messy and disorganised as I want to be. It’s also really nice not to feel self-conscious about my work, especially when I’m trying out something new, and it’s turning out awful. There are pros and cons of being in an isolated studio space. It’s lonely, and I am missing out on so many important aspects of having other artists around, but it has also been a completely freeing and liberating experience.
I understand that your father enjoys building chairs, tables, and other furniture. Do you represent some of these crafty aspects in your paintings?
Since moving home and being surrounded by my dad’s chairs and furniture he’s made, I do think it’s creeping into my work. I have just started a new painting in which I have painted in a very similar chair to one he has made, so perhaps subconsciously it is. I leaned one of my paintings against one of my dad’s chairs for some extra space in my studio, and liked how it worked with the painting, so perhaps it will be something that will either creep into my paintings or will work alongside with, and be an extension of the painting. It’s something I will be exploring more of.
Tell me a bit more about how your mood influences your process?
If I am feeling restless, agitated or worried, I will be much more spontaneous and reckless, as I don’t care how it will look, whereas if I am in more of a relaxed state of mind, then I take much longer to make decisions about things and can sometimes be sitting just looking at a painting for hours before I end up doing something to it. I find that I am most productive if I want to be distracted – usually from over thinking or worrying.
You don’t paint from images or life, but you work from memory. How do you manage to remember and to sort out your memories in order to reflect them into the surface?
I mainly draw from life, feeling, memory, imagination, or sometimes look for images I have taken on my phone if I want to get a shape for a figure. When I draw from memory, it is never exact, as it’s impossible to remember exactly what happened, and it can be altered depending on how you were feeling during that moment. I usually draw from a feeling of a memory and how it made me feel, rather than what it actually was. I then make plenty of drawings, and will use my drawings as references. However, once I start to paint, the imagery will change, and I will allow other things to happen and just respond to the paint on the canvas. If I decide something isn’t working, I will paint over it, and paint in something else, so layers start to build up and new things start to happen. The best things start to happen when things go wrong and I flip the painting upside down. It becomes much more interesting as I start to discover new things and new imagery is formed from the layers underneath.
Is it deliberate that your characters don’t carry facial features, gender identifiers, or evident emotions?
I would say it is deliberate that they don’t carry facial features because I don’t think I can paint faces very well, and so to avoid it, I don’t paint them in, and now it’s become a frequent motif within my work. I also quite like how ambiguous it makes the characters. You can’t tell what they are feeling; you just have to try to work out what’s going on in the painting, with the other imagery, objects, and details that are presented. It wasn’t deliberate for them to not have genders, but I quite like how they are genderless figures. It was more a case of just wanting a shape to represent a human figure or to represent something/someone in my life.
The titles of your works are often mysterious and mischievous at the same time. Where do you source inspiration for these?
The titles always come to me once I have finished a painting. I will look at it, sometimes for days or weeks, but sometimes I will instantly know what I should call it. The titles are an important part of my work as they are hints as to what is supposedly happening within the painting or what I was thinking and feeling at the time when making the work. I will usually name it depending on what I see or what it reminds me of in my life. The titles can either be very true to my life or will sometimes be ambiguous and metaphorical.
Let’s talk about your online presence, which I particularly enjoy, as your Instagram feed is focused solely on your work, from painting to drawing through DIY’s and studio images. What do you think about the ‘image’ of contemporary artists online?
Instagram has given me so many opportunities. I think that most of my opportunities have come from this platform, so in that respect, it is such an amazing tool. However, like many other social media platforms, it has an expiry date, and I am wondering what the next thing will be to take its place. At the moment, it is very popular, and I am taking advantage of it to help get my work out there. I also enjoy discovering new artists, making friends, connections, and networking, which can sometimes lead to wider discussions. However, I also think it is very easy to be affected by the amount of likes you receive for something, how many followers you have, whether you are posting enough, and if your posting the right content. I have wasted so much time wondering if my work is good enough because a photo didn’t receive that many likes, and that’s when I think it becomes very detrimental to myself and my work. Sometimes, I will post something on Instagram and it will get so many more likes to something I posted thinking it was one of my best works. I enjoy Instagram and it is very important to help me share my work with an audience I would never have reached without it. However, I also do not want to rely on it and have now stopped using it so much, as I have given up so much of my time by being on there, getting stuck in the Instagram scrolling sphere.
I think that press presence is a great way to get exposure and to reach an audience that you may not have been able to reach on your own. It’s also another confidence boost, to have your work selected to be published in a well recognised print publication.
You were part of a residency in China, how has working there affected your practice and way of thinking?
Working in China for two months was a very important time in my artistic career as well as my personal life. I was with three good friends, and it was such an amazing opportunity to live in a completely different culture, with people who were so welcoming, kind and friendly. I met many people there that influenced my work, and even though I didn’t produce the work that I am most proud of, I did get the chance to make new experiences and try new things that are still coming through in my work today.
Is spontaneity something you embrace at the time of making work? Can you develop on the moment that you overturned a work?
I definitely embrace spontaneity. I can look at a painting for weeks not knowing what to do with it, and one day I will walk into my studio, look at it, and just suddenly know what I need to do, whether that be a line, a change of color or putting something in or taking something out. Sometimes, it’s just a sudden knowing of what I need to do. If a painting isn’t working for me or if I’m extremely stuck, I will flip it upside down and make something new, not caring about what happens to it because it already looks a mess, so how much worse could it get. This is a new way of working for me, and it’s when interesting and exciting things start to happen. I find it much more fun and exciting working in this way, because I have no idea what is going to happen, and the mistakes are sometimes the best part.
Let’s discuss mental health. What is your position on this matter and how does it affect your daily life? When you work, do you get into a meditative state, and in that sense, is painting therapeutic for you?
I have quite bad social anxiety at times, which can also sometimes lead to depression. In the past, I never would have been so open about it, but it’s played such a huge part in my work, that it’s important to talk about. Anxiety affects me everyday, from being able to leave the house, to being able to go out with friends, to overthinking most conversations I have with people. I am so much better at managing it now then I was a few years ago, but it was extremely bad when I was at university, and I feel that I missed out on so many things because of it. I have always used drawing and painting as an outlet to help me release some of that frustration I have with myself in not being able to allow myself to be vulnerable with other people for fear of hurt and rejection, which in turn has lead me to feel trapped and isolated. I tend to overthink everything, and painting is something that allows me to escape from overthinking and to just be. So, in a sense, it is a meditative process and it allows me to be in the present and fully focus on making something, so that I don’t have time to think about any of the pointless things I was worrying and agonising over before. I am completely distracted, and feel most free and confident when I am painting.
From my last visit to your studio, you mentioned the desire to move to London from Essex, to be closer to the boiling art ecosystem…Do you think this change would affect your practice, due to the fact that your work is very much based on your surroundings and experiences in a rustic and lonely town?
It would change my practice, and that is something I will always embrace. My work has changed drastically due to my last two residencies, and it has pushed my work further. I have recently started working in London, so hopefully the move will be soon. I feel that I really need this change, as I wish to be closer to a creative buzz and to be working amongst other artists again. I suppose the surroundings of London life and my experiences there will be an interesting change to life in the countryside.
Lately, are you trying new techniques, as for instance, collaging and sewing? Is the fact that you don’t have training with textiles lead you to trust more your instincts at the time to work with them?
I did do a recent experiment with sewing onto the canvas, and do want to continue with that technique. I did textiles at A-Level, so I have a little bit of knowledge of how to use a sewing machine, and would like to incorporate it into my work. However, I am still trying to work out how to do it, just by playing around with it for now.
Words by Martin Mayorga