Artist Interview: Ellia Hill
I recently interviewed one of our ImageZoo artists, Ellia Hill. As a distinguished illustrator and busy mom, Ellia balances it all. Find out how she does it and what inspires her to create.
Tell us about yourself and how you got your start as an artist.
What I remember about childhood most, revolves around art and loving art. Most artists tend to stick out in school, something about the way we dress, the eccentric character that leaves us surrounded more by an art teacher than by a crowd of popular schoolmates. And that was me. I was short, skinny, and had a curly afro, well after the afro era. And I loved art. I loved that others appreciated my art, including my art teacher and parents. My teachers would give me extra supplies or let me do more than one project. My parents would buy me coloring books and fresh crayons. And I LOVED that smell of crayons, as it hit the construction paper. When it came to school, I loved illustrating my book report covers. My sister (who is five years older) disliked art so there were times when I did her school project. I felt COOL even though at school, I was very much NOT cool. I loved it when we had to make cards for the elderly and give it to them when we’d visit them.Â On summer days, I’d recreate the projects listed in the “highlights” magazine. My mom often helped with such projects and I clearly remember us doing a life-sized self portrait for my dad for father’s day. It hung on the outside of their bedroom door for awhile. Having the support of family and teachers, fueled my desires to create and grow as an artist.
What inspires you to create?
My inspiration derives from so many things, but vintage goodness is a primary. Greeting cards both new and old, often bring about ideas. Since I was 5 years old, I’ve collected them, most of which I still have today.Â I’d find vintage sets of cards at rummage sales and try to copy the style. In more recent years, my mom started buying a ton of vintage cards, and sharing them online in her flickr sets. I find myself inspired by such beauty and whimsy of those images that I’m motivated to create.
I also love children’s books from EVERY decade, but again, books dating pre-1960′s are most intriguing. I love looking at technique, even if the artist uses a different medium than what I use. I love observing the different layout choices, how the story was interpreted into art, and even the font chosen for the books. And is it weird to say, I even love how the books smell? The older books have a distinct smell and it just makes me smile.
And of course, my family tend to be an inspiration. My son is old enough to make requests of specific illustrations. My daughter is old enough to critique my art and she’ll give me the loudest “oh that is pretty” compliment an artist could ever want. My husband is also an illustrator so we’ll toss around ideas. My kids work on art and then they give me an idea for an illustration or for a story. It’s amazing but I’m often inspired throughout the day. It’s time and energy (and reality) that prevents me from creating a thousand pieces in a day!
Your adorable illustrations are made using cut paper. What made you want to become a cut paper illustrator?
I became a cut paper illustrator out of a lack of options. I tried every other medium and was impatient with most. I disliked waiting for paint to dry. I disliked the messiness of charcoal and pastel as well as their delicacy. I have a heavy hand and this did not mesh well with such mediums. Cut paper is different. If you have a heavy hand, it only helps you to cut through more than one layer of paper with a cutting blade.Â While cutting teeny tiny hands takes time and a particular form of patience, it’s exhilarating to be able to cut something wonderful out of an average piece of paper. Cut paper art is up close and personal, hands on, and even fun. It’s like putting paper dolls together once you cut out all the pieces. You interact with this medium, and it brings you back to your childhood. It’sÂ lighthearted and works well with my type of illustration style and career goals. It’s also unique enough that I feel I can stick out from other illustrators.
You have ventured into rubber stamps, iphone apps, and Etsy. What will you be working on next?
Children’s books! Even with all that I’ve been working on over the past few years, my goal has been toÂ get into the children’s book industry. I’ve worked with a few people, had many ideas sketched out, but have yet to have a children’s book published in my cut paper style. A few years back, I had the honor of re-illustrating two books, both which were done digitally. It gave me a taste of the field and now, I’m excited for a new adventure. Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to do a series. Write and illustrate a set of books about being different. My heart gets flutters thinking about how one day, my book can be checked out in the library. Or that one day, a bookstore will sell my books and there will be people who WANT it. It’s a big dream but definitely feasible. I know the industry is filled with talented and successful illustrators, including many who work in cut paper and whom I admire. Still, I’m not discouraged. I feel that the past few years have given me time to grow, experiment, experience, and get prepared for full-time freelancing. I’m ready!
In addition to your business, you’re a mom of two little ones. You sound like you have your hands full! How do you balance everything?
The past few years have been busy. And balance is something that has changed daily, weekly, monthly. Some days, it comes easy- everyone and everything is on the same page. I can go from cooking a dinner and getting the kids fed and bathed,to sitting down and illustrating in a matter of a couple of hours. Other days, I’m worn out from cleaning the house, helping my son with his homework, making a meal no one liked that day, to sitting down in my studio and being unable to find the RIGHT color for the background. SomeÂ Saturdays, my family is going to the park or the movies and I’m in my studio working. I feel left out a bit but at the same time, I spend a good chunk of my days with my kids and husband so I try not to feel guilty. Prior to starting a family, I had planned on being a freelance illustrator. I also knew that while they were young I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother.Â I knew that the first few years, illustration would come second, and I’m satisfied with such choices. I get to see my children daily and by the time my youngest goes to school full-time (which will be this fall), I know that I’ve given my kids a healthy start. I’ve managed to do freelance illustration part-time so when it comes time to pursue publishers and clients, I’m not rusty and I have a decent portfolio. I’m pretty happy about my choices, and even on rough days, it feels good to be mom/freelance illustrator.
What has been your most favorite illustration project so far?
Wow, this is a tough question. I have to say that my favorite illustration project was actually a swap project. I had the opportunity to work with 5 other talented artist where we began with a paperbag book. It’s basically a 6+ page book made of small paperbags and sewn together. We illustrated the cover and back of our own book, along with a description of what this book meant to us. Then it was mailed off to the the next artist, who then illustrated one page layout. The book was sent off over and over and finally sent back filled with beautiful art of all styles. This project began when I was pregnant with my youngest and it took over a year to complete as each of us had a full family and career. I was able to do 5 layouts for 5 wonderfulÂ women and in turn get a book full of inspiration, memories, and even swag! It was a memorable project and to this day, the book is displayed in my studio!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me Ellia and no, liking the smell of old books is not weird (at least I don’t think so)! To view Ellia’s latest collection called Happy Holidays, click here.