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Ellen Jewett - An awesome sculptor that believes ones own stubbornness needs to be self generated. Do you agree?
"Unbridled creative freedom and enough time off to actively take enjoyment from it."
Interview by Henry Gomez
Q1. In your own words, please tell us what you do?
I’m a professional sculptor. My practice is very traditional, I make one of a kind pieces by hand, the materials I use are both traditional and modern. If there was a theme to describe all of the subjects I tackle, it would be biophilic.
Q2. What inspired your passion for this art form and who has been supporting you from the beginning?
As cliched as it sounds, my inspiration is nature. Not an idea of nature, not a pretty screen shot on a desktop background, more a lived visceral relationship. I consider the plants and animals in my life, those that I have experienced and known personally, to be my muses. In second place would be my academic interests, anthropology, biology, the rich interplay of human relationships with other beings. I find all topics related to this infinitely interesting.
To be honest no one actively supported or encouraged me to work as an artist. My family have been the best, never actively discouraging, and always willing to stand behind the evidence that I can find my own way. But growing up no one validated the possibility that I could actually ‘be an artist’ in the modern world, especially not a sculptor and especially not a sculptor who does not replicate my work. Making a living as a freelance artist is simply not a way of life those around me had exposure to or could comprehend. Many people in my life responded by trying to warn me against it, often persistently. In this sense I would say I had no particular role models, I’ve simply tried to find my own way.
Q3. What would you say is the best support out there for artists like yourself?
1. The Internet: The Internet is a gold mine of inspiration, free tutorials on YouTube, and websites to that will help host images and sell your work for little or no money.
2. Your own stubbornness: I believe the true number of creative entrepreneurs in my cohort will come to light in decades to come, but here and now I think a lot of the support needs to be self generated.
Q4. Have you always aspired to be artist, or did you ever dream of following a different path?
I am a person with very promiscuous interests in the world around me. But I would say my two primary passions have always been art and animals. Consistently I have had my hand in both pots, almost always ‘working’ in both. As a younger person I envisioned art as a hobby and animals (veterinarian?) as a career path, because this is what other people saw for me and superficially it seemed more realistic. However as an adult I have consistently found that I prefer the opposite. I like the freedom of living as an artist and pursing my passion for animals as extra curricular/academic/volunteer.
Q5. What process do you use to create you work?
I am very fluid in how I work. I see some artists who build their work mathematically, planned and meticulously. Although meticulous is a word that might describe some of my aesthetic, my process is fluid. If you are familiar with the concept of ‘flow states’, I would say this is where I am when I work. I normally start with a visual fixation of some type, a movement, an interaction of color, a facial expression, and simply let the other parts of the structure flow out of or respond to that idea in a nebulous way.
Q6. Is there anything you are currently working on that you would like to tell us about?
I’m currently working to break out of a ‘commission ghetto’. As an artist who also needs to pay the mortgage there is always a balance between guaranteed sales and unbridled creativity. Right now I am hoping to slide back into a more free and self-directed space. The consequence of this should be more larger scale works of a greater depth and variety.
Q7. What other artists have influenced your style of work?
I enjoy many people’s work. I am not much of a ‘fan’ type personality, so I’m not prone to following other people’s careers with too much intensity. That said, sculptors I have consistently enjoyed are Beth Cavener Stichter and Kris Kuksi.
Q8. Who have you always dreamt of working with? How would you go about accomplishing this?
Surely somebody out there, I simply have not met them yet.
Q9. What are the hardships that come with being a full-time artist?
Impossibly long hours. Navigating a world of materials and techniques you may not have any training in. Making sure those materials or processes won’t give you cancer (so many ‘art’ materials are toxic and feature very little in terms of labeling or regulation). Isolation, if you work from home. Having a great deal of faith in your own abilities and decision making, since there is very little guidance and all art practices are inherently different. None of the perks of a traditional job like steady income, pension, benefits or regular weekends.
Q10. What is the greatest thing about working in the your field?
Making your own hours, being able to work in different environments (homes, cottage, studio, public spaces, wherever!), the potential for infinite personal growth, having more freedom to pursue outside interests, meeting lots of interesting people most of whom with treat you with a great deal of respect.
Q11. If you could ask anyone for advice;
Who would you like to ask?
If I could speak with another traditional freelance artist, with a lot of seniority, who has made a living as such for their whole adult life, I would like to simply hear their story. How they changed over time, what they learned, how they best balanced art with other interests, family, money and happiness.
Q12. From your experience in the arts, what advice can you offer people looking to get to succeed in a similar field as yourself?
Take in only advice that drives you forward. Use the Internet to your advantage. Don’t emulate other artists too closely but use your own natural strengths as a point of departure. Being an artist is no different from being an athlete or musician with respect to the thousands of hours of practice required to be truly competent.
Q13. What courses/classes would you recommend someone take if they want to be a professional in the same industry as yourself?
Going to art college can really help you learn the ropes of a variety of skills and give you the feedback on what your doing wrong (which really does help). If you want to understand an individual medium, product, or traditional practice the DIY way to do it is YouTube, but taking a short summer course, workshop or apprenticeship through a college can be invaluable. Past that I think great artists are great people, vibrant, intelligent and full of interest in the world. So continue to enrich your knowledge and activity in other fields, it will only filter into your art and make it more interesting.
Q14. How many years have you been working on your skill, and what has that time been like?
I started sculpting animals when I was three or four and I have always been very productive. I would say I have been sculpting ‘full time’, so in the place of school or another line of work, for six years. I would describe that time as fluid and introspective. Living as an artist is a practice of self-actualization in a profound and sometimes unforgiving way.
Q15. What would you say is the public’s most popular piece of yours, and why?
I don’t have anything on permanent public display at this time, but several of my images are somewhat ‘viral’ on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest and tumblr so I supposed they have the most presence. This image ‘white dragon with lattice wings’ has the most hits at the time of writing.
Q16. What is your favorite piece and why?
In 2007 I made a piece called Tall Tigress with Lanterns. I think this was one of the first pieces where I started to break into my own. I also recently made a piece for an upcoming exhibition, Fox, that I see as another milestone type piece.
Q17. What career opportunities are there for artists like your-self?
Outside of freelance, for a sculptor, a career in animation, special effects and product design are always possibilities.
Q18. What are you doing to get yourself noticed and make yourself stand out from the many other artists around the world?
I simply do what I do. But as I said before I really seek inspiration from my own experience rather than emulating what I see other people doing. Although I draw from my external passions in many ways, I see my practicing as constantly evolving inwards. It is a continual search for greater personal understanding of what I want and what I’m looking for in my own process. I think this simple but fundamental point, look for inspiration in your own life, is not reinforced enough in art schools.
Q19. What’s the dream?
Unbridled creative freedom and enough time off to actively take enjoyment from it.
Q20. Share with us your proudest moment in your career so far?
The first public show I attended with my art really stands out. I walked in with no expectation or preconceived notions of what I wanted. I walked out with all my sculptures having sold and a new idea, that this is something to live by.