We met Theo Ellsworth through fellow artist Tracey Moore, whom we featured on our blog in November 2010. Theo is a self-taught comic and cartoon artist, storyteller and author of two books: “Capacity” and “Sleepercar.” He also keeps a website called Thought Cloud Factory that is an adventure from the first page. Theo uses Copics in his work and is convinced they affect his work positively, but was just introduced to them this past year. See his work and read more about what he has to say below.
Tell us about where you’re from, your education and artistic interests.
I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Missoula, Montana. I’m a self taught artist. I originally wanted to go to college for architecture or illustration, but I realized early on that my art had its own ideas for me. I always had trouble following assignments when I was taking art classes in high school. My teachers would think I was just being stubborn and give me a low grade. Of course I WAS being stubborn, but I was also trying to do something that felt really important to me. My favorite thing to do was to just sit and draw without trying to control the outcome. It never really felt like I was drawing to make art. It always felt more like drawing was a physical act that allowed me to think more clearly. Drawing in this way helped me find a place in myself where I could relax and get perspective on things. I ended up travelling a lot after high school instead of furthering my schooling. During that time, my art felt more like a personal practice, something I needed to do for myself, and I rarely showed it to anyone. I feel like it was really valuable for me to develop my art away from any kind of influence, and only start sharing it after I’ve been alone with it for awhile.
What is your earliest memory of drawing or making art?
My first memory of being creative was simply the act of pretending. It’s interesting to think back and try to remember what it use to feel like to pretend things as a child. Through simple actions, like rolling a toy car across the floor of my living room as a child, I was also taking part in an imagined, alternate scenario that was happening invisibly all around me. I remember having really intense and sometimes frightening pretend experiences, then suddenly being called to dinner time.
The act of actually making pictures was a whole other story. When I was a kid, I wanted to draw well, really bad. I wanted to be good at coloring. I remember having a robot coloring book, and coloring each picture as carefully as possible. I remember getting my mom to color some of them, then trying to color as nicely as her. I use to enjoy trying to carefully cut out pictures from magazines with scissors. I’ve always wanted to be able to create delicate details and intricate scenes with my hands. I remember getting really discouraged when I was trying to draw in middle school, because I could sense so much possibility in each drawing, but my ability to draw felt far removed from the things I could imagine. I loved thinking my way through pretend, epic scenarios, visualizing alien worlds, and making movies in my head, but drawing didn’t feel like a place where I could document these kinds of thoughts until later. Drawing was something to sit and do carefully. I was a rowdy kid, and this is one of the few calm activities that could wind me down.
My Brother and I were both really affected by the early Star Wars Movies. Growing up with tons of alien action figures and a big set of wooden building blocks was a good thing. We would create entire scenes and light them with flash lights. We went through a destructive faze where we blew up a lot of our toys in an attempt to create movie special effects.
We were really, really into comics too. Something about that dynamic combining of words and pictures has always stuck with me. The way that my eyes interacted with the line work, the colors, and words on the page; the epic and strange mythological stories that seemingly continued endlessly, with dozens of characters, and multi-dimensional crossovers. It was the closest thing I had found to the kinds of things I liked to imagine in my own head. It took me awhile to come back around to realizing that comics were the ultimate art form for me. Being able to tell stories with my drawings is a challenging and satisfying thing that I want to be exploring for years to come.
I love exploring different media, but drawing is really at the center of everything I do. I like building sculptural works, especially when they’re also wearable. I’ve been working on some cut out paper characters for my brother to animate. I write. I’ve dabbled in music a bit. I paint, but too often these days.
When and How did you start using Copic Markers?
My good friends Teesha and Tracy Moore introduced me to the Copic Sketch markers and I fell in love with them instantly. I’ve been using them to color my new comic and they’ve been amazing. I wish I had an endless supply! They’ve really affected my work in a positive way.
Do you have a set process you go through when creating?
It’s always mutating. Right now I’ve got a little studio about 6 miles from my apartment. I ride my bike there in the morning. The bike ride itself feels like an important part of my process now. It gets me pumped up to really get focused when I get there. Sometimes I’m laying out dozens of pages all over the floor, sometimes I’m cutting out panels, gluing, or coloring. Sometimes I’ll spend all day just sitting and drawing on a single page. Like that it’s always changing. I’m about to start in on a really large installation piece at the Portland Airport, I’ve never done anything this large before, so I’m about to discover out an entirely new process.
What’s your favorite part about being an artist?
The personal experience of it. The constant discoveries and surprises that happen while working.
What is the worst part about being and artist?
It can be really challenging to make ends meet. I feel like making art is meant to be my full time job, but it doesn’t always seem like that feeling matches up with the demands of society. It sort of feels like I have an imaginary job I go to every day and I’m hoping that one day it will be accepted as real. I’ve never quite felt like I’m on stable ground, but I’m truly thankful to be making art full time!
Do you have any advice for others looking for artistic inspiration?
I think that not enough can be said for simply being yourself in your work. I think that everyone has their own natural way of making art. Your art can only really start talking to you if you let your art have its way.