IN LIMBO FILM (pt1 freestyle doodling)

Short film exploring/documenting the early stages of the creating process of the “In Limbo” artwork.

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THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

mixed media collage artwork of multiple figures, objects and symbols interacting in a visual poetry.

Often before starting a piece I’ll do a rough sketch with notes of ideas for it. Looking through these rough sketches I felt the end piece always lost some sincere venerableness that the early sketches had, as if I was uninhibited  knowing no one would ever see these rough takes. I wondered what a balance between the sincere sketches and polished final artwork would look like. Which is where the sketchy erratic almost unfinished feel to the piece came from. This piece is like a visual diary, a live stream of my thoughts at the time, even going as far as including the tools I used to create the piece, as if this was a blank canvas I was projecting my thoughts on to. While creating this piece I felt off balance, thinking back to regrets of the past, or worrying about the future instead of being balanced in the present moment. being a self employed artist comes with many pros and cons which I explored in this piece. The main type of commission I work on are album artworks for musicians, these artworks need to be the perfect square to fit the size of the album cover, I started to feel boxed in my this same type of canvas with fears of repeating myself, using up my creativity on others work, losing love for what I do, but needing to make money. Even with my personal artworks, I wondered if I was creating as a distraction so I didn’t have to stop, be still and just think. I felt I was in a never ending cycle with all these different versions of myself (the freelancer, the artist, past and future) all colliding in an anxiety filled mess. despite this piece being personal, I felt drawing myself would instantly make the piece about one thing. me. But I wanted anyone to be able to project themselves onto these figures, which is why I often leave faces quite abstract to detach any one identity.  Identity was another thing I was thinking a lot about, and how being a POC growing up in England is a kind of psychological obstacle everyone has to go through. Growing up being taught to love and respect a culture that doesn’t do the same back, and how it can create inner conflict from early ages. Despite going to some fairly dark and painful places with this piece, It still has a fun childish energy about it. Often when I’m working I feel I’m doing a balancing act between my inner child who’s the artist and my inner adult who’s the editor that cuts the fat and gives the piece more intention. So I think this childish optimistic feel comes from me naturally not taking myself too seriously, wanting to create art to be fun, enjoyed and give the viewer the feeling of being a child looking at something with curious wide eyes. Despite art being tired up with all these different aspects of my life like my work, passion, self worth, identity. Creating this piece reminded me to just enjoy/embrace the process and have fun with it. 

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Studio Intro

Illustration of Ellis drawing as a child. Mixed media artwork with elements of photography, pencil and digital drawing.
Artist- Ellis Lewis-Dragstra

Hi I’m Ellis Lewis-Dragstra, full time freelance illustration artist. The main commission work I get is creating album artworks for various musicians. Despite not always being aware of it, In my work I am interested in exploring the relations between art forms. Especially music, having synaesthesia music has always also felt like a visual artform to me, and possible a bigger influence on my work then actual visual artforms. I am entirety self-taught and feel this has led me to pick up a lot of “bad” drawing habits which have developed into my own style. 
In my own personal work, I try and embrace the freedom of not having any brief and create something over a few weeks/months that means a lot to me. Examples of past projects have been influenced by themes of Family, Nature, Dreams and the process of creating itself. No matter the theme I like to find connections between things that people don’t usually consider but can relate to. Being an artist that works by hand with mediums like watercolour/paint but also digital illustration on photoshop, I notice there is sometimes a hierarchy of paintings being put above digital art. I try and fight this notion of “high” and “low” art by mixing both together in my work. Therefore my influences can come from everything from the artist Bosch to the old Looney Tunes cartoons and everything in between. With this range of influences, I have always felt creating art was a balancing act between my inner child (the artist) and my adult side (the editor), who cuts out what’s unnecessary giving an artwork more direction and intention. This process can be a visual conversation or argument. What I love about art, that I try and embrace in my own work is that it has as many meanings as there are people looking at it. Please feel free to look around my studio where my creative process will be updated stage by stage resulting in a new piece of work. Thank you! 

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IN LIMBO FILM (pt1 freestyle doodling)

Short film exploring/documenting the early stages of the creating process of the “In Limbo” artwork.

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IN LIMBO rough sketches

first rough sketch of "In Limbo" artwork
second rough sketch of "In Limbo" artwork.

I saw this residency as an opportunity to create a follow up to my 2021 “Thought Experiment”. I started with these rough sketches, my approach was to just put pencil to paper, work off instinct and see what comes on to the page. My thinking was what the subconscious comes up with will always be more interesting to me then any idea or subject I could consciously come up with. I called the artwork “In Limbo”, looking back I think this was manifested from the feeling of worldwide uncertainty since 2020. But realised during this project it also related to the creating process itself, hitting on that mid point in creating something that I think many artist can relate to. When you’re unsure which direction the project is moving or if it even makes sense, like you’re just hanging in limbo to see if things will come together or just fall apart. Being dyslexic i’ve always had a love hate relationship with words, in a lot of my artwork I like to play with words and images and the relationship between the two. Which got me thinking about the word “limbo” and its two meanings, one being hanging between life and death and the other being a party game. I liked this huge contrast between the two meanings and realised what they had in common was an element of balance. Like a train of thought the word balance led me to thinking about a number of other concepts that I ended up exploring throughout the artwork: The balance of digital and traditional art I focus on in my work and how it relates to how I always try and balance and bride the gap between “high art” and “low art” to make artwork that feels less exclusive. The balance of skill and creativity artist use to create, and even more personally the balance of being mixrace and how it means simultaneously being two things and neither at the same time. I wanted every part of this project to reflect that process of creating embracing how erratic and messy it can be.

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THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

mixed media collage artwork of multiple figures, objects and symbols interacting in a visual poetry.

Often before starting a piece I’ll do a rough sketch with notes of ideas for it. Looking through these rough sketches I felt the end piece always lost some sincere venerableness that the early sketches had, as if I was uninhibited  knowing no one would ever see these rough takes. I wondered what a balance between the sincere sketches and polished final artwork would look like. Which is where the sketchy erratic almost unfinished feel to the piece came from. This piece is like a visual diary, a live stream of my thoughts at the time, even going as far as including the tools I used to create the piece, as if this was a blank canvas I was projecting my thoughts on to. While creating this piece I felt off balance, thinking back to regrets of the past, or worrying about the future instead of being balanced in the present moment. being a self employed artist comes with many pros and cons which I explored in this piece. The main type of commission I work on are album artworks for musicians, these artworks need to be the perfect square to fit the size of the album cover, I started to feel boxed in my this same type of canvas with fears of repeating myself, using up my creativity on others work, losing love for what I do, but needing to make money. Even with my personal artworks, I wondered if I was creating as a distraction so I didn’t have to stop, be still and just think. I felt I was in a never ending cycle with all these different versions of myself (the freelancer, the artist, past and future) all colliding in an anxiety filled mess. despite this piece being personal, I felt drawing myself would instantly make the piece about one thing. me. But I wanted anyone to be able to project themselves onto these figures, which is why I often leave faces quite abstract to detach any one identity.  Identity was another thing I was thinking a lot about, and how being a POC growing up in England is a kind of psychological obstacle everyone has to go through. Growing up being taught to love and respect a culture that doesn’t do the same back, and how it can create inner conflict from early ages. Despite going to some fairly dark and painful places with this piece, It still has a fun childish energy about it. Often when I’m working I feel I’m doing a balancing act between my inner child who’s the artist and my inner adult who’s the editor that cuts the fat and gives the piece more intention. So I think this childish optimistic feel comes from me naturally not taking myself too seriously, wanting to create art to be fun, enjoyed and give the viewer the feeling of being a child looking at something with curious wide eyes. Despite art being tired up with all these different aspects of my life like my work, passion, self worth, identity. Creating this piece reminded me to just enjoy/embrace the process and have fun with it. 

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PIECES OF THE PUZZLE

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PUZZLING THE ART TOGEATHER

Timelapse of building Thought Experiment in Photoshop

After the process of drawing/painting on paper I upload each individual drawing and puzzle them together using photoshop. In the video I place the central figures of the artwork in place and make markings of where everything else will go so I can have a rough idea of how things will fit together. While the process before this feels really organic and working with hand drawing, paints and watercolour. This digital art side of things, while still needing to be creative, feels more like a task of editing all the pieces and seeing how they fit together best.

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MEETING THE MAIN CHARACTERS

 watercolour illustration of man stitched together, half his body with white skin and blonde hair. The other half with black skin and dark hair, looking at his own hands in contemplation.
Illustration’s from “Thought Experiment” 2021

One of the main themes that kept coming to mind creating “Thought Experiment 2021” was the feeling of being unbalanced, like I was living in the past and future but just drifting in the present. Which is where the design for the central character of the piece came from. Being split down the middle half his body being black and the other white. Which also related to my own mixed black Caribbean and white European background. To me being mixraced Is both a balance of two things, but also feels unbalanced in the fact that the word “half” is used to describe me, suggesting I’m not fully anything. I don’t personally find this offensive, just interesting (I intend to explore this more in my follow up piece over the next month). Elsewhere in the artwork another character is half black and half white and quite literally stitched together, referencing Frankensteins monster. Which I always felt was such a perfect character that’s aged so well in terms of identity and question whether we are how people see us, how we see ourselves, what it says about society of how the “monster” is treated. And I was always inspired by artists taking a conceptual idea and turning it to an extreme literal idea, the same way Frankenstein is exploring the concept of identity, then literally making the main character made up of different people. This almost cartoony comical exaggerated approach is something I love to explore throughout my work. This central character I created felt to embody the uncertainty I felt at the time. He is depicted above frozen in contemplation holding a broom, referencing the way I was using my craft like a groundskeeper to tidy my state of mind and the mess of notes and doodles that would spill across the finished artwork. 

Decretive mask from childhood hung on wall.

Above can also be seen a photo I took of a mask that has hung in my home as long as I can remember. I have vivd memories of me and my older brother being both fascinated and frightened by it as children. It’s burned into my memory as one of my earliest experiences of something evoking so many emotions at once. From curiosity and wonder to terror and playfulness. This became the face of the opposition to the central character in the artwork. I created this shapeshifting mask character as a reminding symbol of how I want my artwork to feel (the world through the eyes of a child). In the artwork it’s both a guide of what I want my own art to feel like. But also an obstacle and opposition in terms of the fear of never being able to reach that goal, or even worse having already peaked as an artist. At the time I was always in competition with myself and every time I finished a piece was met with this weight of anxiety of never being able to create something as good as the last thing I had done. Doomed to repeat myself with watered down versions of what I had already done. These characters feel more personal every time I draw them, and their story will continue in the next artwork I’ll be creating over the next month. 

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DRAWING & EXPLORING

In this next drawing/colouring stage I fleshed out the rough doodle concepts into fully formed characters and ideas, making my thoughts physical. Using my doodles/notes as a kind of blueprint. I use a combination of pencil illustration, watercolour, paint, photography, pen and oil pastels. While spending more time on this drawing phase I start to understand the piece more than I did when I was just scribbling down ideas almost subconsciously. It’s amazing to me how things you create can seem completely random at the time, but make so much sense and feel so relevant to your state of mind at the time in hindsight (I plan to push this idea even further in my follow up to this piece). So much of this piece was about how I felt as an artist at the time, which Is why I included photos of the tools I was using to create the piece itself.  worrying about everything from making money as an artist, feeling lost and the worry that commissions were using up my creativity and no longer growing it. While touching on some quite personal and heavy themes, I wanted the piece to counterbalance that with a playful almost childlike feel. This comes from my art always feeling very much connected to my childhood and wanting it have that nostalgic animated comforting feel. While also being able to dive into deeper personal feelings and concepts beyond surface level (kind of like making medicine bubblegum flavoured).

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Freestyle doodling ideas

When an idea is finished I always find it hard to remember where it even began, it feels as if the idea has died, reborn and been reinvented over and over. What I do remember about creating this piece back in 2021 is that I had been illustrating commission album covers one after the other and it had been a while since I had the time to create something personal just for myself. Despite loving being able to bring someones else’s idea and music to life through an image, Album covers always have to be a perfectly square shaped canvas, I had started to feel quite literally boxed in and was aching to try something different, personal and out my comfort zone.
I approached this artwork in an entirely new way by going through my sketchbook and gathering all the notes of the thoughts and feelings I had scribbled down throughout the past year. Adding my then current feelings of being creatively blocked, ideas on what being mixrace means, fears of the uncertainty of the future and continuing to relive past mistakes etc. Without thinking I just freestyle doodled rough sketches of these ideas and feelings into visual concepts, adding notes and markings that probably only make sense to me. So I ended up with a really rough kind of visual diary of the past year. The next stage would be turning these rough sketches into fully formed drawings. The next month I see as a opportunity to revisit this way of working and will be creating a continuation of this first piece.

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