We had the good fortune of connecting with Ellen Brook and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ellen, what role has risk played in your life or career?
It’s funny, but risk always seems like such an unapproachable topic. We don’t really talk much about it. I guess because it requires vulnerability and brings up our fears. But, risk taking is exactly what may lead us to becoming a better version of ourselves. Of growing. Of moving outside the box of who we believe ourselves to be rather than who we could be.
I look at taking risk as ‘letting go’ — sometimes the steps are subtle and small — virtually invisible to others. Sometimes it requires huge leaps. It took both for me to find my way to a life of art and design.
I had no idea that I had a creative bone in my body until I was 40. To me, it was impossible, unknowable and unimaginable. There was no way I could ever be an artist or even a creative person. But something was calling to me. In my late 30’s I got curious about myself – a general curiosity. Who am I? What’s possible? What am I doing here? And so I took lots of little ‘risks’ – both in terms of personal development and also creative expression. For instance I signed up for some classes that I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking prior to that, like collage. Others might say that taking a collage class is no big deal, but for me, I was so afraid that I’d find out that I wasn’t creative or that I would fail. And even when I did attend the classes, I almost didn’t show up for the last class when you had to share your work for a critique.
But if it hadn’t been for stepping up and showing up that night, I wouldn’t have had all the little ‘aha’ moments that led to bigger and bigger moments…which led to a new trajectory and life for me. For instance had I not gone to the collage class, I never would have heard the teacher say to me, “are you a poet?” That single sentence gave me such inspiration and validation and energy. I knew I had to continue.
Sometimes the small steps have been enough, but sometimes I’ve also needed to make bold moves. For instance, I decided to enter a year of saying ‘yes’ early on in this journey toward art, fashion and design. And so I said ‘yes’ to everything that came my way – at least those things that weren’t harmful or too ridiculous:) The same is true in my art.
Sometimes I have to make bold moves in my art to get unstuck. Even if it means failing or spending more time than I thought on yet another version that still doesn’t cut it, the magic is that there’s often something incredible waiting around the corner.
Risk taking is the only way to get to breakthroughs and new levels of understanding or experience or confidence or skill.
I think of risk in my life and in my art in the same way. The risk I take in my art shows me so much about the rest of my life.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am an abstract artist and a designer of one-of-a-kind apparel and accessories for women and the home. In addition to abstract paintings, I paint my own designs onto fabrics and then have them transformed into wearable goodies, like scarves, wraps and ponchos. I’m most well known for my colors and my unique “luxuriously-down-to-earth” pieces. I’ve been invited three times by San Francisco’s de Young Museum to participate in their Artwear show. My work has been on Bay Area runways, featured as the cover art for two jazz musicians, featured at Santa Cruz’s Museum of History and Art. I’ve also been lucky enough to collaborate with amazing photographers, like Charles Schoenberger for fashion shoots, and with Jamie Nease on two shoots with dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. What a treat!
I also offer an online immersive experience to unlock creativity and curiosity. It’s great for corporate or non-profit teambuilding but also for women’s groups. and people interested in personal or creative development. Basically it’s about how to get out of your own way!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love nature/parks, great food, live music, comedy, something high-energy and the arts. We’d probably hike somewhere south of here like the Peninsula Open Space Preserve, hit up Charm Thai Eatery, try to catch a show in San Francisco at the Fillmore or Great American Music Hall, maybe go to one of those ‘fly’ places, and head to the de Young, the Asian Art Museum or the MOMA in San Francisco. Oh yeah and find some comedy! Definitely need those laughs.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’ve had many individuals, teachers and communities that I am grateful to for supporting, inspiring and challenging me. There are too many to name them! There’s no doubt that Ellen Miller, an artist, mentor and friend, helped me build my ‘creative’ sail boat and sent some caring and encouraging winds my way.
Jamie Nease, Charles Schoenberger
Model Credit: Kimberly Marie Olivier