We had the good fortune of connecting with Ellen Surrey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ellen, how do you think about risk?
By choosing an artistic career you’re already taking a big risk. Unlike traditional job choices, you are not guaranteed a salary or even regular pay. You are risking not making a lot of money in order to pursue something you’re passionate about. Growing up, I was lucky to know what I wanted to do. My goal was to make a career doing something I love to do, drawing and painting. I knew that money was going to be an issue, but I was willing to deal with that anxiety if it meant I could be happy drawing and painting. I also knew that with a lot of hard work, persistence, and belief in myself I could one day become a higher paid artist. After working professionally for just over 6 years, I’m being paid to do the thing I love and know I can get by with very little if I have to.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m an illustrator with a passion for color, Mid-Century design, and vintage treasures. I’m also a bit of a film nerd. My style is reminiscent of Little Golden books from the 50s and 60s. Most of the time I’m asked to make work that is cute or childlike in nature, but every so often I enjoy juxtaposing my style with an opposite subject matter. For example, this year I did a portrait of horror icon Vampira. One of the projects I’m most proud of is Mid-Century Modern Women in the Visual Arts. The book celebrates pioneering women of the mid 20th century in the visual arts. It was one of my first really big projects and was an idea I originally came up with as a college student. I loved the idea of showcasing and discovering amazing female artists especially in an era I’m so interested in. The project combined so many of my interests and in some sense was the perfect project. At the end of the day I hope to bring fans of my work a bit of escapism. Much like a movie, I want you to enter a colorful world of happiness.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is a funny thing to think about in a time of Covid. So many of us haven’t been anywhere in almost a year. There are so many things I miss and would love to do once it’s safe again. Disneyland would definitely be one of them. I always leave Disneyland feeling inspired and ready to create. Another would be visiting the Pasadena City College and Rose Bowl flea markets. I’ve been going to these since I was a kid and have always enjoyed the treasure hunt. For food I’d go to Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock. It’s an old fashioned Italian restaurant and they have the most delicious pizza. I’ve had some great memories there. Next I’d visit The Vista theater in Los Feliz. I love this Egyptian revival single screen theater. Even if the movie you’re seeing isn’t great the atmosphere is. It’s such a fun space to see a film, old or new. And lastly, I think I’d go to Tonga Hut in North Hollywood. It’s the oldest tiki bar in Los Angeles and I usually go here for my birthday. I love the kitchy atmosphere and the drinks really hit the spot on a hot summer night. They also have an amazing taco spot in the parking lot.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’m going to shoutout Clover Scout. Clover Scout is an illustration/design collective between myself and two other illustrator friends, Loris Lora and Patrick Hruby. Together we collaborate on products as well as professional projects. I really value Loris and Patrick’s friendship. Not only are we great friends, but we push each other to be better artists. Our individual ideas always become stronger when we collaborate and in the last couple years our work has really elevated. Our most recent project, Mushroom Trails, is a set of 4 highball glasses. Each glass features a three layer screen print of snails exploring a field of mushrooms. As a group we had talked about our interest in making a set of glasses for years. This year we made that dream come true. The whole process was a true collaboration. Each contributing illustrations, layouts, and color schemes. We enjoyed the process so much we are considering doing a new set next year.