ADAA 2014 Faculty Profile: Ellen Kelsey

I met Ellen when she came to All Dolls Are Art 2012.  She thrilled participants with her table favor dolls and with some encouragement she agreed to submit a proposal to teach last year.  She had another hit with her table favors, Fabulous Fish, and she heard the chorus of people clamoring for this to be a class in 2014.  Ellen’s Fabulous Fish class is on Friday and still has space left!

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Ellen currently belongs to Ladybugs, a group of artists and crafters who work together to put on an annual Christmas show-and-sale. It’s called Ladybugs, because of that bug’s reputation as tough and hard-working. And if you saw them at work when they are getting ready for that show, you’d believe it.

As Ellen relates:  “We do EVERYTHING! We not only make all of our art but also set up the whole sales and store area. I also participate in the Arlington Museum of Art Happy Holiday Gift Shop, which started in 2013. This will be its second year and hopefully more years to follow.”

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Ellen has displayed her work in artists’ showcases at the Arlington Museum of Art and at shows in the City of Arlington’s Community Center as well as offering it for sale at All Dolls Are Art 2013.

Amy, AnLiNa Designs:  Hi Ellen, please describe what kind of dolls you create and what draws you to this type of sculpture.

Ellen:  I like to make critters – mainly sea creatures and dragons. I love the ocean and the variety of life it has. And the still great unknown in its depths sparks my imagination.

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For example, I once saw a documentary on PBS about cuttlefish. I had never seen a cuttlefish up close and was fascinated. I bought a DVD copy of that documentary so that I could watch it again and again and I still hope to someday do my own artistic version of a cuttlefish.

Amy, AnLiNa Designs:  Well, as the proud owner of one of your dragons, I can’t wait to see what you come up with for a cuttlefish!  Where did you start your artistic journey? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Ellen:  I’ve always wanted to be an artist but thought I had no talent because I couldn’t draw or paint. A highlight of my childhood was when a ceramic rat I made in the seventh grade art class won third place in the school art show.  I was thrilled and I still have that ceramic rat on display on a shelf in my house!

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But after that, I had no access to clay or a kiln. Fast forward about 20 years: One of my older sisters, who remembered my rat, gave me some polymer clay and I have been hooked ever since. It was wonderful because it required no special tools and could be cured in the household oven. Polymer clay is incredibly versatile.  It has been a ball for me playing and creating with it because it is so versatile. You can create intricate designs, make jewelry, sand and polish it and sculpt with it.

Amy, AnLiNa DesignsAre you a full time artist or do you have a day job other than your art? If full time, when did you make the leap?

Ellen:  I work full-time at a day job. So my art time is in the evenings and weekends.

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Amy, AnLiNa Designs:  Do you have any plans to go full-time into your art?

Ellen:  I don’t have any plans to be a full-time artist because I know I’m not productive enough.  I wish I could be a full-time artist. But right now, that’s just not possible. Real life just keeps me too busy. Perhaps when I retire!

Amy, AnLiNa DesignsWhere do you find artistic inspiration? Do you keep an idea book or journal?

Ellen:  Inspiration comes mostly from nature, especially from the beach and ocean. I also find inspiration from art books and exhibits. I especially enjoy Ancient Egyptian art exhibits. Those just fascinate me and often inspire me. I don’t keep a journal but I pin ideas and inspiration to a bulletin board in my room. Just this morning, I saw a great picture of a shark in a magazine. I liked the picture and thought there were ideas or inspiration there. So onto the bulletin board it went!

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Amy, AnLiNa DesignsDescribe your process for starting a new piece. Do you know exactly how your pieces will turn out before you start sculpturing/painting or do you allow your creation to develop as you work?

Ellen:  When I get an idea, I usually think about it a lot before I start on it. If it is a new technique, I try to figure out the best process so, hopefully, I won’t hit too many bumps as I go. Other times, I just dive right in and see what happens. Usually, the end result does not come out exactly as I imagined. But I’m usually happy with it and often surprised, in a good way.

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Amy, AnLiNa DesignsDo you believe you have a muse? If so, how does your muse express his/herself?

Ellen:  No, I don’t think I have a muse.

Amy, AnLiNa DesignsDescribe a day in your studio?

Ellen:  Some people work to music, I work to TV. It’s entertaining and comforting and fun to me. I love movies and often watch classic movies on the TCM Channel. Or I’ll put on a favorite DVD. I love and enjoy many different genres – Sci-Fi, horror, comedy, and animation. And I’ll watch favorites again and again and again. But I also have to try not to have anything distracting on while I’m working on my art like “Finding Nemo.” That movie is just too pretty not to look at!

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Amy, AnLiNa DesignsDescribe an idea that you have that is yet to be born? What is keeping you from starting?

Ellen:  I have a beachcomber doll in mind. But I’m still trying to figure out its form and face in my own style. Right now, the human form and face gives me more challenges than a critter’s form and face. And I’m still trying to come up with my own version of that cuttlefish that I hope to do.

Amy, AnLiNa DesignsDo you participate in a regular art gathering, crit group, or other face to face meeting for the purpose of discussing your sculpture or creating it?

Ellen:  No, not a formal group. But friends and I get together each month for an art day of fun and creativity. We bring our art and food and sit around a big table together. Each one of us works on a different art project and we talk and visit with each other while we work. It’s both fun and productive!

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Amy, AnLiNa Designs:  What advice would you give someone thinking of trying to start up or find such a group?

Ellen:  Search the internet, magazines and newspapers. You can often find out about other people or groups or organizations that way. Visit shows, exhibits and even hobby stores. They often have brochures or flyers about classes or art groups. Or just start a weekly or monthly get-together with some friends. Some artist friends of mine do that. And it doesn’t have to be friends who work in the same type of art or medium. In my friends’ monthly gathering, one of my friends works on art on her iPad while the rest of dabble in clay, beads, fibers or dolls.

Amy, AnLiNa DesignsWhat is your favorite part of teaching?

Ellen:  My favorite part is watching my students at work and seeing what they create. Each person’s personality and even what their mood is for that day translate into their creation.

When I taught my “Here Be Dragons” class at last year’s ADAA conference, I had 12 students and each dragon had its own pose, expression and personality. It was a blast to see each dragon come to life.

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Amy, AnLiNa Designs:  I enjoyed see all of the dragons come to life too!  Thanks Ellen!

If you are interested in learning Ellen’s techniques for creating her creatures, her class still has space available.  You can see the dragons from Ellen’s class last year on the All Dolls are Art Facebook page

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