“My desk occupies the front hall of the apartment I share with my husband, illustrator David Flaherty and our mini dachshund, Fritzie. In the beginning of a project, my desk is sparse with a few notebooks and a sketchbook where I work on ideas. As the process continues, the mess builds. I have a long shelf above my work space where I display my flea market finds and family photos. I change the items around frequently, since I have a large collection and I get bored of looking at the same objects for too long.
Along the wall is a wire with clips where projects in various stages of completion are on display, much like a restaurant kitchen. When the pieces are finally assembled and scanned in they get filed and make room for the next group.
The bodybuilder in this photos is my father in his 20ʼs. The card to Fritzie is from my good friend, the great illustrator, Yuko Shimizu.
We live on the 21st floor of an apartment building facing the East River. I can see Williamsburg from my window. Take that, Sarah Palin!”
Ellen Weinstein was born and raised in New York City. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute and New York’s High School of Art and Design. She is a regular contributor to Time Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and many other periodicals. Ellen has created book covers for Simon & Schuster, Viking Penguin, Warner Books and theater posters for Yale Repertory, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Lincoln Center.
Her work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Communication Arts, The Art directors Club and Print’s Regional Design Annual. Exhibitions include ” A Labor Of Line”, Gallery Nucleus, ” The Cannonball Lady”, Teatrio, Italy “La Favalose Matite Colorate Nel Mondo” featuring the work of 40 women illustrators from around the world. Rome, Naples, Venice 2006-2008. “Artists against the War”, Society of Illustrators “Favorite Flicks”, Society of Illustrators, “Inxart”, traveling Exhibition. Illustration anthologies include: Curvy, Illustration Today, Japan, New York Based Creatives (from Taiwan) and “Drawing Inspiration: Visual Artists at Work” by Michael Fleishman. (photos by : Ruinista)
ELLEN WEINSTEIN: I start every project with pencil sketches to develop concepts. During this phase I am not considering what materials I am going to use or the final look. I am thinking about what is the story I want to tell with this image. Once a sketch is approved I paint and photograph the different elements I am going use. The finals are usually assembled on my Mac in Photoshop.
I think it is important to commit to an idea, fully realize it and move on to the next one.
FYD: You are a New York native. Has the city changed?
EW: Over time, New York has changed considerably. When you are immersed in it every day, the changes seem more gradual. I can say the same about my work. When I look at images I did 5- 10-15 years ago they seem very different. Day to-day I haven’t made drastic changes in my approach.
EW: My High School did give me an early introduction into what was going to be my lifelong passion and career. I think the greatest advantage was not being surrounded by your classic American archetypes of High School students (jocks, nerds, cheerleaders,etc.). It was hard to be the weird one in a school full of them. Being accepted as an adolescent is a gift I will always be grateful for.
FYD: You were an intern for Milton Glaser (he graced this collaborative back in late January). Over sixty years, he works “the same way” at his desk. Do you feel the same?
EW: Interning with Milton Glaser dispelled any myths I had about the creative process. Observing him day in day out sitting at his desk working greatly informed my own habits. I sometimes envy people who can work in coffee shop or the park. I need the routine to be productive in my own work.
EW: Being aware of politics and current events has always been a part of my life. I am a New York cultural stereotype (leftist parents, socialist summer camps) that always shapes my vision somewhat. I think starting when we are kids, art gives us our own private world we can create and sneak off to. It’s great to be able to merge that private world with the one we live in and make work that responds to it.
FYD: How do color, collage and human figures play into your work? It certainly picks up a surrealist quality.
EW: I love to explore the relationships that exist between disharmonious elements. That juxtaposition of my grandfather’s face, a sign I photographed in Italy and a texture I painted is like a crazy dream where everyone you met and everyplace you have been appeared in strange combinations.
Being accepted as an adolescent is a gift I will always be grateful for.
EW: I LOVE deadlines! Deadlines sharpen my thinking and provide me the right amount of stress to get things done. Doing your best possible work within the parameters of a deadline is something I talk to my students about a lot. Some of them want to get all their ideas out on one project and keep changing their pieces. I think it is important to commit to an idea, fully realize it and move on to the next one. Over time, I have to come to view my work not as a series of deadlines for different projects but as a continuation.
FYD: Tell me about your personal work entitled “Quiet Night at Home.”
EW: Creating personal work has always been a big part of what I do. It serves different purposes for me- it could be to explore an idea or a different approach to working. Quiet Night at Home came after a stretch of work that was all fine- my clients were happy, I was working on good projects but I didn’t feel very satisfied with my own work. I came up with the idea and started working on it and the hours flew by in a way they hadn’t for a long time. Getting lost in the process is a great feeling and reminds of being a kid- making art because it makes me happy.
EW: A sentimental one is a portrait of Frances Perkins I created for a group show of International Women Illustrators in Italy. We were asked to make a portrait of a famous woman from our home country. Francis Perkins wrote the Social security act under F.D.R. A pivotal moment for her was witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. My grandmother was a worker in the factory and had actually stopped working there shortly before the tragedy occurred. That incident plus my lefty upbringing makes me very personally connected to the image.
FBD: I asked Mark Ulriksen back in October if dogs are easier to hang out with over humans. Any thoughts?
EW: My dog thinks all my ideas are brilliant, especially the ones involving treats. He also doesnʼt spend all night staring at his iPhone, so thatʼs a plus. On the other hand, most adult humans wonʼt play with a squeaky toy when you are talking to a client. Iʼd call it even.