Ella Willson-Smith is a finalist Illustration student at the University of Brighton. Originally from London, her projects are largely concerned with the relationships between people, objects and place. Ella likes playing with shape and colour in her work, and though she frequently draws from real-life, she deliberately subverts like-for-like emulation. She often breaks down objects into their elemental nature, calling upon the characteristics of collage and decoupage.
What drives your personal interest in Illustration?
I’ve never enjoyed one artistic approach. The boundaries of Illustration as a subject are forever expanding; Illustration has become a visual portal to do and explore anything. For example, I’m really enjoying working with props by reconfiguring day-to-day objects. Recently, my friend Helen Ferry (@heckinhelen) and I used props in out stop motion reinterpretation of Pandora’s Box. We reimagined the story as a contemporary wedding that quickly transgresses. Props included a large tin box that we iced to resemble a large wedding cake, demonstrating that Illustration’s boundaries can extend far beyond the limits of 2-dimension.
Where does your artistic inspiration come from?
For the most part, the friends that work around me inspire my work. Illustration can be collaborative, and I enjoy working with and learning from others. Artists that inspire me include Matisse and the illustrator Joey Yu, whose colours and shapes translate into my own work. When I have an artist’s block I like to visit local museums and galleries; the V&A and Brighton Toy Museum are full of quirky trinkets and objects. Films also inform my work. I always look for vibrancy and colour, which often seep into the visuals of films. Colour is inherent to my work – I struggle with a limited palette. For example, the colours, visuals and setting of Call Me by Your Name particularly inspired me. Saturday Night Fever initiated my love of illustrating dance and movement from films. It was the inspiration behind my recent School Disco project, which called upon the nostalgia of school dances.
Do you have any recent or ongoing projects?
I’m working on a project that has nostalgia at its core. It’s based on the yearly festas that take place across Malta in order to memorialise the patron saints of individual villages. I want to reinterpret this tradition with my Nana visually embodying a fictional saint, as well as creating fake memorabilia in her commemoration to celebrate my family’s Maltese heritage. I also run Make-Do (@make_do_brighton) alongside Helen Ferry and Lucia Vinti (@lucia.vinti), an ongoing set of creative workshops held at The Village Pub, Brighton. Sessions include Zine making and one minute portraits. It’s a project that’s rooted in local community, and something that I’m particularly proud of.
Could you tell me about your Public Transport project?
Public Transport was a project I worked on alongside Helen about the verbal harassment women often face on public transport. The project stemmed from an assignment we were given to create an object about a topical issue, and this subject was something I felt as though myself and other women in my life had faced on uncountable occasions. After the responses we received from a survey we circulated on the topic, we knew that this was an issue we wanted to give visibility. The object we created was an illustrated educational handbook that encouraged respecting one another on public transport. We also created t-shirts to go alongside the project – we sold them at Brainchild last year, and there’s still some available!
What is your proudest artistic achievement?
That I’ve come to a place where I’m happy with my work and I’m fully comfortable with its identity. Over the past three years I’ve pushed myself at university and taken creative risks. It’s been amazing to see my style evolve and reach a point where my work has consistency and represents myself. In Illustration it can be difficult for your work not to resemble that of others, as it’s incredibly easy to fall into similar aesthetic groups. The best feeling is when people look at my work and can definitively say “Ella made that”.
What are your post-university illustration plans?
My main plan is to fall in love with drawing all over again. The only issue with studying something that you love is that it becomes a routinely requirement. I want to regain a full enjoyment of drawing, perhaps through travelling and sketching my findings. I’d also like to work with more props and set design in future projects.
Words: Elizabeth Richardson