How and why did you decide you to be a fantasy artist?
I’m not convinced that becoming an artist is a decision. It’s more of an irresistible urge, or spiritual calling. Possibly, it’s just an addiction, and I need a 5-step plan! I’ve been drawing and writing since I was very young, and my choices in subject were heavily influenced by reading a lot of fantasy and fairy tales.
How long does it take you to do an image and what is your process?
In linear time, a detailed ink piece at 9 x 12 inches, like this, takes me about a month:
|Scared by Ellen Million|
I work up a rough sketch in pencil, put it aside for at least a day, refine the sketch over a week or two, then ink it over the next several weeks, working 5 minutes to an hour at a time. In total hours, this was about 15 hours of work, and I usually have several pieces of this complexity going at a time.
I also work on a few larger pieces. Journey took me 10 months, from first sketch to final painting.
|Journey by Ellen Million|
I sketched directly on a large Arches watercolor paper pad, refining details in pencil but not using any shading. I painted this one in acrylics, looking for bold rich colors I’ve had trouble achieving in watercolor, and used colored pencil to add details. I painted the background first, then added the figures and trees last. There were probably 50 hours or more of work in this one, and it was more difficult to work on because it required more setup to use paints than ink.
As large color pieces go, Journey was fairly speedy. Roses of Fairyland (ink and watercolor) took me four years:
|Roses of Fairyland by Ellen Million|
(I was heartily sick of roses by the time I finished…)
Much of your art seems to tell a story. Does the story come first or the image?
It varies! With some images, I sit down to illustrate a specific story or character, but with others, I start with the germ of an idea and spin it out from there in completely unexpected ways. Sometimes, I sit down with one story in mind – and end with something completely unrelated when I’m finished!
For The Trains Must Run on Time, I only knew that I wanted to do something with steampunk, and that I wanted it to have a train in it. I sketched the train from a reference, then doodled in the figure (because cute girls is a default of mine!) and started adding steampunk-y elements until I like the balance of the page.
|The Trains Must Run On Time by Ellen Million|
For Fire and Water, Mandy Roberts told me a story, and I had the freedom to pick out the elements that I felt made the strongest composition (and were the most fun to draw!), as well as those that told the most parts of the intricate story.
|Fire and Water by Ellen Million|
How do you decide whether to color an image or leave it black and white?
There are two factors: time and purpose.
Color takes me a lot longer than black and white. Not only am I slower at applying color, I also need a longer block of time to set up the paints and clean them up. More than ever, these days I usually only get short, unpredictable blocks of time because I have a new baby to care for, and she requires a lot of my time and attention. Black and white also has the advantage of being easily portable. I can take a sketchbook and a pen with me almost anywhere; paints are more problematic. Mostly, I do color when it is required – for a book publication, for a cover, or for a commission. It’s pretty rare that I just up and decide to do something in color unless I’m doing a quick abstract . Abstracts I find therapeutic and fast, especially when working in an ACEO format:
|Abstracts by Ellen Million|
I also often do just black and white because I’m specifically designing a piece for use in a coloring book or black and white publication (or more recently, rubber stamps!), and a piece that stands alone as an ink design is necessarily different than a piece you plan to finish with color later.
|Tangled Up Dragon by Ellen Million|
You have many irons in the fire. You own Ellen Million Graphics which is home to Sketch Fest, Fantastic Portfolios, Torn World, EMG-Zine, Coloring Book Publication and Portrait Adoption. Where do you find the energy?! Could tell us a little bit about your many ventures?
I started Ellen Million Graphics in 1993 (19 years ago!) with about $80 and a lot of starry optimism. It has changed a lot since its early days as a maker of fantasy art stationery, and I started including other artists in it very early on. I liked the idea of giving other artists the opportunities that I was working on, and cultivating them as co-conspirators rather than competition. Coloring books have been a popular item since I first introduced them in 1996 (or 1997… I’m not entirely sure), and are the last remainder of the wide line of merchandise I once carried.
Portrait Adoption was the first major branch of the business I expanded into. It’s a great alternative for artists who like to paint portraits but find the act of taking commissions tedious. Portraits, as a rule, don’t sell well as ‘random art’, but they can be very special to gamers and writers who want something exclusive to envision as their character. Portrait Adoption is sort of like an inspiration bank for its users, and they get the chance to own something one-of-a-kind… without having to deal with the hassle of commissioning something.
|Kalina by Ellen Million|
EMG-Zine was a monthly e-zine for artists and writers, spanning seven years with issues that included articles on the business of art, technique, walk-throughs, and relevant reviews, plus a gallery of themed art, fiction and poetry. December’s issue will be our last one, be sure to check it out!
Fantastic Portfolios is a service for artists to give comprehensive portfolio reviews. It can be tough to get in-depth and honest criticism – friends don’t want to hurt your feelings, and public critiques can be really hit or miss. Here, we gathered up some folks who understand art and like to review it, and made a pleasant interface for them to help their fellow fantasy and science fiction artists with a portfolio critique. The result is a top-notch gallery of artwork, as well as a place to get some fresh perspective on your artwork. Our results are generally considered ‘tough, but fair.’
Torn World is a more personal project. I have been writing and drawing about snow-unicorns since 1996, and opened it up as a shared world setting in 2008, launching to the public in 2010. Nearly every weekday, there is an update at the site – either a piece of fiction, a work of art, a poem, or an article about the setting. I am knees deep in finishing a serial story that involves blackmail, romance and murder, and early next year we’ll be starting on a wild fantasy adventure of culture clash between the isolated northern snow-unicorn herders and the steampunk-ish, progressive Empire of the south. Hijinks will ensue.
|Bad Snowy by Ellen Million|
Sketch Fest was an experimental project that took on a life of its own. The concept is fairly simple – during the window of Sketch Fest (now 48 hours – we started with just 12, but that wasn’t enough!), artists from around the world leave prompts and create work to them, spending no more than 1 hour on any given piece before moving on to the next. It’s a major jump-start for the muse, with no pressure to finish or produce any particular quality. Some people do 5 minutes sketches, some take the whole hour. I pursued a completely different kind of funding model for this one. Rather than driving the project myself and hoping it paid off, I sat back and said ‘I’ll do what gets funded (and have fun doing it).’ Allowing artists to sell their work through the project with a partial donation to the Sketch Fest site, we’ve raised the funds to build a really amazing, comprehensive webpage. The artist tools continue to improve, and the user experience is better every month. Artists also make a tidy amount from it, as collectors have found that it’s an unparalleled way to get one-of-a-kind artwork at a great deal!
If I knew where the energy to do it all came from, I could bottle it and sell it. I suspect I exchange socks for it through a mysterious portal in my dryer.
You have helped and inspired so many artists. Are there any artists who have inspired you?
Off the top of my head, Arthur Rackman (all those gorgeous black and white pieces!), Jody A. Lee and Robin Wood come to mind, plus too many of my friends to mention – I know some incredibly talented people and am constantly in awe of what crosses my feeds in social media.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting, drawing and sketching?
Projects! I enjoy brainstorming ideas and coming up with plans and getting people enthused about things. I have an odd love of organizing things and a knack for data management that I use in programming websites, which is what I primarily do for a living.
I also write a great deal – both non-fiction and fiction. I have a whole series of business articles for artists, I blog nearly daily, and I write a fair amount of short fiction, mostly set in Torn World. I even write a little poetry, when the muse inspires!
At the moment, projects, artwork, and writing are all taking second shelf to Being Mom, which is a new journey for me, and tremendous fun. I try to enjoy all the tasks that come with this, though some (poopy diapers) are decidedly less fun than others (playing peek-a-boo and baking).
Thank you for the great questions and the chance to share my work with your audience! My personal site is Ellen’s Escape, which includes years and years worth of embarrassing archives, as well as prints and originals. I can also be found at Livejournal, Facebook and Twitter.
Thank you Ellen, for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve enjoyed seeing your art and getting to know you. Please feel free to grab the badge below for your website or blog. It’s also available on the side bar with the code already done for you.
Drop by every Friday to meet more fabulous artists. Next week I’ll be featuring artist, Carri Travis Williams.