Artist Spotlight! An interview with Marcy Ellis
Written by Baylor Meche
Marcy Ellis is one of our longtime clients in the fine art printing department. She specializes in drawings of the female anatomy combined with lots of floral and botanical elements. We sat down with her to see what inspires her floral, feminine style.
Q: Do you listen to music when you create art, if so what’s your go to?
A: Yeah, definitely! Depends what I’m working on, but right now I’m really into Princess Nokia. I’ve been playing her song, Sugar Honey Iced Tea everyday when I get into my studio! Also love the new St. Vincent album-that’s been on repeat. I also love podcasts and audiobooks—anything about cults! Haha I love finding myself down those rabbit holes!
Q: Haha those are some great choices. So where do you call home and what do you like most about it?
A: I’m from Tucson, AZ! It has a super community and arts & small biz focus. It’s a dry heat though…(rolls eyes!) I love that I can go anywhere in Tucson and there will be someone I know—or someone who is connected to someone that I know… Tucson has this weird and rad like, third phase of separation thing going on, but I’ve been living in Tucson for most of my life. I love it here. It’s hard to see it change so much over such a short amount of time through gentrification. It feels as if Tucson has been “discovered” and these days-everyone moving here from…literally everywhere. Maybe it feels that way in Austin?
Q: Oh totally. Lots of people from California moving here and driving up housing prices. What’s the process for creating your pieces? Is there a specific type of paper, ink, etc that is a must when you’re creating.
A: Well..it kind of what it depends what I’m working on. I have this process of envisioning what the final product would look like-like would it be a design on a shirt? A painting/illustration? A tattoo? Mural? A design on a candle? Sticker?…so that starts inspiring my mind to think of a design-and I begin to think about the feelings I want to express. I sit with those ideas for a couple days, let it marinate in my mind, take lots of walks and hikes, and get outside. I like to get my mind clear and then get into my studio.
I’m really impatient and don’t like sketching! I love to just get to it-but that never ends well haha! So I’ve started to incorporate more sketching into my process to make getting to the final stage -my favorite- easier. I work on this delicious hand-laid paper, Rives BKF and Arches are my go-tos. I love the cream and off white colors the most. But the thing that’s hard with those papers is you can’t really erase or else it messes up with the texture of the paper (since they’re really made for printmaking). That’s why I’ve had to start sketching a lot more. I draw with pencil super lightly like the bare minimum, then I get out the Microns. I love the 1 point the most. #1 and #8 are my favorites. I just love how rich the black lines look on that cream paper! I typically use one whole #1 pen a drawing which feels a bit major, but I’m hooked on the way the tip glides and the richness of the black ink!
I paint with watercolor. I prefer to use botanical inks and the traditional tube watercolors. like 10 years ago, in art school, I won this raffle in my watercolor class. My professor was giving away this like big ass box of never used watercolors, but they were old!! Like totally old brands, names, and colors! I bet they were from like the 70s…maybe not that old, idk but I’ve been painting with them for years! They’re so dried out, but you just need a little water to make them come back to life!
There is this amazing shop in Denver, Ritual Cravt that creates these botanical inks. I’m obsessed with them. It’s really fun to work with botanical and natural inks. The way the colors work together is so interesting, and of course I’m into all things botanical. I paint so much flora and plants it’s really important to have connection within those elements.
Q: How long have you been selling your artwork? What was it like to sell your first piece?
A: I just celebrated two years as a full time artist this month! I taught elementary art for about seven years before this and really worked on marketing my businesses and establishing my etsy shop, getting into shows and getting into tattoo designing. It’s really wild to see how far I have grown as an artist and as a business woman in a small amount of time! I went to art school and double majored in studio art and art education. The instant I got out of school I started teaching. Teaching is such a beautiful yet entirely life consuming job. It’s God’s work, truly. Teachers deserve far more than they receive! But it was really hard for me to exist as an artist…I was teaching like 700 students a week!! Wild and amazing stuff but it wasn’t sustainable for me as a person. But my art was my saving grace back then—I would get up early on Saturday and just work in my little bedroom studio.
I started making prints of my work, got into some shows, and kept doing that for like three years. I created this standard for myself and my work. I treated my art like my teaching job. Get up and do it! I taught myself how to build a website and run an Etsy-connect with screen printers, printers, etc. Over time I established a style and collections that was evolving in different avenues. I started to build a really amazing clientele and people even started reaching out about tattoo designs—like never in my life did I think someone would want my art tattooed on their body! I started reaching out to shops I admired on instagram to see if they would be interested in carrying my art. And shit it worked! With more time, I started getting comfortable with wholesale and how that world works and began selling my art in shops all over the country. Before the pandemic, you could find my art in almost 90 shops and boutiques all over the country—and Canada! Last February, right before the pandemic I moved into a studio space with two girlfriends who also owned their small business. Having a separate studio space has given my business an opportunity to grow tenfold… just more space to make, package and see my art in bigger-different avenues.
I definitely remember the first time I sold something I made. I was like 10 and I made these cute little denim purses made from old jeans! You know I had a bedazzler and rhinestoned the shit out of everything. I cut the legs off the jeans and sewed them together to make like a sack. Then I used the legs to make the purse straps. So I’ve always had this marketing mindset for selling things I’ve made…
Q: Wow, that's an interesting journey from teaching to selling your own stuff! Speaking of the botanical inks, I’ve noticed you use a lot of different flowers in your art. Are you familiar with the language of flowers and the meanings behind them when choosing which to draw?
A: I grew up on a plant nursery when I lived in New Mexico. My parents owned it, and we lived on the property, Southwest plants- very sweet times. So I have had a connection with plants my whole life. We lived pretty far out of town so we didn’t have many friends over. My sister and I played teacher a lot and I loved to draw. Obviously flowers were my first things to look at and draw. In college I got really into concept art and studied the traditional uses of flora, or the symbolic meanings. I love to research and learn about different uses, cultural uses, properties of botanicals and plants. I’m really inspired by vintage botanical drawings, too. When I’m working with clients, they usually come to me with specific florals in mind. We connect so much to the plants around us-smells take us back to moments in our life. So much goodness comes with plants!
Q: From there, if you could study under or collab with any artist alive or dead who would it be and why?
A: Oh that’s a hard one. Definitely Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, Faith Ringgold... truly any female artist. Women who did so much to pave the way for people like me to become professional artists. Maria Sibylla Merian was the first to record metamorphosis in like 1701. So many botanical engravings and drawings were created by women back then. Women who were involved in the arts and science, but of course we really don’t hear or learn their names, you know? I think Maria and I would create some incredible prints involving her scientific, botanical drawings and my drawings of the figure. :)
Q: So true! There's a lot of female history that was erased or never even recorded. Aside from those female predecessors, is there any specific subject matter that inspires your art and gets the creative juices flowing? More specifically when you hit a roadblock?
A: I have to get outside into nature. Sometimes you hit a roadblock, and you just have to leave the room. It’s frustrating, especially when there is a deadline or custom client work. I’ve found getting out of my studio and into nature really helps. Body movement, too! We get so stagnant and into routine we forget to even breathe! I also love to do little drawing exercises—prompts I would teach my students like contour drawing, bilateral drawing, using different materials, etc. I think it’s important to get out of routine and break the mold a little bit of what you typically draw/make every once in a while.
Q: What would you say is the most challenging thing about being an artist? The most rewarding?
It’s been a challenging road these last couple years. I went to art school, but it didn’t prepare me on becoming a professional, full time artist. I’ve had to learn a lot myself or find resources to help me. No one taught me how to market or price my work so it’s really been a lots of trial and error. It’s difficult to prioritize your time, too. I’m my own boss, and I have big expectations for myself so sometimes it’s challenging to give myself a break or not take on so much at once. Rejection is hard too, but I’ve learned to use that as my power. Not everything is going to be a perfect fit and that’s okay! I’ve been across the country and even seen someone with a tattoo of my work. How insane is that!? When people go out of their way to tell me how my art has inspired them, made them take art classes or just feel more into their body is the biggest reward I could ask for.
Q: I'm sure that's a stellar experience! Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring female artists out there looking to get their start?
A: My best friend once told me, "just stick to your weird shit, don’t try to fit into any molds." Create a mission statement for yourself, stick to that because people will take advantage of you. People love to take advantage of artists, especially us women. Sometimes that means not getting to be a part of things or turning really major things down, but that standard you set for yourself and your art will take you to so many higher places, baby! Everything is an experiment. Some things work, some things don’t but you won’t know until you give it a solid try!
You can see more of Marcy's artwork on her instagram: @marcyellis
At Mindzai, we value the relationships with our artists more than anything. Anyone can do the bare minimum in a print shop, but we aim to go above and beyond to get to know our clients. High quality printing for creatives by creatives is our mindset. It's up to you to make dope art, but it's our job to produce those prints for your shop or next live show. You can view our site's art printing options here!