As we love illustrators and championing lesser-known talent, we present to you The Lines Are Drawn. In this regular feature, we bring you eye-catching scribblers from around the world who purvey their work through books and zines.
Hailing from the English countryside, Ellie Walker works prolifically in her current location, Edinburgh, collaborating with the likes of the city’s zoo, the university’s union and local charities. This last one is probably most important as it ties into her publication we’re covering today.
Hands Together is the answer to a question: can zines be used to help adults with learning disabilities? It's the combined creative efforts of Ellie, fellow artist Helga Pavelkova, and local adults with learning disabilities. The zine covers its titular topic (our nimble extremities) across a range of motifs. In spite of the many hands collaborating in the publication, consistent themes such as vibrancy and openness appear.
We spoke about how she manages to be so productive, the benefits of publishing zines and ‘knowing when to stop’ a piece of work.
Hi Ellie! Where are you from, where are you based and what do you do outside of illustration?
I’m originally from Shropshire, but I am currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Aside from drawing all day, I like long walks, leisurely breakfasts and challenging myself to learn new skills. Right now I have decided to take up playing the harp!
A lot of your work is affiliated with various organisations around Edinburgh. How has the city enabled you to progress, creatively and career-wise?
Edinburgh is a city full of culture, history and variety, so for an illustrator there is plenty of inspiration. Doing illustration for organisations is a two-way partnership – it requires the organisation to value the importance of creativity in order for them to provide you with the opportunity to work for them. But, luckily, Edinburgh has organisations that do value creativity. I have recently undertaken some projects alongside The National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Zoo, and as a student, this is a great springboard into a career in illustration. It’s also about being open to collaborating – involving other people in your work seems to help it to reach more ears!
Is there any particular equipment you rely on, or do you change around your setup?
I adapt my style to nearly every different project I work on, so I don’t have one particular style that I constantly work to, and that goes for the materials I use too. But I am most comfortable using handmade drawing materials– I love inks, watercolour and oil pastels. And I can’t be without a good fine liner pen too!
How, if at all, do you apply digital manipulation to your work?
I’ve been using digital manipulation increasingly, usually to edit, arrange and present my handmade stuff. If illustrations are going to be reproduced, it’s pretty inevitable they’re going to be put through a computer at some point!
Tell us about Hands Together. How did you get involved in this project?
Hands Together was the result of research into whether illustration can be used to benefit adults with learning disabilities, which I researched with another illustration student, Helga Pavelkova. We visited a local charity that provides adults who have learning disabilities with lots of creative activities, and we collaged the artwork they had made into our zine. Since then, Helga and I have been selling the zines to raise money for the charity.
It was a new experience, and it involved taking a real chance on our illustrations, as we had no idea how it would be received. But the charity was both accommodating and appreciative, and we really enjoyed the experience. To answer my original research question, yes - illustration certainly can be used to benefit adults with learning disabilities!
What draws you to make ‘zines and how does the format complement your work?
I often present my work in some kind of book form, because I like how books are so tactile – you can pick them up, feel them, smell them. There is an element of intimacy with books and zines too; the content is hidden inside and they invite you in to have a closer look. You view the illustrations one page at a time, allowing them the individual attention they deserve. Also, I’ve always liked drawing small – so my illustrations can fit into a book or a zine in their natural state.
Finally, when looking at pages you’ve put time and effort into, how do you judge if they’re finished?
When a page has said all it needs to say without saying too much, then you know it is finished. But sometimes you have to take a chance. Any piece of artwork can be worked on more - the challenge is knowing when to stop.
Another test to judge if they’re finished is to put them aside for a few days, and if you like what you see when you look at them again with fresh eyes, then they’re good to go. If all you see are the faults, then keep working.
Anyone you’d like to shout out?
I’d like to shout out to my friends who make up the illustration department at Edinburgh College of Art; it is a department full of diverse and talented students. Check out our blog to see what other fun stuff we’ve been up to!