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. Awards include American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts Illustration Annual, Nami Picture Book Concours 2019, South Korea, Print’s Regional Design Annual, Society of Publication Designers, Society of News Designers and the Global Art Directors Club. Ellen’s work is in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. She has judged numerous illustration competitions including Society of News Designers 2019, Communication Arts Illustration Annual 2016, 2016 National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, AOI/World Illustration Awards, Society of Illustrators Annual exhibition, Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship and Society of Illustrators Zankel Scholarship. She’s featured in an eight-page article in the March/April 2013 issue of Communication Arts. Ellen’s work is also featured in Illustration Now 5! by Taschen.
Hello Ellen, I’ve read that you were born and raised in New York City, graduated of Pratt Institute and New York’s High School of Art and Design. What did you enjoy about that?
What didn’t you enjoy?
what originally made you want to become an illustrator / artist?
I was born and raised in New York City and attended public school.
Growing up in NYC, I loved the posters I saw on the subways and the art in the books I read as a kid. I applied and was accepted into the High School of Art and Design, which was a great introduction to the industry, and then attended Pratt Institute and I started out as a graphic designer with a portfolio that consisted of my illustrations with type. I realized early on that I was most interested in creating the images and I transitioned to becoming a full-time illustrator while freelancing as a designer
How was life like after university? How did you face challenges as an artist?
After school you have to blaze your own path. This is something I emphasize with my students. You have to find what work can sustain you creatively and what can sustain you financially, eventually they come together but not always all the time.
What informs and shapes your taste and style?
The books I read, the music I listen to, museum and gallery shows, movies. I am inspired by other art forms but my work is informed most by what I am curious in and want to learn more about.
Your style is rich, like “Pop art” that you might find in a gallery, and perhaps quite unusual (at least here in Iran) for children’s books. What makes them children’s books?
Contextualization makes art illustration: How our work is seen and what for what purpose. My color palette and compositions are consistent through the work whether it is for children or adults.
You have also had experience in graphic design. can you tell me more about that, please?
I interned in Milton Glaser’s studio my Senior year at Pratt and freelanced as a designer after school and I realized I wanted to be an illustrator early on but glad I had the training of a designer. I approach projects from a design/communication point of view and think about what I want to say and how am I going to say it.
1.What is your favorite piece of work in your portfolio? Why did you make it?
Tough question, my favorite piece is always the one I am working on and the one after that.
Can you tell us a bit about your process from start to final execution?
I start every project with pencil and paper thumbnails, including personal projects. If I am working with text, I like to distill down to one sentence what I want to convey in an image. Once I know what I want to say and the feeling I want to create, I sketch many thumbnails. I need to see an idea on paper to know if it is going to work or not. I paint in gouache and compose the final art in Photoshop.
Can you tell us a bit about your book Recipes for Good Luck and what inspired you to write and illustrate on this topic?
I was working on an assignment a few years on superstitions and noticed a lot familiar behavior in the piece, since I am superstitious myself. The subject resonated with me and I wanted to follow my curiosity on it and explore it further. I began with a few personal pieces, decided to package the idea as a book pitch, and sold it to Chronicle Books. Working on the book gave me time to investigate and research a topic and see where I could take it. I established parameters for the subjects (diversity of people, practices, and professions- no addictive behavior or anything that spoke to mental illness or self-harming) and the art (a number of background colors, iconic images) in the beginning and then I had complete freedom to do anything within those boundaries.
Let’s continue about your experiences as the president of ICON illustration conference and being on the Board of Directors of the Society of Illustrators and serves as Chairperson of the Museum Committee. What’s the most valuable lesson you have learnt throughout your carrier as a curator and manager?
Serving on the board of the conference is a great opportunity to meet people, cultivate relationships and shape conversations about the industry. Illustrators are quick to downplay all the skills we develop in our daily practice. Being a board member is a way to develop those skills further and acquire new ones. As President I was constantly going back and forth between the big picture and all the details that go into making that picture work. Like any project, an idea is only as good as its execution and I worked closely with all the board members and director in seeing it through.
I’ve read that you had speech and workshops in different countries, such as Japan, Italy and Spain. How did they programs different? How did your approach different?
I love to travel and meet people through working with them. Art transcends language barriers and geopolitical borders. What we share is so much stronger than what gets lost in translation. I always welcome the opportunity!
If you don’t mind, may I ask you about your challenges as a female artist or manager in the art industry?
It’s hard to say since I can only speak from my own experience but one needs to keep putting themselves out there and keep going. I am inspired by the work and lives of Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe and other women who blaze their own trails and create compelling work at every phase of their lives.
what’s the best piece of advice you have heard?
“Always ask why,” from my mother who was given that advice from a teacher of hers.