Number of years in career: 25
Astrological sign: Taurus
Where are your family roots from?
Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
How have your parents/guardians/teachers/mentors influenced you? The teacher that inspired me most is my NCSU undergraduate design professor, Austin Lowery. He was a very earthy and interpretive person. He really opened my eyes to being a designer and artist all the time. He taught us to look at anything as an opportunity for design. He sent us to a flea market for design inspiration. That was mind-blowing to me when I was 20 y.o. He had us do a daily typographic thumbnail layout with our name, date, and class—seemingly small things that changed my life.
Can you remember one childhood memory of happiness and one of fear? I have a lot of happy memories of just being a kid and running free through our neighborhoods in South Carolina and North Carolina. One happy memory is my love of the yellow claw-footed bathtub filled with pillows in my kindergarten classroom where we could go read. My fear memory is of a tornado in Abbeville, SC and a man was screaming for help down the hill from us. That terrified me and it still haunts me. I didn't think adults could be hurt, or in trouble, or need help like that.
Is there something in your life that you feel very passionate about? I feel things fiercely and I'm not good at hiding that. I have a lot of self-respect, determination, and love. I want to understand myself and I want other people to do that, too. I have frustration with the fact that most people don't want to do that work. I have respect and love for people, unless they are mean. I tend to put that dual energy of frustration & love into my work. Glad to have that outlet!
If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? Why? It's so hard to choose! I guess a bird would be the most fun and the most different from being a human. Who doesn't want to fly everywhere they go!?! A close second is a dolphin, because I love swimming and they are so graceful and happy.
What is it about being a/an_________________that keeps you satisfied in your career?
Being a book artist perfectly combines my love of language and image. I began my career as a graphic designer and became a book artist after learning letterpress printing. In college, I almost switched my major to creative writing, but Austin Lowery talked me out of it! Haha! He was right. I found the right place for myself in book arts. I'm always learning new techniques & new structures. That is probably the thing that keeps me in love with book arts. I'm always thinking about the next book to make.
What is your creative process? And major influencers? I usually think about a book for a while (6 months?) before I really get into it. Most of my work is based on my own frustrations with the world. I've done books about misogyny, body dysmorphia, environmental neglect, and the domination of social media. Although I look at a lot of others' work, I try to design my books according to the content; try to make design choices that are directly influenced by the subject at hand. I do a lot of drawing, & a lot of writing, & I make a bunch of mock-ups to work out my ideas for a book. For my next book, I really want it to be about nothing.
Can you tell us something you just learned that intrigued you? I am interested in cults and people being consumed by following other people. It's not a new interest; I've always been fascinated (and confused) by fanaticism of any kind. I'm so curious about how it happens. I wonder about the psychology of it. There seems to be a lot of this going on right now. I think people want to fill the hollow feeling inside, and they want to belong. I think people want easy answers to increasingly complex problems. I've seen documentaries about this phenomenon, like Wild, Wild Country and Behind the Curve (about flat-earthers). Both are excellent and kinda scary.
What is something people often get wrong about you? People seem to think I'm "cool". I think because I have a calm demeanor, people misread that as coolness or even indifference. I promise you, I am not cool. I feel things profoundly and fiercely. It's true that I don't get deeply invested in things easily. I can't do that because I would be worn down to the bone as a person if I did! I think people think I don't get hurt. Very wrong.
What are you listening to these days? Musically, I've been listening to stuff that I remember hearing on the radio and stereo growing up. (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2t73b8X0myW7SCwL7WQJDO?si=3at3VI8tTau8Brm9m_XqzQ) I listen to D-Nice Club Quarantine on Instagram. That's been a life-saver and I highly recommend! I listen to some podcasts: My Favorite Murder, Dumb People Town, The Jackie and Laurie Show, IndoctriNation, The Scaredy Cats Horror Show. I don't follow the podcasts as closely as I did pre-pandemic. I can't find the time to listen!
What’s the best and worst decision you ever made? This is the hardest question, because I don't really think about things this way. Every decision I've made in life has good and bad aspects. "In the end, none of this is bad." (That's kind of quoted from Chidi in The Good Place). It's all just what it is. Even "bad" has "good" because of the lessons learned. Probably the best decision I've made is marrying Kevin. He's the BEST! We are the BEST. We've had good and bad times and that's ALL GOOD. We have a son. He's the BEST. None of this is bad.
Can you narrate your proudest moment? I'm proud when my artist's books get recognition in the field of book arts. In 2017 I was one of the finalists for the Minnesota Center for Book Arts book arts prize. It's a very prestigious prize in the field internationally, so I was thrilled to get in the top five! (That was for the book Ingress/Egress) In the past couple of years, I've been invited to speak about my work and book arts generally at universities and museums, which feels good, even though it makes me nervous to give talks! My work gets into publications and exhibitions — all of that makes me proud!
What do you find ridiculous about life? I think people take themselves too seriously. It's great and probably right to take some things, work, situations, relationships, etc. seriously. But ourselves? No. I wanna have fun! I agree with Spongebob Squarepants — I'm a goofy goober...ROCK! We're all goofy goobers! I truly think it would be a better world if people would lighten TF up about themselves.
Can you share a topic that causes your blood to boil & how you deal with the frustration?
So many things make my blood boil right now. The division among people in the U.S. has gotten so bad and it's very upsetting to me. I no longer do Twitter or Facebook because I truly believe social media has caused deep, deep division in the world. The platforms were designed to bring out and monetize the worst in people and it has really worked in ways no one could have imagined. They need to go. And people need to go take walks down the street or in the woods and see what's real.
If you could take a peek in your future (say 10 years from now), what would it look like?
1. No more pandemic!!!! 2. Grandchildren would be great! 3. A cooler climate. 4. A happy, healthy family. 5. still love making books or maybe something new(?)
Bonus: What’s one thing you are deeply grateful for right now? I am deeply grateful for Kevin and Gus, my husband and son. We've been in this house together for 8 months during the pandemic and we still like each other! We love each other, but thank gawd we LIKE each other. We still have fun even when things are decidedly NOT fun. Don't get me wrong, we also get on each others' nerves! It's been seriously hard to work and school from home. But thank gawd for them being them. They're awesome, chill, smart, sweet people. We've had fun making great food, making great drinks, listening to music, talking shite, and playing video games.
*all photos are from Ellen's instagram and website page