Monday, June 9, 2008

Etsy Printmaker Interview: Ellen Shipley


Ellen Shipley


Glad you asked! :) I just launched my new website after taking a class in webpage design. Just the bare bones and it takes forever to load, but it’s a start:

I also have a blog , where I have most of my prints posted in a haphazard manner:

And of course my etsy shop:

Brief bio

I married my college sweetheart, Bill, 35 years ago, and we have one son, Will, who just turned 25. Bill has his own medical software company, Schuyler House, and Will works for his dad as a software developer. With all this computing power, you wouldn’t think I’d have to make my own website, would you? Well, the shoemaker’s children go unshod, you know. :)

I learned to spin and weave in the middle ages. That is to say, while doing historical reenactment on the weekends in the Society for Creative Anachronism, or the SCA. We’ve been doing it since rocks were soft as they say, and I needed a hobby I could pick up and put down while chasing a toddler around a campsite in long skirts. As those things do, a hobby turned into an avocation and I now have my own weaving studio, Loominations. Until printmaking came along, it was my only obsession.

You’re probably wondering about the blue hair. :) I’m a leap year baby, and when I finally reached my 13th birthday, I did what every teenager does: I dyed my hair blue. Scandalized my son. It was great. I like to think it represents my inner child.

What printmaking medium do you most often work in?

Oh that’s easy: wood. I love making woodblock prints. I zone out while I’m carving a block; time stops and I’m in the moment. Only spinning has that effect on me. It’s zen-like. Zinc etching is a process; woodblock carving is an experience.

How did you get started in printmaking?

I came to printmaking late in life and largely by accident. I was a stay-at-home-mom with homeschooling tendencies, so when our son went off to Harvey Mudd College (ok, that’s a brag) I hit a brick wall. I was not only an empty-nester, but now I was out of a job! So before I could make a project of my hapless husband, he made a project out of me, sending for my transcripts and enrolling me in classes at the community college. The subject matter he left up to me -- kind of him. As I’d always dabbled but never had any training, I chose Art. One day they were beating the bushes for warm bodies in the printmaking class and I thought, what the hey. Like a moth in amber, I got stuck and never left.

Describe where you work

That’s the beauty of woodcut -- you can take it anywhere. I’ve taken it on vacation and off to a medieval tourney field. But mostly I work at the kitchen table. I have my own press and studio -- an add-on patio room that used to be my weaving studio -- but I just moved my loom out and it’s still a cluttered mess in there. As I’m currently working in water-based inks, the clean-up is easy, so I don’t make too much of a mess in the kitchen. I’ll eventually find a surface I like in the print studio.

I’m still settling in to working at home. Even with my own press, I’ve done most of my work at the college print lab for the camaraderie of bouncing ideas off other printmakers. It’s been very stimulating, but the college is getting cranky about perpetual students and kicked us all out recently. Talk about artistic angst!

I plan to get my studio in working order this summer and hope to have open print labs, but I’m still mulling that over. I have these two is a sweetheart, but the other is a man-eating wannabe and I don’t want to feed his delusions. So the plan needs some work. :)

Is there a method to your madness?

I’ve always loved pattern and texture. I guess it comes from being a weaver. I can get lost in the maze. I’ve always considered tapestry weaving as painting with threads, and printmaking is like painting with carving tools. I need to manipulate the matrix.

What’s your creative process for any given print?

I usually sketch out an idea then google the net for ideas. I’m looking for images I can cobble together into a chimera. For instance, currently I’m planning an airship, so I’m collecting images of pirate ships and submarines and hot air balloons. :) Who knows what will come of it all -- hopefully an airship. I’ll make a cartoon and trace it onto the wood in chalk. Then I start carving and create the details as I go. It wouldn’t help to have it all planned out ahead of time anyway, as it’ll change a couple times while I’m working on it. It can get quite exciting sometimes when I’ve carved myself into a corner. :)

What do you enjoy most about printmaking?

That would be the carving. I usually start with the outline, then pick a feature and start carving. I move around the block at random, working on whatever calls to me. I get lost in the little details. It’s almost sad when I can’t find anything else to fiddle with.

Second best would be printing, because there are just so many variations on a theme. I hate to repeat myself, so I’m really hard-pressed to create an edition that doesn’t vary in color or technique. One of my favorite ways of inking the block is to tap in color or roll up a viscosity print. I just love to play (I think I missed out in kindergarten or something).

What’s your least favorite part of the process?

Finishing out an edition when I’m tired, tired, tired of it! I hate to repeat myself! Which is why it’s a mystery that I keep signing up for print exchanges. But I do love trading with other printmakers, so I make myself.

What are your inspirations?

For some reason I am enamored of the primordial past. My weaving harkens back to ancient bog finds and the techniques of prehistoric weavers. I have a tapestry series that deals with improbable cave paintings I call Paleo-Mythos, and I’ve carried it over into my woodcuts. I’ve carved paleo-unicorns, paleo-dragons, paleo-griffins... you may detect a fantasy theme there as well. I live in the past and the future more than the present.

How has your work changed and evolved since you started?

I would hope that it’s gotten better. I like fine lines, and better tools make that easier. I’ve also come to appreciate bolder lines and I’m trying to carve more contrast between darks and lights. But it goes against my nature so it’s a struggle.

How do you get past creative slumps?

I change projects. I’ve got so many irons in the fire! Usually they’re all coming due at the same time and I find myself juggling printing, weaving & poetry, as I’m doing right now. I’m editing a medieval poetry collection, weaving a shawl for the dye pot, and getting ready to teach a woodblock carving class (and don’t forget that airship!). Sigh - no time for a slump.

How do you promote your work?

I’ve got my website, and my etsy shop, and my blogs. I enter the occasional show and I’ve won a couple of awards. But basically I stink at it. :) Got any ideas?

Any advice to others who want to try making hand-pulled prints?

Just do it! It’s so much fun. Start with something easy and inexpensive, like linocut -- you can pick up everything you need at Michael’s. Go to and and and for ideas and supplies. Take a class. Read printmaking books. And my all-purpose resource: google. Whatever did we do before the internet? :)

Thanks Ellen! It was a pleasure to interview you!


susan heggestad said...

fun work, ellen!

susan heggestad said...

Excellent interview and great photos! Good to see you "in print" Ellen!

Annie B said...

Nice interview, Ellen. It's good to get to know more about you. You're such a versatile artist!

Ellen Shipley said...

Thanx guys. 8-] I think this is a great idea! We'll eventually have one for every printer on Printsy -- what a great resource.

minouette said...

I enjoyed reading how you moved from one medium to the next, and highly approve of scandalizing one's son with blue hair. ;)

Great interview!

Unknown said...

Ellen, your prints are so creative and beautiful; I admire your use of line and colour and the fluidity of your mark making.