If there’s an art to being unique on Instagram, Aussie artist @ellenporteus has it mastered. A self-taught creative with a passion for creating bold, clever and colourful work spanning the realms of illustration, animation and installation, Ellen’s art is all about exploring her journey of self discovery.
We went to Ellen-back with the incredible creative to talk all about honing her craft, growing her career, and taking her art to Instagram and beyond…
How did @ellenporteus come about? What motivated you to start posting your art on Instagram?
I started posting my illustration work to Instagram with no real goal or strategy to gain an audience. This was back in the day before influencers or brands were on the platform. I posted my art, people liked it and that’s how I started getting a larger audience and more work. It’s the way I approached it then, and it’s how I approach it now. I put no pressure on myself to be popular, I look at no analytics. I just keep it fun and stay true to myself.
What’s your mission as an artist? How has Instagram helped you get your art out there?
My personal work is all about self discovery. I like to contrast a meaningful, surprising or even sometimes dark message with the ultra cute, super poppy aesthetic of my work.
Instagram has been such an awesome way of attracting people and clients to my own little corner of the internet, where I can express myself and be creative and share it. It gets a lot of hate (I get frustrated with it and down about it for sure!) but the idea that I can share my world with people is really cool, and there’s no doubt it’s been huge for my career.
“Instagram has been such an awesome way of attracting people and clients to my own little corner of the internet, where I can express myself and be creative and share it.”
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve accomplished as an artist so far?
Just recently I was flown over to New York by Facebook to create a permanent installation in their office, with my friend and collaborator Giulia McGauran. That was a real ‘pinch me’ moment!
You’ve worked with some big brands! Which was your favourite experience and why?
I love when brands give me the trust to bring something new and ambitious to life! A good example of this would be Nike. I was briefed by them to create some kind of live installation for an event, and I pitched a concept where there would be giant sculptural limbs coming from the ground and I would paint it live. They were so enthusiastic about it and helped me make it happen!
What music do you listen to when you’re creating?
For general tasks, I love music with lots of positive energy, like disco classics. For some reason I’ve always sung while drawing, so for intense drawing time, I put on music I know all the words to. I know the Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ back to front, so that’s a top pick!
How do you know when a piece is finished?
It’s all instinctive! I have to get out of my critical, perfectionist mind, listen to my gut and say ‘DONE!’
GIFs, murals, installations, animations – It seems like you’re always creating! How do you juggle so many creative projects and stay focused?
It’s taken me a long time to figure that out. Honestly for a long time, I wasn’t doing it very well. If we take this juggling metaphor – I could juggle all the many, many ‘project’ balls, but would start to drop the ‘life’ balls: relationships, my mental and physical health, sleep!
I’ve worked at it for a long time and now take on a lot less paid work, and make sure I take care of myself and my relationships. I constantly remind myself to slooooow down! That helps me stay focused and happy.
Apart from what you post on Instagram, do you have any other creative projects on the go?
Yes! I’m working on a solo exhibition at the moment which I’m really excited about. I’ll be talking about details soon!
What’s your advice for overcoming self-doubt as an artist?
It’s tough! My advice is to remember to never compare yourself to others, or live by external expectations. You are totally absolutely individual, so your life, your path and your career is going to look different to everyone else’s. And that’s a GOOD thing!
“You are totally absolutely individual, so your life, your path and your career is going to look different to everyone else’s.”
Your work is so unique! What’s your background and how did you develop your current style?
Thank you! I studied to be a graphic designer, but have always been an artist at heart. When I learnt a bit of digital illustration, something clicked and I realised it was the medium for me. It allowed me to create funny, conceptual, bold work. My style was pretty much there as soon as I picked up a digital pen. A mix of influences from 90s cartoons, music videos and pop art.
Talk us through your creative process: how do your ideas get from your imagination to our feed?
I write a lot. Concepts for pieces always start as words. They might stay as words and integrate lettering, or the words might inspire a pattern or an illustration. I sketch it quickly, but most of the work is done in Illustrator with a Wacom tablet, where it gets refined and coloured and refined again until I’m happy with it!
In a sea of talented creators online, what’s your advice for creating unique content that stands out from the crowd?
Ignore trends – they come and go so fast – and focus on the things that you’re passionate about. Immerse yourself in it and let that influence your work and aesthetic. Write down thoughts and ideas and sketch, sketch, sketch until you come up with something that feels super original to you. I guarantee that.
“Focus on the things that you’re passionate about. Immerse yourself in it and let that influence your work and aesthetic.”