Copyright 2008 by the Society of American Mosaic Artists : : PO Box 624, Ligonier, PA

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1 Winter 2008 Copyright 2008 by the Society of American Mosaic Artists : : PO Box 624, Ligonier, PA Artist Profile: Ellen Blakeley Interview Story and photos by Nancie Mills Pipgras Powders, paint, leaves, fabric, photographs and 24K gold leaf are just a few of the favorite things Ellen Blakeley puts under shattered safety glass to exquisite effect in her award-winning mosaics. Working in her Sebastopol CA studio, Ellen splits her time between production work for high-end retailers, commissions for rock stars, and her personal art. What music do you listen to while you work? 70% of the time, I listen to the sound of silence -- literally. The rest of the time, I listen to CD s. My current favorites are Amy Winehouse and John Mayer. What tool could you NOT live without? There are two, actually; tongue depressors and razor blades. What material is essential to you? That one s easy. Safety glass! What food or drink sustains you in the studio? Coffee. I wish it were different, but it s not. (sigh) When did you start calling yourself an artist? When I was 26, I went back to college to finish a degree in English. The admissions officer suggested that I add art as a second major because I only needed another six units to complete it. I thought, well, I could use a couple of ashtrays anyway, so I went along with the plan. Then I found that I really, really liked working in ceramics. One day, I was in the studio when all of a sudden I got this chill down my spine. I heard this voice in my head say, You gotta choose NOW if you want to be an artist or not. Forget the finances. Either stick to it or pick something else. So I chose and stuck. What was your aha moment about being a mosaic artist? I d been working in ceramics for a couple of years and was using leftover tiles to make mosaic tabletops and such. One day I walked past a broken bus shelter and looked down at all this beautiful shattered safety glass on the ground. I thought, Oooh. Free

2 material! and took some home. That night, I experimented with the stuff. I painted a piece of plywood white and glued down the shards with Elmer s or something. I looked at it and thought, Hmmm. That s interesting. The next night, I tried painting the plywood in some interesting colors and used a clear glue. When I was done I looked down, saw this beautiful water effect and a big light bulb went off in my head. I ran into my roommate s bedroom, woke her up and shouted, I think I invented something! She still calls me about once a month and says, Ellen, you invented something!. Where do you get your inspiration? Walking into the studio every day. Honest. There s always something new I want to try. How do you get unstuck? I never, never get stuck and I think I m really lucky that way. Every day when I walk into the studio I can think of a million things to do. There are times when I m not satisfied, but then that just makes me so crazy I keep trying until I get what I want. And then there s that stack of bills on my desk. No, really! That s what I first thought of when you asked the question. Sometimes you just have to be realistic and do the work to fill the order so you can pay the rent. I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that you can t be both financially successful and an artist at the same time. It s okay to be an artist/ entrepreneur. It s all about creating a balance. So how do you create that balance? You have to look at what you re doing objectively. Right now, I m taking a fabulous business plan development class from the Small Business Development Center. It s been a revelation for me. I ve learned that market research is everything and I m now far less afraid of the financials. And you know what? I m no different from the dry waller I sit next to every week. We both have goals for our professional lives. My goal is to get the tile business set up so it can run without me and I can be the head designer. Then I can spend more time in my home studio making chandeliers, glass painting my personal art. What teacher/artist was most critical to you? I m going to give you two answers again. Ron Nagle was my ceramics teacher at Mills College when I was in my 20 s. He s a great artist and has continued to be an incredible mentor to me. He only speaks the truth; I trust his integrity implicitly. When Ron speaks about my work, I listen. The other major influence was my mother. During the 1950 s, she was beginning to get a lot of notice in New York City as a painter. She knew all the right people, was going to all the right parties when she suddenly married, had children and dropped out of the art world. I was lucky enough to grow up in the incredibly beautiful homes she was constantly creating; lovely environments that were filled with wonderful things. At one

3 point, I asked her if she was sorry that she had stopped being an artist. She gave me a dirty look and said, I never stopped. Boy, did I apologize fast! What one thing would you like other mosaic artists to know? They should never, never, NEVER give up. I just don t stop and that s why I m good. It s why I am where I am. Let go of the results! Let go of the masterpiece! Just go into the studio every day and do it! It s that simple and that profound. To learn more ahout Ellen and see even more of her stunning work go to The Studio in Sebastopol, CA Beautiful sinks, bowls, and coasters for sale Detail from fine art piece done as a tribute to Madonna.

4 The Making of a Lurury Tile Recipe. Ellen applying 24K gold foil to tile background by hand. Ellen sprinkling metallic powder to tile background. Completed Champagne tile ready for shipping

5 Tile sample board. Tile offcuts. Maquette for Carlos Santana outdoor wall/fountain Detail of Santana maquette.

6 Ellen s new chandelier line captures the beauty of her technique in a new light. Chandelier in process; each piece is hand painted. More chandeliers destined for Dubai. Nancie Mills Pipgras and Ellen Blakely.

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