Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Melody Ellis – Artist Interview

Today’s interview is with Melody Ellis. I have loved her work for years. I can’t remember where I became acquainted with amazing sculptures, but her work has always been one of my favorites. All of her work is made from earthenware clay, steel and range from 7 – 9 inches in their largest dimension. Most of her work has moving parts as well.

Check out Melody’s website:

m.ellis jumping%20dog%20sideTell us a little about yourself!
I’m approaching 40 and have a small child who gets most of my time and attention. I’m fortunate to be married to another clay artist (Matt Wilt) who is my instant community when I need some technical help or input. At present, we have to carefully schedule our time so that we can both get studio, social, and family time. I relax by gardening and
playing with our daughter and our dogs, or getting together with friends.

m.ellis Rocking%20Monkey m.ellis Rocking%20Monkey%20detailHow did you become an artist?
My parents and maternal grandfather were very handy people when I was growing up– always making or fixing things.  Whether it was painting or carving or cooking or gardening, I got the message that making things by hand was a useful and engrossing occupation. I also come from a family of avid object-collectors, so I got to live in a house full of interesting and mysterious artifacts that I still find inspiring.

m.ellis Mr%20Punch How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with
your own style and signature look?
I guess I would describe my style as exuberant, dark, humorous, controlled, detailed… It’s a difficult thing to say when one develops a “style”, as it’s a process of evolution that is never complete. The more you work, the more it develops all on its own– it’s just a natural process.

punch What is your inspiration for your pieces?
I love to look at other artwork, whether historical majolica, handmade quilts, mosaic, or contemporary painting. I tend to gravitate toward figurative and narrative work, which is my own subject matter as well. But I do also take inspiration from toys, antiques, book illustrations… I think you just have to keep your eyes open and take it where you find it. It can come from anywhere. Just being in the world, gardening, interacting with people and animals, taking a walk with my daughter,  it all finds its way into my work.

m. ellis Judy%201m.ellis Judy%202What keeps you motivated?
Sometimes it’s the desire to see what happens next or to try something new or to just finish a piece I’m excited about.  Sometimes it’s a deadline, and that’s valid too– that really works for me when I’m not feeling particularly interested in working. A good audiobook and the prospect of some quiet concentration time can also be very alluring.

m.ellis Busts Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?
I can’t say I’m full-time. I don’t have an outside job, but being the mother of a small child who is not yet in school is very time-consuming and really restricts my studio time. As for new pieces… a lot of that, for me, has always been dependent on having the time to daydream and ponder and sit quietly with my sketchbook, or get out to shows for new inspiration.  Those things are in short supply these days, but I can usually get excited about an idea just by looking through my sketchbook at things I haven’t gotten to yet. I start with a drawing of a finished piece I’d like to create, and my next step is to figure out how I’m going to construct it. Since my sculptures have jointed parts and hang on the wall, there is a lot of planning ahead required to make a successful piece. That’s a fun challenge for me. I always have a well of unrealized ideas to choose from because I don’t get into my studio enough to make all the work I’d like to– but this keeps me energized and excited about making new work.

M.Ellis Pugilist%201m.ellis Pugilist%202What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?
I have always enjoyed making things by hand, since I can remember. Nothing else I’ve tried, or other jobs I’ve had, has really changed that or taken me from it.

m.ellisLive%20Mermaid%20mosaicWhat or who inspires you?
My family, other work I see, colors, textures, pieces I’ve made that have been successful or unsuccessful, discovering a new material or process, the excitement of a show coming up, approaching a new concept and hoping it will work, spending time with friends who are artists and who experience the same struggles and successes, getting out of the
studio and into the world.

m.ellisKrampus%203 m.ellis Krampus%202M. Ellis Krampus%20dHow do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?
I don’t have much choice right now– my schedule is pretty structured at the moment. Having less free time has really made me appreciate the quiet studio time that I do get to myself. I’m a bit of a daydreamer and slowpoke, and I’ve learned since becoming a mother that I can work even when I’m not in the mood, and I can work a lot faster and more efficiently than I thought. I now work in chunks of time as I get them, and I can shift gears a lot more quickly than I used to. The rest takes care of itself– I play with my daughter, have family outings, see friends, garden and spend time outside– almost anything I want to do, I can do with a 3-year-old, except working in the studio.

monkey-1-hi-resYou, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having
to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?
I have always made it a point not to mix business and art more than is necessary. I know this would be completely impractical for many, but since I am not a full-time artist making a living from my work (and have never aspired to be), I have enjoyed being able to work slowly and do whatever I like in the studio. In the past, I have had full- or part-time jobs to support myself, and kept a home studio where I worked as much as possible. Now my husband supports the family with a university teaching job, I take care of our daughter, and Matt and I both eke out studio time where we can.  Having said that, of course the time comes when one must decide if, when and how to show one’s work– and then price it. My disinterest in business and production ruled out craft fairs and shows. I have mainly tried to find a few fine craft galleries that can show my work in exhibits on a regular basis, and then taken part in group shows when I can. I do keep track of expenses and income, but that’s more for my own amusement than for any other purpose. I declare my art income, and there is a reckoning on tax day some years, but it’s all pretty small potatoes.

m.ellis figureheadWhat advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?
Look at a lot of stuff that excites you, work as much as you can, try new things, talk to and watch people– especially those who are good at what they do, and are generous with their knowledge. Take every opportunity that comes your way, as much as possible. It will all lead you somewhere, even if that path isn’t evident at the moment.

m.ellis Amazing%20Twin%20Girls%20mosaic

Melody, thank you for contributing to your interview to my blog, I’m sorry it took me so long to post.  It was a real pleasure reading about you and your thoughts!!

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