When you first glance at Ellie Whittaker’s work you see these bright cheerful textile designs, upon closer inspection you find Ellie’s prints having the profound effect of actually up-lifting your spirits. To see mermaids diving, Bubble O’ Bills hanging out with Golden Gaytimes and girls working the Hula Hoop, it takes you back to childhood. Memories come flooding in and you find yourself reminiscing about the magic of just “playing” as a child. It’s no wonder Ellie is able to make this emotional connection through her work. Having grown up surrounded by textiles and now having four small children of her own, it is not so much about seeking inspiration for design, but life as inspiration.
Working with Designer Ellie Whittaker has been such a joy for us here at Next State. How could you not love printing designs called “Favorite Things” Speaking to every girl’s inner desire for kittens and bows. We were delighted to have the opportunity to ask Ellie more about herself and her work. She has graciously opened up about her design process and love of artist Jeffrey Smart.
- What initially drew you to Textile Design?
My grandmother is a prolific quilter and my mother owned a fabric store for the majority of my childhood, so I’ve quite literally grown up surrounded by textiles (I used to hide and play in the round fabric bolt holders!). I have always been entranced by fabric designs and stories, so to combine the two simply makes sense.
- How would you describe your work, and what influences your aesthetic?
My aesthetic is fairly eclectic; from bright geometrics to quirky illustrative prints and even vintage florals, my range is pretty broad. So I would say that my influences are actually my aesthetic, they’re what draws my body of work together. I was blessed with a very happy childhood and that to me has been the ultimate inspiration. I really aspire to create an emotional connection through shared memory (and hopefully the joy of those memories). I get such a kick when people are excited about my designs because it reminds them of something they love.
- Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? Do you plan each design, does it develop organically or do you have spontaneous moments of inspiration?
Oh, I have a bottomless pool of design ideas in my mind! However, I also have 4 small children and they are my priority, so they help me to keep my daydreams in check. I usually create lists of ideas as they come to me and leave it by my computer. I lose interest in some ideas quickly, but others stick with me and little prompts all around me force me to bring designs to life. (You could liken it to when authors talk about their characters wanting to live!?) When I can’t ignore them anymore I dive into it, and since the ideas have been ruminating in my mind for so long it usually flows very smoothly from there. As for the physical process; my main piece in a collection always starts with a sketch, which is refined by tracing paper and pen, scanned and digitally inked. I love this process, but I’m not a purist about it: some designs are entirely digitally made, because I’ve refined that process to the point that it almost feels as natural as pen and paper, and also because to me it’s largely about the end result, not how many hours I spent slaving away with a pencil or paintbrush. Some designs come to life very quickly (my Vegemite sandwiches were a spur of the moment decision and completed in less than an hour, completely digitally), others take a lot longer (my Flower Girls took weeks of planning, imagery and Flora sourcing, sketching, tracing and digitally editing). Interestingly, the former has been my most popular design to date!
- What would be your dream creative project?
Ultimately, I would love to grow my little label, Girt, until it is more of a player against the ‘Big Guys’, producing completely Australian made, high quality clothing and homewares that are a little bit edgy and out there. I think Australia is ready to back something like that, despite the cost of keeping it local. But I also just love being stretched beyond my limits and trying new things, so I would have to say dream collaborations would be with incredible Aussie brands who are forging the path in similar ways, design-wise: Kip & Co, Lazy Bones, Gorman and Obus, to name a few.
- Do you have a favorite designer or artist you can turn to as a constant source of inspiration?
South Australian artist, Jeffrey Smart is my all-time favourite: he saw the world in such a lovely light. He paints industrial and landscape scenes with a beautiful stylization and lovely pops of colour (I also love illustrator Shaun Tan for similar aesthetics). But there are so many contemporary artists who inspire me. I think I’m drawn more to process than end product so I’d have to say artists who see things in a really unique, graphical way (for example, Roxy Marj and Ashley Goldberg) and aren’t afraid to continually put that out there on social media and in collaborations: I love watching their boldness as it inspires me to do likewise.