We were pleased to speak with Ellen Brook a friend of the Cañada College Fashion Design and Merchandising Department. In addition to serving on our advisory board, she is a vendor at Artistry in Fashion and has a new exhibit that just opened in Santa Cruz.
Cañada Fashion Department (CFD): In addition to being on the Fashion Department’s advisory board, you also are a vendor at Artistry in Fashion. How long have you done both and what are your favorite parts of those roles?
Ellen Brook (EB): I joined the Advisory Board earlier this year. I love that the Board includes such a diverse cross section of individuals. I’m just getting to know the other advisors, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to have pattern makers, academics, designers, manufacturers and retailers all in one room exchanging ideas and perspectives. It’s quite an honor to be a part of this “village” and be able to contribute to the conversation around how the Design Department can be most effective for its students.
This will mark my 5th year participating in Artistry in Fashion. I like the direct connection to the community, along with the enthusiastic support for independent, local design generated by this event. There’s nothing like having my artwork appreciated by an audience that values hand painted, hand made pieces that are made by me.
CFD: What is the best part of your job?
EB: I feel so lucky because I get to explore the creative process and call it a job! Undoubtedly it’s a tremendous amount of work, but there’s something so energizing and enchanting about not knowing what will come next and how the story will end. I imagine it to be what writing poetry might be like for a poet – whittling down ideas, words and sounds to the essence of something which only that poet can offer to the world – whether it reads as beautiful, moving, emotional, colorful or inspiring. Through painting and transforming fabric into designs, new pieces come into being and I continue to learn about color, design and business but also about myself.
I also love the fact that my artwork can be enjoyed in so many ways – as clothing, artwork or even home decor. Finally, I must say that it’s an adventure of a lifetime. I am constantly growing, plus I meet inspirational and interesting people I would have otherwise never met.
CFD: What does a typical day of work look like for you?
EB: There’s no typical day. Which suits me just fine since I thrive on variation. But any given week typically includes constant movement between painting, designing, steaming, ironing, networking, marketing, accounting (yep!), meetings, studio visits, collaboration with my ’team’, shipping items and research. Some weeks are event-driven, since I show/sell both my artwork and my clothing in a variety of venues. For instance, this week I spent time preparing for “Uncommon Threads” and driving to Santa Cruz to install my work. Installation of my large, hanging artwork can take hours or even days.
CFD: Can you tell us more about the show, “Uncommon Threads” that is featuring your work?
EB: “Uncommon Threads” is an exciting show that will be worth the drive! It’s unusual for a Museum to put together this kind of show, but Santa Cruz has a special relationship with the intersection between art and fashion. For 10 years, a dedicated team has produced “FashionART Santa Cruz”, an unconventional runway show that brings together artists and designers to celebrate the vast creativity related to fashion. I participated for two years (you can see the videos on my website at www.ellen-brook.com/shop) and it was a blast to share the runway with models wearing bones or vinyl records or window blinds fashioned into something wearable. The runway show has been electric.
In my apparel and accessories, my focus is creating sophisticated style through hand painted fabric design, sensual materials, and amazing colors. Those who know my clothing don’t necessarily realize that I also create large paintings. I bring the same aesthetic and voice to this artwork, although the form is no longer the body but the wall or a ceiling or a space. The “Uncommon Threads” show is the first time that different types of my work have been shown together, in a way that blurs the lines between them. So creating clothing is just one aspect of a larger art practice for me. They each inform the other.
I see the installation as a large 3-D piece of abstract artwork that contains references to various styles, forms, textures, color stories and markings that are ‘threads’ in my work. There are also references to the playful and whimsical side of my personality and style too.
CFD: What advice can you offer to our students that want to be entrepreneurs?
EB: My best advice is to play. Experiment. But also be patient. I didn’t know I had a creative bone in my body until I was 40. It showed up through play and experimentation. You never know what you are capable of until you dig deep and honor your own calling in your own way. But you must also dig deep and do the work without conceit, and with respect for the strengths of others in the field, whether they work with you, for you, or compete with you. On the practical front, I’ve also had another ‘job’ outside of art that has allowed me to stay committed to this journey. For some of you, finding a way to fund your dreams may give you the time needed to nurture your ideas and reach your long-term goals.
Thank you, Ellen. We wish you continued success!