One of my favorite things about our coloring books is looking up the artist of a page I really like, because I usually end up falling straight down their rabbit hole. For example, Ellen Leber‘s atmospheric illustrations contain a depth that sucks me right into her world, especially since they are sometimes actually three dimensional.

Tell me more, Ellen…

DA: Hey there, Ellen! Catch me up on what you’ve been doing.

EL: Hi! Just recently my work has been on display and up for sale in Kahaila Cafe down Brick Lane which is pretty exciting as it’s my first solo exhibition. The opportunity came around really randomly and quickly so I put it all together in a mad rush a couple days before. A couple years ago I did some artwork for the band The Sea & I, who recently got in touch and asked if I wanted to display some artwork. It’s a monthly event run by Wilderthorn, a musician who performs at the cafe along with other performers and artists. It was a really nice set up, so whilst the band were playing their songs, my pairings were on the wall behind them. It created a really nice atmosphere as I like to try and create images that are quite immersive and atmospheric. I painted the images whilst listening to their music so the series that I ended up with created a visual narrative that could illustrate the songs. The work is up until the 2nd September so if you’re ever around Brick , go have a look–the cafe does really good cakes and coffee too.

DA: Many of your works are inspired by novels, and even the ones that aren’t seem like they could be one illustration in a larger story.

EL: I love to read fictional literature, especially fantastical and imaginative novels. Whenever I read something that I like the sound of or a sentence that sounds like it could create an interesting image, I write it down somewhere then try to paint it. I mainly paint straight from my head rather than look at other things for reference. Sometimes this is good, but I do need to try and draw from life more. I like to make images that can be perceived in different ways to different people, creating hints of narrative in different ways. I like how with books you have your own personal images of what the characters look like, what their voice sounds like, and even how names are pronounced – like the Harry Potter books and the pronunciation of Hermione’s name… and then you hear how is meant to be pronounced in the film! Also, using literature as inspiration for an image means that you are creating something that is from your mind and influenced by words and descriptions rather than copying an existing image. It is really hard not to copy images that you like. Obviously my work isn’t completely original, but I find just working from text forces me to use my own visions.

DA: My personal favorite pieces of yours are the three dimensional drawings, like A Paper Forest. What inspired you to explore this unique style?

EL: The Paper Forest was inspired by David Hockney’s set designs. I didn’t know he made stage sets and I thought they were amazing. I really like the idea of creating an atmosphere that the spectator can immerse themselves into, so I created a small scale paper forest. I wrote a short story about a man who left his village and went in search for somewhere new to live. He found a lake with Narwhales swimming in it and as he carried on he found a settlement in the forest near the lake. However, the settlement had a dark secret… Instead of painting images that tell the story I decided to make a three dimensional set of the forest settlement and the lake where the story is set. This then allowed the spectator to create their own story using the forest settlement as a base. I guess I like to encourage people to use their own imagination and I find it interesting to see how varied different individuals responses are.

DA: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

EL: When I exhibited the Paper Forest most people thought it was a boy who had done the work. People usually comment that my work is quite dark and that they don’t expect it from me. I don’t mean to make it dark. I just like to make it a bit more interesting and to create stuff for adults, as when you say the word illustrator people automatically think children’s books. The main sort of responses I get and that I quite like are the comments about how the images tell a story, which is my main objective when I paint stuff.

DA: What is your dream project?

My dream project would be to design and make a theatre set!

DA: I would love to see how you colored your own illustration in our coloring book!