'Imagination will take you everywhere'
An interview with up-and-coming textile designer, Ellie Williams.
In a world that is constantly being bombarded with fresh-faced creative talent, each day seems to bring the discovery of the next ‘big thing’ – be it an artist, designer, writer, filmmaker, playwright… the list goes on. Indeed some of them are the real deal, but some are far from it. Ellie Williams is the real deal. Trust me I know (I’m her twin sister). In the words of Albert Einstein “Imagination can take you everywhere.” And Ellie’s imagination certainly has no bounds. A rose-tinted dreamer from childhood, she has always been fascinated with pattern, colour and design; seeing the beauty in the most ordinary objects is her forte.
Ever since Ellie was a little girl she knew she wanted to be involved with the art world. Our creativity was encouraged by our parents; when we were toddlers our Mum used to draw us Disney Princesses to colour in – just to keep us amused. After that we took to drawing like fish to water, and quickly our messy scribbles turned to precise and detailed depictions. At primary school, Ellie and I were known as the ‘Art Twins’, but it was undoubtedly Ellie who was the best – art lessons was when she would come alive; her paintbrush was her weapon, and she knew how to use it. ‘I loved to express myself through art – and still do. It was the only subject where you weren’t tested on your knowledge – you could just let go and have fun.’
Most professional artists fantasize about having their work exhibited in a London gallery, but for Ellie it was a reality when she was just 17 years old. Her final painting for her AS Level Fine Art course was selected to be shown in the prestigious Mall Galleries for the Annual National Students’ Art Exhibition 2012, a celebration of ‘the best young artists in the country’. The acrylic painting of Barcelona’s gothic quarter features a silhouette of a shifty-looking figure illuminated by the amber rays of a sunset shining down a cobbled street with Gaudi-esque architecture and street lamps. One enthusiastic viewer even wanted to purchase the art work, but ‘It was my first painting that had ever been exhibited, so the sentimental value was too high’ – it now hangs in our living room; reminding us of our escapades in the city during our school trip. ‘It felt really special having my piece exhibited, as it’s always been my dream to exhibit in London – it was almost unreal! All the hard work was definitely worth it.’
In the past 10 years, Ellie’s list of dream careers has changed from artist to fashion designer to fashion illustrator, before she discovered printed textiles at sixth form and immediately knew she wanted to be a textile designer. ‘I’ve always loved fashion design, but not the construction part – like the pattern cutting. So I wanted to combine my love of fashion and fine art, which led me to textile design.’ Currently Ellie is preparing for a summer internship at the design studio of Zandra Rhodes, the textile designer equally renowned for her colourful, quirky designs, as she is for her pink hair. While in September, university awaits – as does the bright lights of London. ‘I come from quite a remote rural village so the buzz and diversity of the capital will be a major inspiration, which I’m sure will be reflected through my work. I’m excited about learning new things, and also the social side of meeting new people with the same interests as me.’
At the moment Ellie is taking a rare break from a hectic few months of intense artwork. She has just finished an Art Foundation Course and has been busy installing her final piece in the exhibition space – but was the year-long preparatory course worth it? ‘The course was short but sweet, and was such a valuable experience. It taught me many lessons; most importantly don’t be afraid of mistakes, as they can turn into your best work. Let your imagination run free – there should be no boundaries. My tutors guided me through problems, yet enabled me total creative freedom – it was liberating. I definitely recommend a Foundation course before embarking on any sort of art degree, as it stretches your creativity and is so different from A-level.’
Her Final Major Project for her Art Foundation was inspired by linear patterns she found on pebbles from a Cornish beach. The outcome: an elaborate Japanese-inspired origami dress/sculpture, with delicate lines screen-printed on to paper and then folded into a complex pleat. Over the course of the project, Ellie estimates that she has hand-folded over 500 pleats. ‘My key influence was the Japanese fashion designer, Issey Miyake, who is the master of pleats’ – prompting Ellie’s tutor to call her ‘the next Issey Miyake’. ‘The concept behind my design was inspired by the Japanese aesthetic, Wabi Sabi, which celebrates imperfection as beauty. I found this fascinating, as it’s so different to our Western ideals of beauty.’ Knitted fabric tumbles dramatically from the waist and neckline of the garment, which is pinned to the ceiling, giving the illusion of a chain-mail veil. This dress was made for a warrior. It looks as if it’s an ethereal creature that’s descended from another planet, like some sort of alien angel. Or as our Dad so eloquently expressed; ‘It looks like something out of Doctor Who.’
As with all students the subject of finance is an increasingly stressful one. But ever the entrepreneur, Ellie has started her own small company on the design portal, Etsy, to try to earn a bit of extra cash for university. The start-up is called Your Journal and involves Ellie designing and creating personalised journal covers from recycled fabric and embellishing them. However this is only the beginning; eventually Ellie’s ambition is to build her own textile design company, ‘creating textile pieces for both interior and fashion’. She cites the fashion designers Mary Katrantzou, Emilio Pucci and Zandra Rhodes (of course), as having careers she ‘dreams of emulating one day.’ I’m certain this dream will soon become reality.
Follow Ellie’s blog your–journal.tumblr.com