We had the good fortune of connecting with Elise Gray and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elise, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I’m not entirely sure if there was a thought process. It feels like something that was just naturally waiting to happen whenever I was ready to allow it. I think I sort of fell into starting my business as an artist by saying, “No,” to a few opportunities. Instead of saying yes to everyone else’s idea of what I should do, I decided to carve out a little space for myself to exist professionally.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In 2019, I decided to quit my full-time job at an agency and take a break from the rat race. I feel like the universe rewarded me for choosing my happiness over anything else, for once. First thing in the morning, new ideas poured into me. And like clockwork, I began creating collages nearly every day. The process for designing my collage work is usually pretty erratic. Usually, I’ll have a dream or an image will pop into my head. I’ll go online and sift through stock photos, old magazines, and then I’ll photoshop them all together. Sometimes I do it on my laptop, but most of the time I do it on my iPad. There are times where a collage comes into its own within five minutes. There are other times where it takes several hours. Sometimes a piece can take a month. It depends on my vision and ability to find the images I’m looking for. To date, I’ve created over 50 pieces with this process. When I jumped into my artwork, I started posting it on Instagram every day. People gradually asked me for commissioned pieces and prints. That led me to meet other artists and do some group shows. Eventually, I had a steady income of commissions coming through, so I decided to dive into the not-so-fun part of doing all the taxes and establishing a website. With that came the business name. Being of Panamanian and Mexican descent with a large Romanian nose and whatever else thrown in, I’ve always looked unique. Growing up, bug eyes and a big nose weren’t considered conventionally attractive features. To be frank, I got called ugly a lot. Sometimes by adults. Sometimes by other kids. So, when the time came to name my business, I decided on Uglee Designs to take some power back by making it a positive thing. Why would someone sell ugly things? There’s just something funny about taking a negative subject and posing it however you please. I think you’ll find that my artwork also reflects this. Whether it’s a lady hitchhiking in the clouds or a monster overtaking a city, I love putting things where they don’t belong. I leave the cuts sort of jagged, and I don’t always seamlessly blend everything. It’s purposefully messy and some might love the ugliness of that, while some might hate it. I think that’s what makes it interesting to look at. What excites me the most is the opportunity to create. Since leaping out of my initial writing gig, I’ve shown my art in a gallery. I had an art studio in Los Angeles for a while. As of current, I am a resident artist at Art Square Studios on Almeda. Art has given me the opportunity to be myself, and to meet really wonderful, inspiring people along the way. If the art I create through Uglee Designs does anything, I hope it inspires those around me to welcome the unconventional with open arms. I think there’s some beauty on the other side of all ugly things if we’re willing to look.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would most definitely take any first-time visitors to the Cockrell Butterfly Center to start. Who doesn’t want a giant butterfly landing on their finger? I would also take them to Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, so they can experience a waterfall in the middle of the city. Food-wise, man. Nothing beats Houston. I can say that and mean it because I’ve lived somewhere else and traveled a decent amount. I will always, always recommend BB’s Cafe — especially during crawfish season. Another die-hard for me is Niko Niko’s. If you like Greek food, you’ve got to try it. Their gyros are delicious and their outdoor seating is an awesome place to hang out. I’ve dragged multiple people there. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to my cousin, Jonathan. Unfortunately for the world, he is no longer here. I feel that in order to properly honor his memory, it is my responsibility to live a life that is authentic. It is thanks to that promise and through his immense love for me that I have been able to accomplish difficult tasks, both professionally and personally. I’ll forever be grateful for my brief time with him.
Other: Writing and Art Portfolio: https://elisegray.com/
Credits for the main photo to Masha Raymers (for background collage subject)