We had the good fortune of connecting with Ella Nilsson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ella, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am a Jersey girl, and I grew up mostly in northern New Jersey, exceptions being a beach town in southern NJ, Ventnor, and Tehran, Iran, as my father is Persian. Having lived in Texas for the past 13 years, I can say that the tri-state area definitely shaped who I am, and I wouldn’t have noticed that had I not moved away. For example, I am obsessed with efficiency. Everything from how I approach my artwork, to the order in which I carry out my errands, is mapped out, so that I accomplish items while conserving my most precious resource – time! I think east coast folks get a bad rap for being rude, but taking time to exchange pleasantries does just that. People are direct in their communication style for the same reasons. Nothing personal, I promise! However, I am grateful Texas has softened me up a bit, and appreciate that it’s ok to talk to a stranger, without worrying there must be some hidden nefarious purpose. I do still walk really fast. My time in Iran helped me shape my view of the world. I remember a hot day on the playground in school, and I didn’t understand why I had to have on so many layers of clothing. Of course as an adult I recognize the importance of culture and traditions, but the concept was confusing for a kid. The experience made me acutely self-aware, as I felt a little like an imposter, pretending to blend. Despite the differences, there are qualities that make us all human. People like to come together over food, regardless of the cuisine, and everyone wants their kids to have a life better than they had themselves. Choosing to focus on the similarities, gave me a new lens to look at the world through, with empathy and respect. Geography aside, most of my childhood was spent with my mom and my maternal grandfather, who lived with us. I had a different perspective growing up with someone who survived the great depression and a world war. He was a Swede that grew up in the Bronx; he valued a connection with nature, and always involved me in his home improvement projects. What I thought was old-fashioned as a kid, I would now consider principled or exercising self-discipline. For instance, my grandfather would pin his socks together before throwing them in the laundry in an effort to keep the pair together. My mom instilled in me that learning was a necessary responsibility to grow as a person. She welcomed my curiosity, and despite the absence of search engines, we had the town’s library to allow it to flourish. As a budding teen artist, I may have rolled my eyes when she brought out the anatomy book to demonstrate, but it was intentional, as she knew before I did how I best retained information. My mom always encouraged me to be a “why” person, to look deeper than the superficial, and she did so with patience and kindness. What drives me everyday is to make something better than it was the day before, and it’s this constant cycle to renew and improve that I can accredit to my upbringing. Lastly, any most importantly, humor was a huge part of my childhood. “Busting chops,” is so east coast. Seldom mean spirited, teasing was a way to show affection, and if others didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother saying anything. Being able to laugh at yourself is humbling and it’s especially important not to take yourself too seriously. I was fortunate I had two people, both 67 and 27 years my senior, to teach me that you’re never too old to be a goofball.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I love painting portraits, specifically faces with a lot of contrast or light and dark. I also prefer to work in a series, as it gives me the parameters to fully explore a concept. My “shady ladies” series examines the distortion of cast shadows from hands onto faces, as these two features are often the most expressive. I strive for simplicity in my work and conversely, I love details; these two opposing goals help to define my work. Looking back on 2020, I’m most proud of the commissioned paintings I created. It’s a huge responsibility to trust someone with your loved ones’ likeness, and I was blown away by the trust, subsequently the results. I also started a “shady ladies: quarantine edition” series, in which my friends sent me selfies to use as references for portraits. Despite the distances between us, from across town, to states or even countries away, it was a real treat to hang out with their faces. For sure, being a creative is not easy. As my former boss Paul once told me, the more you put of your authentic self into your work, the better the outcome will be, and the better you will be for it. YOU are what makes your work unique, and it’s the culmination of your unique life experiences and events that shape your approach. With that being said, it’s key to know what your own pitfalls are to success and set up systems to help you avoid them.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m totally a museum nerd and have to go with some of the obvious choices – like the NASA Space Center or the Museum of Fine Arts. My less obvious pick would be the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, as I am a big fan of commercial aviation. Bonus points for art deco design! For both shopping and bargains, Couture Blowout is great pick. I never know what gem i’m going to find. Right around the corner, is West Alabama Ice House and a perfect place to stop for a can of your favorite beverage, play some bar games, and there’s usually a food truck not too far away. Niko Niko’s is also great stop for phenomenal Greek food within walking distance of above.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My first shoutout is to my friends for their endless encouragement. I’m so fortunate to have a crew of such smart, talented, and witty women to call my friends. I’d also like recognize Rachel Hinojosa of Rachel Salome Jewelry. We had talked for years about doing a collaboration together and finally we finished our Star Signs series this year. I am grateful for her partnership, trust, and Capricorn sensibilities. My ongoing work with ATX Gals, the Cathedral ATX and Creative Box Studios. I’m thrilled I got back into teaching art and am thankful for the opportunity and platform to help others improve their portraiture. To my husband, Ryan, step-daughter Riley, and my mom, Karen, thank you for putting up with me, feeding me, and family game nights. I love you guys and think we have a pretty awesome pod! Also, our cats Jack and Joey for ensuring there is never a dull moment.
Facebook: @EllaNilssonArt (apparently FB won’t let me swear)
Other: Online portfolio: HandyBitches.com
Online workshops: creativeboxstudios.com