Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NYC
Ellie Winberg departed from the corporate world over ten years ago to begin her artistic practice in a storefront in Carrol Gardens. Today she shares the studio with her partner in crime, fellow Artsicle artist Mauricio Morillas, and she hasn't looked back on the bank she left behind. Ellie creates wonderfully textured works out of handmade paper that evoke the feeling of sculpture, but, being paper, hang nicely on a wall. For anyone out there one TPS report away from quitting your job in pursuit of the arts...read on at your own risk.
How did you end up in Brooklyn?
I’m originally from the Detroit area. I lived in the Netherlands during high school, and then I went to college in California; I moved here after graduation. I’ve been here in Brooklyn ever since.
Have you always been creative?
I mean, I think every artist probably says that, “drawing was my favorite class in kindergarten.” I took a longer route to get to where I am now than I think is typical. When I graduated I felt I needed a “real job” so I went into banking for 20 years before I decided to make the plunge and pursue my career as an artist. I haven’t regretted it.
Did you go back to school for art, or just start working?
I always had some studio space. I was sharing it with other friends, and I would come like one day a week on a Saturday. I got this space in the early 90s and found myself spending more and more time here. One night I got so carried away that I saw dawn. I thought “Oh my goodness, I’ve got to go to work!” I knew that was the beginning of the end of my corporate career. The job market was such that banks were being acquired and merged and all that, so I had an opportunity to leave and I took it. That was in 2001, just before September 11.
And how has your 10 years working as an artist been?
Oh it’s been great. I have to pinch myself because I feel so different than when I was working in a normal job. I was very manic, trying to do everything and getting nothing accomplished in my life. Yeah, it’s definitely a road I’ve taken that I haven’t looked back on.
When you were still working full time, you still made time for the studio?
Yeah...but I never finished anything. I had the studio for a period of almost 10 years before I quit, and I’d never finish anything. I’d just come and dabble I guess, it was very frustrating. It was more about doing something than creating something, and I’m still feeling that difference. I had all of this feeling of expression when I was first leaving work, and I did really big pieces, and then i found no market for it. I thought to myself, “if you’re going to pursue art you’re going to need someone that is going to look at it, it’s not just you venting all your expression.” So I kind of feel the interaction between what my art is trying to say, and what people see in it. I find that dynamic very exciting.
You work in a very unique medium- how did you arrive at that?
It was a very conscious decision- it’s a handmade paper that I’ve kind of developed my own process to create as an artform, not in a stationary or collaging way. I realized at my state in life, I’m probably 20 years behind in developing drawing and painting skills, I wanted to do art, so I thought, “what could I do that would be unique?”
I was flipping through Pratt’s catalogue, and there was a class for papermaking in someone’s actual papermaking studio. I didn’t want to be sitting in a classroom, in college I tried some art classes, but I couldn’t deal with the critique settings. I’m too self conscious. I think there were like four of us in this guy’s studio, and he said we could just spend the day there, which was really unique. When that class ended he said we could make an arrangement for anyone that wanted to keep working there to privately use the studio space. I met a friend there, and and we both wanted to work something out, so we did that for a year. She and I decided we really wanted our own studio, and we went hunting for space and eventually found this space. She decided to go down a different route, and i kept the studio. Now I have another studiomate, Mauricio Morillas, we work together. So that’s the story in a nutshell.
I just found so many things to explore with paper- I love the texture, I love that you can touch it, and while you’re making it you touch it. If I were doing painting I feel like it would be hard to resist getting my hands in it and finger painting as opposed to using a brush, so this medium sort of supports the urge I have to touch it- it’s just water and fiber and pigment. I built these tables with screens, and I just pour it, I don’t press it, I let it air dry so it keeps all its texture, and I just create layers on layers on layers until I get what I want.
What’s the process of papermaking- what does that entail?
I have a machine called a beater, and I just add water and fiber and it sort of beats up the paper and elongates the fibers so you get this oatmeal type pulp. When the fibers are elongated, it’s like cotton, when you wash it, it shrinks. When they dry, they curl up and bond. If you beat it the correct way, when it bonds it becomes very strong. I also add sealants at the end after I add pigments. The conventional way of making handmade paper demands very thin, pristine sheets- with my paper the more texture it has, the better. I work anywhere from small squares, to largest piece I’ve done which was 6’x8’.
Do you draw inspiration from other artists?
Mauricio and I work closely, and sometimes we collaborate. He has a feeling of minimalism in his work which I borrow, and I think he borrows some of my colors. I’ve decided consciously that when I have so much texture going on, that it becomes over complicated if I try to add anything else to it. I try to keep it very simple. It’s hard to keep things simple. Sometimes I play with mixed media- there’s just so many things to explore.
Is there any figurative quality to your work?
It’s just where the paper takes me. I mean, I start off maybe with an idea or a technique, like I want to cut the paper up, or I want to mix in some copper, but once it starts going down a certain path I have to finish it. I try to keep any other idea that comes up while I’m doing it for the next piece.
How often are you in the studio?
I’m in here every day. Sometimes it’s just to play with the cats, and other times to meditate.
Safe to say you’re much happier now than you were in the corporate world?
Oh yeah... I mean, I was neurotic before. I’m much happier, and calmer, and I can think more clearly. Sometimes I wish that I had just stuck to art to begin with, but you know I did this formula, where you get your job, save your money and then one day you can do what you want to do. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everybody. If you can just start off doing what you want to do, why not?