Find out what happened when we chatted to illustrator, craft market organiser and jack-of-all-crafts Miss Ella. It’s a great read if you like cats, the moon, reading on mountains and fairytales to name a few things.
1. Homeware, jewellery, cards… You make so many different things! How did you end up being a master of so many different craft skills?
Sometimes I think I diversify too much! As a teenager I was forever making my own clothes and accessories, so when it came to further education, I did a Fashion Diploma.
I then went on to study an HND in Theatrical Costume at London College of Fashion, and started work making dance costumes in London. Embroidery was a part of that and as the industry evolved I was soon digitizing for computer embroidery too. This led on to an interest in digital and motion graphics, so I finally did my degree in Animation followed by a Masters.
So to cut a long story short, I’ve always been somewhat of a multi-tasker, eager to experiment with different techniques and media. My business has been the perfect platform to bring everything together under the name Miss Ella.
At the moment I’m also doing a ceramics course, so who knows what will come next – judging by my results it won’t be pottery! I guess illustration and the creation of new worlds is always my number one priority.
2. Your craft markets are a big success in Norwich. What inspired you to start running them and what’s been the biggest challenge in getting it off the ground?
As a trader, I had been to so many markets where those organising them hadn’t really been marketing them properly or been conscientious about the traders. As any trader who’s been at an unadvertised and poorly organised market will know, it’s the most demoralising day out to make £2.50 and then spend £4 at the cake stall. I should have got into making cakes!
It’s been really interesting seeing it from both sides, I’ve learnt as much about being a trader as I have about running markets. The most heartbreaking thing is having to say no to people who’ve worked so hard. I keep the market small – no more than 30 stalls, so the traders can make a fair profit. This does mean it’s incredibly oversubscribed. The most important thing is that the traders are happy and the work is of a high standard, and original and varied.
3. Your work is clearly inspired by fairytales and folklore. Does that stem from your childhood or is it something you became interested in later in life?
As an only child I grew up living in my own little bubble and read a lot. From the Faraway Tree to Princess and Curdie, to traditional stories, I always found it blissful to get lost in fairytales. As a teen I loved the books of Martin Millar, who’d write about punk rock fairies living in New York, making the fairytales relatable and real.
My father lived abroad so I’d spend summers in Italy and Zimbabwe (where I lived for a short time as a child). When I’d visit him, we’d go to the English book shop to get supplies and he’d give me books of his to read too. Those times spent on mountains under the stars are such magical memories and still inspire me now.
4. What’s your favourite fairytale and why?
The Dead Moon. The moon is a common theme in my work.
When I was a small child and my dad lived on the other side of the world, he told me to look at the moon and that he would be looking at it too from where he was, so we’d be together. That always stuck with me so anything relating to her beautiful wonder strikes a chord.
5. Fairytales usually have a deep moral meaning behind them. What would you say is the moral of the stories in your illustrations?
I think we’ve lost the art of just getting lost in the process. We always want instant results. It’s so important for us as sensitive humans to create for our own sense of wellbeing. So a lot of my work is inspired by the fascination of making – like cats sewing, knitting or drawing.
On a more moral note, it often seems people lose the moral compass they had as children when they reach adulthood. They lose their innocent sense of right and wrong. I always find stories which reinforce that quite fulfilling. I don’t know if it’s some kind of reassurance that all will be well with the world after all.
6. Who’s your favourite illustrator at the moment?
I love Femke Hiemstra’s work. Her paintings on found objects are beautiful and her drawings in the book The Timid Cabbage are simply divine!
7. We’ve seen your cats on Instagram. They’re beautiful, tell us all about them.
We adopted Chewbacca and Tiger as little triangular balls of fluff. They were kittens from the RSPCA. They’re sisters and 9 now. They regularly wallop each other but to us they are the most loving cats I’ve ever had. I grew up with lots of different cats and my dad always had cats around when I’d stay with him too.
8. We also hear you love traveling around Japan. What do you like most about the country?
Where do I start! I went for the third time this year, and every time it gets more magical. The people are the most gracious I have ever met, the food is delicious (although tricky for a veggie!), and the landscape is perfect.
Racing along on the bullet train looking out of the window at those painterly lands is something I could do forever. I love the quirky nature of the way people live. Higgledy houses, skyscrapers next to beautiful temples, plants scattered all over outside little wooden homes making them feel like something from a fairytale. Ladies in kimonos alongside the eclectic counterculture Harajuku styles. I love it all!
Oh, and Japanese 7/11 and Family Mart have the best snacks ever!
9. Has your time in Japan influenced your work? How?
Japan has always inspired my work but often I don’t get time to draw whilst we’re there as we’re always on the go.
This time I made time to sketch elements, which I made into a postcard set and I’m currently working on a Harajuku Cats calendar, so it has been a little more direct. We go back next September so I’m determined to soak up even more into my sketchbooks.
10. What’s your next big project or ambition you’re working towards (if it’s not a secret!)?
Once Christmas is over (a very busy time for online sales and markets!) I’ll be working on my dolls’ house room. The Castle Museum in Norwich has an exhibition called Small Stories. Twenty artists were chosen to each create a dolls’ house room. I am creating a cat’s sewing room so there will be lots of miniatures to make, from sewing machines to tiny cotton reels and clothes.
My illustration will continue alongside, as I complete my graphic novel style picture book, which I’m currently just over half way through finishing.
What’s your spirit animal?
Well, I have to say a cat here!
What would you be if you weren’t an illustrator and crafter?
If I were supple enough, I still harbour dreams of running away with the circus as an acrobat. (Hence I have a lot of circus related illustrations!) I think because it involves dressing up in sparkly clothes, traveling the world and bouncing around in the clouds.
What do you think happens to people when they die?
That’s a hard one. I always feel people that have left us are still around in some form. I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking or just a general feeling that we’re all just part of one spiritual mass.
Cauliflower cheese and chocolate. Not together… although?
The best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Just get on with it. The only thing you can do when fears are stopping you from doing something is to ignore them. (From Katriona Chapman’s fabulous zine, KatZine.) This was in relation to finishing my book, the worries that I may hate it by the time I get to the end of it, and other people may hate it too.
Well you’d never start on anything if you were waiting for perfection before you started it!