Theo Ellsworth is an artist based out of Portland, Oregon who uses a host of mediums to create the most absorbingly intricate illustrations, woodcuts, comic books, zines and prints, exploring themes as varied as space travel and Mayan architecture. After seeing an amazing piece of 12" cover artwork he had created for the Space Cadets label, we got in touch with Theo to find out more about his work and ideology.
You are an artist. What decisions did you make that made you who you are today instead of say, a marketing man or a lumberjack?
If I did anything else, I'd be miserable. I've definitely reached crossroads a number of times in my life, where it felt like I needed to make the decision to dedicate myself to my art or go astray. Drawing has felt more like a navigational tool for me than anything else. The times in my life where I wasn't drawing regularly feel like the rockiest. Making art helps me think and it helps me see the world from different angles. It helps me get closer to the world and also makes me step back and see it from afar. I would like to be able to live in harmony with my own imagination and have it be the work that I do to support my family.
Mayan symbology and space are two kind of contrasting themes (though not if you believe this to be true), why do they feature so prominently in your work?
I love looking at ancient art. The way people must have thought back then and the way they saw the world proably had a level of intensity we can hardly imagine. I think there's something to all the old myths and characters that have been documented by artists over the centuries. I also love science fiction and theoretical science. Trying to imagine the kinds of things that could be possible and exploring seemingly outlandish concepts stretches our imaginations. I'll be interested in seeing that documentary you linked to.
Your pieces are incredibly detailed, how long does each one take you to complete?
I tend to lose track of time when I'm working. I also tend to work on a lot to pictures at once, so I'm never really sure how long I've spent on any one piece, especially when I'm working on my comics. It's the drawing on the detail that really helps me feel like I can sink into the picture and have a look around. I try to draw simpler stuff sometimes, but I end up always having to put little lines everywhere. It's like I can't see the idea clearly enough until I've done that.
You work across various mediums, got a favourite?
Ink. I use a rapidograph, which is a kind of refillable ink pen. I love the immediacy of drawing. I can just jump right in and start going somewhere with it.
I saw you mention you were exploring the notion of parallel realities in your work, how did this influence your pieces and do you believe in the theory?
Some concepts about parallel realities have been sneaking their way into my comics. I should probably read up on what the theoretical scientists have to say about it. I'm not really familiar with the going viewpoints on how such a concept would work. In a way, I could say that the world of my art feels sort of like a parallel reality that I'm responsible for documenting. The strange, murky area where the imagination and science can merge is what really fascinates me.
Where do the stories in your comics come from?
The comic that I'm working right now feels like it's been slowly forming in my subconscious for years. It feels more like I'm trying to document something than make something up. I've been getting to know the characters as i go and the process of trying to understand them has been a strange and interesting time.
Would you give up art if you could travel into space?
I think that going into space, with the technology we have now, would mostly just be uncomfortable. If I could astrally project myself through to other planets and realities, I'd be pretty into that. Or if I could have a spaceship that was like a really nice house inside and could time-jump through space, so it wouldn't take a thousand years to get somewhere.
What advice would you pass on to the next generation of artists?
If I could say anything, it'd probably just be to trust their own artistic process. So many people get obsessed with thinking there's some correct way to make art, or that they should model their work arround what they think people want to see. I think there is something important about the way someone's work naturally wants to come out and following those weird inclinations is the only thing that can lead them to something vital and new.
Check Theo's work on his website or blog and buy some very, very fairly priced prints and comics from here.