illustrator ellen porteus talks creativity, colour and the benefits of taking showers

by Emily Naismith

frankie x msi creator laptops ellen P2

You’ve probably seen Ellen Porteus’ artworks around – they’re the cute, clean drawings melting your eyes with pastel colour schemes delicious enough to eat from a waffle cone. We spoke to the Melbourne-based artist about how she tackles creative blocks, time management and the practical side of bringing her ideas to life. Oh, and we also made a pretty spiffy video with Ellen where we spent a day with her.

Hi Ellen! Tell us a bit about yourself and the art you make. I am an illustrator, animator, and I also do installation work, so I kind of just put myself under the umbrella of ‘artist’. I’d describe my style as really bold vector work that’s sort of cartoony in nature, really fun and tongue-in-cheek.

What does a typical day look like for you? I’m not a morning person, so I wake up pretty late and get myself to some kind of exercise class – like samba, barre, yoga or dance – anything that’s really difficult and high-energy to wake me up. Then I’ll come back home, grab a coffee and play with my dog, before settling into work. Every night before I go to bed, I list what I need to do the next day, so as soon as I get to my desk I know what I’m doing. After answering any urgent emails, I’ll get stuck into work, which could be sketching concepts for a client or working on the computer creating natural illustration.

I’m also doing more on-site mural and installation work. I work from home, so I always have a home-cooked lunch, then might move around the house with my laptop to mix it up a little bit, or sometimes I’ll visit my partner who has his own plant shop, and work from there. Then I’ll come home in the afternoon to finish off anything. I always set aside time at night to have a proper dinner away from the desk, and relax by going for a walk, jumping in the pool or going to the pub. I don’t like having the same day twice, because I can get quite bored and restless!

What’s your creative process when it comes to idea creation? I like coming up with concepts that are clever and make sense, so I find writing them down with words helps, then I’ll move into really rough sketches on paper. Then I’ll take a quick snap and move into computer work, because I find it’s the quickest way for me to visualise an idea. I sketch out the ideas on the computer, send them to the client, find out which one they want to move forward with, then I’ll do a proper version on Illustrator. I use a drawing tablet to work up the final piece, introducing colour (choosing colour palettes is one of my favourite parts!) and adding in detail. With animation there’s another whole step, which is very technical and time-consuming!

Do you have any tips or tricks to spark creativity? I find just getting in and drawing stuff is the easiest way, even if it’s bad or not related to the problem I’m trying to solve. If I’m really stuck, I take as many showers as I need to (another benefit of working from home!). It just refreshes you and feels like starting over. Everyone knows that cliché of coming up with ideas in the shower, but it’s 100 per cent definitely a thing!

You’ve recently been working on the MSI PS63 Modern laptop. How did you find it? Good! Animation is quite RAM-heavy and can slow down your computer, but this was super-fast, so I could see the animation come together in real time, without any delays. The graphics were super-clear. It’s also got a good battery and it’s really light, so it’s easy to carry around – and because I move around a bit throughout the day, that’s been good.

What programs do you use to create your work? Illustrator is the main one. For anything drawing-related, I use a tablet to draw directly onto the computer, then After Effects to animate work.

Do you have any tips or tricks for the programs you use? Becoming familiar with the technical side of things, but then adapting that however you want to work for you specifically. There are lots of tutorials out there and people will tell you the ‘right’ way to do something, but the more comfortable you are doing it your own way, the more natural the outcome is.

Do you have a different approach for hand-painted works and pieces created on a laptop? Yeah, pretty much. Instead of working up the final in Illustrator, I’ll just do a ‘rough’ on the computer, then translate that to a mural by painting it. I’m doing a big laser-cutting project at the moment where I’m laser-cutting wood, so I designed them all on the computer then painted them by hand. It’s always a mix of using technology and traditional techniques, just because I’m so comfortable with using a computer.

Have you always loved computer-based design? It sort of evolved. I studied graphic design and in that degree I got to try a lot of different things like watercolour and other traditional forms of art-making. Nothing felt right until I started drawing on the computer. I just found it the most natural way for me to create the things I wanted to make – these super-vibrant repeating patterns. I don’t have a natural, tactile look to my work; it’s very clean and very bold, and I found that as soon as I started drawing on a computer I was like, “Oh, this totally makes sense and this is what I’m trying to do – finally!” It’s the right medium for me, and it took a lot of experiencing other mediums to find that out.

How did you build up such an amazing bunch of clients? I’ve been doing this for five years now. I was slogging it out for a year without getting any work really, just basically working full-time on my own personal work. So, I think the way I built up the big clients was by working really hard at the start to establish my style as my own very unique thing. Then clients wanted that unique thing.

We chatted to Ellen in collaboration with MSI, who launched the new PS63 Modern laptop earlier this year. It’s super-lightweight, has 16-hours of battery charge and can be optimised for all sorts of creative work via the MSI Creator Centre. Check it out here, and take a closer look at Ellen’s bright illustrations on her website and Instagram.

frankie x msi creator laptops ellen P2

fancy some weekly
frankie in your inbox?



oh hello there!

fancy some weekly frankie in your inbox
(with access to special exclusive giveaways)?
just enter your e-mail address to sign up.