Q + A with Ellie Contreras
Ellie Contreras is a painter living in Guilford, United Kingdom. She uses her recovery from alcohol addiction as a driving force and creative outlet to keep her mind and wellbeing at ease. This sense of addiction and self-care is apparent in her artistic themes.
1. You explain that you used to suffer an alcohol addiction, and that your art has been an important factor in your recovery. Does your art reflect this new found perspective on life? What is your creative process?
Even though I haven’t had a drink in nearly five years my addiction is still there, waiting in the shadows, so I have to be very careful of my mental state. Making art is a way for my mind to rest and find calm. I also realized that I desperately needed a creative outlet for my general wellbeing. When I was young I was always making art, it made me happy; it was who I was. Somewhere along the line I forgot that.
The freedom, positivity, energy and creativity in my art is a reflection my new found perspective in recovery. Before my recovery I felt trapped and depressed, my creativity was dormant for a long time. Two years into recovery, when I started making art again, it was like the floodgates had opened and I was buzzing with creative energy. I think that comes across in the art. I am also starting to represent my experience of recovery in a more direct way, like in my painting ‘Fools Gold’, which will was exhibited at the Epsom and Ewell Contemporary Art Exhibition in July. In this painting I explore the theme of having a hopeless insatiable longing for something which is actually worthless because that is what addiction felt like for me. I have lots of other ideas around this theme which haven’t made it onto canvas yet, but hopefully will soon.
My creative process when I paint usually starts with a spark of an idea. Sometimes it is pretty fully formed but often I need to let it stew in my imagination for a while. When I feel ready to tackle it I develop it further by taking photographs and making sketches. The painting part of the process is usually pretty quick. I generally complete a painting in a day or two. If I spend too long fussing over it the painting loses it's energy and it’s ruined. I also have a new rule: I always paint with a paintbrush slightly larger than I am comfortable with. This forces me to be freer with my brushstrokes.
2. What kind of struggles do you have? How do you deal with them?
I think everyone has an inner saboteur. Mine pops up now and again and tells me ‘What are you wasting all this time doing this for? You’re never going to get anywhere. You should just stick to graphic design and concentrate on earning a decent living.’ I just have to ignore it and carry on regardless and try not to worry about the outcome. I also get a creative block sometimes, usually this is when a print or painting has gone wrong and I am plunged into confusion and self doubt. I have learned that the only thing to do when this happens is to not beat myself up over it. It’s all part of the process and every disastrous painting has a lesson. You just have to pick yourself up and start something new.
3. What is the most important thing to you when it comes to your art?
I think being true to myself is important to me. I have to feel a connection to the subject matter. I’m not going to suddenly start painting pictures of elephants, for example, if it’s not part of my experience at the time. If I were to go on holiday and feel inspired by elephants I see I might, or if it represents an idea or feeling I have in the right way I might. I also feel like you have to develop your own style and not emulate other artists too much. When I have been too influenced by a particular artist I have always found myself in a muddle. The only way to find your own style is by putting the hours in and being willing to take risks and try new things, even if it might not always work out. Making art is a journey, you can’t skip stages. You have to follow your own path as it presents itself. When you see a retrospective of a major artist there are usually some rubbish paintings among the masterpieces, it’s part of the process.
4. What's next for you in 2018?
At the beginning of 2018 I was all about the printmaking. I guess that was closer to my comfort zone as a graphic designer. However, I felt like it was taking all of my energy and ultimately holding me back from reaching my potential as an artist. I decided to put it on hold and concentrate on the painting. I’m still going to dip into it now and then. I feel like I am in a development phase as a painter so I just want to paint as much as I can so that I can improve my technique and also find out what direction I ultimately want to go in. I am also trying to get a bit more exposure in exhibitions and on social media and take any opportunities which come my way, like joining the hope + easel collective!