Theo Ellsworth

I saw very happy to see The Village Voice pick Theo Ellsworth's Capacity as one of its top comics of the year---it makes Ellsworth story (a self taught artist who pushed himself to focus and make his art the central thing in his life) all the more enjoyable. I first came across Ellsworth self published issues of Capacity and was told that he somehow supported himself by making zines and selling them at art fairs. Whether this is true or not, it's interesting to think how it very well MIGHT be true for someone like Ellsworth. Ellsworth deserves the often batted around term "dedicated." He's also that rare artist whose work instantly appeals to an average passerby a a book store, and the most seasoned, critical aesthetic vet.

Here is Theo's publishers website:

and theo's website:

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

I try to spend as much time as possible drawing everyday. It's a constant battle. There's always a list of other things I should be doing, but drawing comics is what I want to be doing. I try to get up in the morning and get right to work. On good days, I'll work maybe 10-13 hours. I have periods of time each day where I have to make myself completely unavailable (no phones or computers) just so I can sink into my own world and live there for periods of time with no interruption. If I didn't live with my girlfriend, there'd be a lot of days where I just don't see anyone. Other days, I'm running all over town doing chores, trying to get my left brain to help me keep my life in check. Other days, I'll draw all day with friends, which helps me feel less isolated and strange. The goal is to make art whenever and wherever I can.

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

It's all just based on feeling. Some stories will feel like they flow right away, so I won't mess with them. Other ones, during the drawing process, I'll realize how awkward the story reads and start revising it as I go. I don't do preliminary sketches. I do it all right on the page, drawing lightly at first, them more boldly as I gain confidence in what I'm doing. Once a panel is inked, I very rarely go back and change anything, unless there is a spelling mistake.

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?

Stories come to me in flashes. I go on a lot of long walks and bike rides looking for these flashes. When something comes along that feels like it has potential, I'll replay it in my head and try to look at the scene from different angles, figure out it's rhythm and flow. Then I'll just sit down and draw it. With longer stories, I'll sometimes write down some dialogue or notes, but details always end up changing a bit once I'm drawing the actual page. I've never done thumbnails of the pages first. It works better for me just to get right to the actual page.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?

It's a little of both at the same time. When I'm starting on a story, I try to picture the way the story should flow, where I want the reader to have to turn a page to see the next scene, how a full spread of two pages will look. This is all done during the beginning, scribbly stage. Once I'm drawing more carefully, I focus in on each panel and try to make them individually satisfying.

5. what tools do you use (please list all)?

Mechanical pencils, Rapidograph pens with india ink, magic rub eraser.

6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?

I've been using bristol board for comics. Anything that takes the ink well and doesn't bleed is great. I use to just draw on whatever I had on hand, but I've spent hours working on pages only to find that the paper doesn't take the ink very well, but by then there's no going back. I'd just have to go ahead with it.

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?

I love reading comics. Reading good comics definitely gets me thinking and gets me excited to get to work. I feel the same way about reading a good novel, seeing an inspiring film, work of art, or architecture. Comics seem to be a place where all the stuff I love can merge into one creative focus. So yes, I read a lot of comics, but I try to take in other kinds of work just as much or more.

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?

I would love to make a living making comics. That's my goal. Right now I'm getting by on just my art, which feels like a good start. I sell my work (prints, zines, comics, original art) at an outdoor art market on the weekends, here in Portland, OR. I also teach drawing workshops a couple times a year. I contribute to a lot of gallery shows. I do some random illustration work sometimes. Making comics is the most challenging and satisfying aspect of my art for me. It's also the most time consuming, and takes the longest to make money, so it's always in danger of being put on the backburner while I try to make my rent.

9/ do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?

I do a lot of other art forms. Print making is fun. I've dabbled in music. I'm really interested in animation, especially stop motion animation, and miniature set building. But there's something about the freedom I have in comics, and how many of my interests and passions comics seem to be able to encompass, that I really do see it as the central art form for me.

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

I feel a huge kinship with Outsider Art. Adolf Wolfli is one of my favorite artists of all time. Artists like Ferdinand Cheval, Martin Ramirez, Augustin Lesage, Johann Fischer, and Henry Darger keep me going. I'm also in love with a lot of ancient and tribal art. I love Hopi Kachina dolls, the northwestern indian ceremonial costumes, Thai art, ancient Indian art, Mayan art. I could go on and on. I think the common link between all this is the concept of making art as a necessity. Art as a vital function of being alive. That, and the sense of care and intricacy in the works.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

It's very important. I've never felt like I really belonged to any big group, and usually get uncomfortable and disappointed when I try. But a lot of my close friends are artists, and I love getting together and drawing with other artists. I've been collaborating a lot more with friends lately, and it's really expanded my horizons. It's always reassuring to be around other people to think about the same kind of stuff from different angles than me.

12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?

My family has been pretty wonderful. They've been encouraging and supportive for a long time now. I'll probably never really know if what I do is really there thing or not, but they know it's what I need to do.

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

I guess that would bring me back to one of the things I love about ancient art. Style and idea seemed to serve the same function. Every color and line was part of the original intent and reason behind the work. The idea gives meaning to the style and the style gives life to the idea.

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

It's a huge pleasure. my brain just seems to start overflowing and consuming me if I don't draw. Drawing slows me down and gives my mind a place to focus. I love the state of mind I get into when I draw. The act of drawing seems to help me in every other aspect of my life. If I didn't have this outlet, I'd probably be a miserable, retched person.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

For the lack of a better term, an artist is what I am. When people ask, I usually say that I write and draw comics. A lot of the time when I meet new people, I find myself trying to remain a mystery for as long as I can and just learn more about them. It's not that I don't want to share, I just learn a lot more by listening to other people. I spend all day off in my own world, so I often find myself trying to steer conversations away from myself and get other people talking.

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

I love Jack Kirby. I've been picking up a lot of collections of his work lately. His character designs and the worlds he created were so endlessly inventive and weird. The stories themselves can be hard to get through, but his work gets me more excited than just about any other cartoonist. I'm still not super familiar with Steve Ditko, but I've been wanting to check out the work he did on Doctor Strange way back when. I think there's a lot to learn from the older pioneers of comics. And a lot to be unlearned.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

No, I want to draw comics more and more. When a page is feeling too challenging, I'll just sit and doodle for awhile, but I couldn't imagine a better job for myself, really. I just need to find a way to make it my full time job.

18. do you draw from life?

When I'm out in the world, I find myself taking note of things: a interesting windo on a building, someone's posture, a certain face. But for the most part, when I sit down to draw, it all just comes from my imagination. Every once in awhile I'll use a reference, but the drawing never looks much like the reference. Mostly, I'm really interested in drawing things from memory. If you try to draw a tiger, relying only on the image you can conjure in your head, you'll end up with something a bit distorted, but far more interesting than if you try to reproduce something from a photo. It depends on what you're going for though.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

With comics, I almost always pencil first. The pencils are the thinking stage of the work. But when I ink, I always end up elaborating a bit. I never end up following my pencils exactly. it's more fun that way.

20. what does your drawing space look like?