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Meet Ellen Ma

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ellen Ma.

Ellen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Comic books and cartoons influenced me while I was growing up, so I had great love for stories and characters. All my drawings from childhood were just copying what I saw – Calvin & Hobbs, Wolverine, Looney Tunes, which then carried over throughout the years to becoming a self-taught artist.

I really didn’t have any focus while teaching myself to draw and it was mostly just “draw what you like”. So a lot of my art has been experimental and explorative. When I did my first show in 2014, I did pop art paintings because I was so in love with color and working with color. But at the same time, I was also exploring pencils and drew female portraits in a “strange & beautiful” manner. There’s a clear struggle that can be seen on my Instagram as I was going through this stage – juggling two brands and seeing which one I wanted to do more. So reluctantly (but it had to be done), I gave up the pop art brand and continued to work with pencils which then led to working with ink.

Inking is my current passion and on top of that, I’ve been learning how to work with markers which has given me that wonderful balance of being able to work with details and color.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest challenge I faced was “How do I do this?” because as much as I wanted to do something creative, the expectations and pressures to do well and be successful in life hindered me away from that creative path for a while. I chose to pursue teaching and I became a college freshman English teacher for about two years but did a major pivot to be in sales for a few months because I had financial concerns. But the struggle to become good at something I was having a difficult time picking up made me realize I had the choice to do that I wanted to do – which was to pursue something creative. I went back to school for about a year to learn basic graphic design and with great timing and luck, got hired and I made my way through startups to now being at my dream job at a gaming company. So being an independent artist is my “night job”, in which I can do all the self-indulging projects that are brewing in my mind, and my “day job” at the gaming company which not only fosters my creativity but is also an enjoyable aspect in my life (which also happens to pay my bills and fund my “night job”).

Please tell us more about your art.
I’m currently doing a 365 days, one a day challenge in which the theme is always a different dagger/knife in the drawing with a subject (mostly Asian / Japanese culture influenced) coming out from said dagger/knife. I had a few reasons to commit to this project: I wanted to improve on working with markers and inking in general, so I’d have to make time to practice and do a full-colored inked drawing every day.

I also wanted to give myself a bigger challenge. I had done another 365 days project called “A Tentacle A Day” which I did doodles of tentacles on a post-it note. Although these were just doodles, the struggle to make each post-it unique for 365 days was tough, but a full-colored inked drawing requires so much more effort and time so a lot of planning happens before I actually put pencil on paper.

Another reason is to fully commit to a project. I always have a fear that my explorative nature will pop out so choosing a subject matter I was excited about gave me that push to commit. I’ll definitely admit there are some days in which I’m not inspired but falling back onto what I want to draw and what I feel like drawing really helps me breakthrough.

Lastly, after completing the first month of this project, a few people asked me if I’d make an art book in the end. I’m certainly keen on the idea as it’s added more excitement to keep going with this project, so it’s a big possibility!

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
The major impact on my roadmap happened when I tabled at DesignerCon 2019. My art has led me to feel not being a great fit with most conventions/craft/art shows but when I tabled at D-Con, it all just came together. Not only did my art fit with the con and crowd, but I also introduced some handmade plush keychains which were a big risk for me. I’ve always been a big crafter but designing something like a plush or toy required a different type of design thinking that I never understood when I was younger, so it was a slow learning process. But to my surprise, the keychains were the first to be sold out and that really gave me the confidence and green light to tell myself “Okay, we can do a plush toy line.” As of right now, that’s in development and will hopefully be made into a Kickstarter later this year.

I’m also exploring resin toy design, which again is a slow learning process, but very exciting. Lastly, I’d also like to start working on skate decks and shoes, though those can wait once the 365 days project is done.

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