There’s something a little bit magical about the work of Exeter-based artist Ella Cunliffe. From fabulous lino prints to little clay bears that look like they’re about to spring to life – Ella’s style is unique, sometimes intricate and more than a little bit intriguing.
When I first stumbled upon Ella’s art on Instagram, I was immediately brought to mind of tales of Scandinavian folklore and mysterious forest creatures. While this was simply my interpretation of her work – rather than her actual intentions – I adored the unusual aesthetic and decided to find out more about the woman behind the clay bears…
Ella, how long have you been selling your artwork and what got you started in the first place?
My first stall was the Forestreet Flea back in May. I had never done anything like that before and I felt extremely nervous to lay myself bare for all to see and to put a price on my work! But it went, so well and it felt absolutely fantastic to be appreciated more than I could have anticipated. My stall was busy all day and I received such wonderful feedback.
I was able to do that because about 8 months ago I moved back in with my mum for various reasons, it was the first time for years I had both the physical and mental space to produce work again and I was able to pull enough together to do my first stall.
You mostly work in lino print & ceramic. What is it about these techniques that you enjoy working with the most?
I had tried lino printing and clay molding when I was young, but hadn’t got the bug. I went through art school as a sculptor/installation artist, passionate about all things fully encompassing and huge. It was during my last year that we found out my step father was terminally ill and I was understandably unable to fully focus on my work. I had high expectations of myself and left the institution feeling I had failed. It was difficult to unravel that feeling over a few years. For one of my birthdays, a friend gave me a set of cutters, lino and roller and I loved it. Lino allows you to approach drawing with a lot more freedom and potential, there’s a charm in the simplest of marks made. It’s immediate and fluid, or at least it can be. I get so excited for the magic that always happens when you finally print your design, there is always surprise in the outcome.
My answer for ceramics is much the same; it’s an art form that throughout history has a lot of precision and extreme skill/dedication. However, it also has a life of its own, as any potter will tell you. The beauty I find in ceramics is in the marks of the maker. Freedom to make, for me, is when I allow it to not be perfect. I am not by any means as skilled as one can be in the mediums I use, but I am always learning and enjoying what happens a long the way. I think that translates.
Where do you find inspiration?
I never fully know where I find inspiration, I think it’s a mindset I can be in. But I also find inspiration in nature, time away from day to day life, and lots of my ideas come whilst on the train. Sometimes, I will have an image in my mind for weeks/months/even years and it just gets down on the page at some point, as if it was the easiest thing in the world…
Why bears? Would you say that a bear would be your spirit animal?
I honestly can’t recall the exact moment I fell for bears, but it was pretty rapid when it happened. I would absolutely say that a bear is my spirit animal. I’ve spent a lot of time studying photographs and drawings of them and now their form is imprinted on my mind. The little clay bears really do make themselves now. I don’t only focus on bears though, I am drawn a lot to large and wild creatures, often powerful and somewhat mysterious. I wish to begin a project on whales next..
Who is your favourite living artist?
I don’t really have a favourite artist; different people have been prominent in my mind at different times. Somebody that came up in conversation recently is Marina Abramović for her dedication and discipline; it is pretty mind blowing the preparation she goes through for her work.
What is the last piece of artwork you purchased?
Oh a beautifully crafted cup by potter Harry Anderson. I was passing by the quayside in Exeter in a rush one day when there was a pottery fair and his cups stopped me in my tracks. It’s a sweet, simple and delicate piece, in a lovely pale blue. I’m amazed at how fine he has manages to throw earthenware and stoneware clay – it’s almost as fine as porcelain. A well proportioned cup is an important thing.
Do you collect anything?
I don’t obsessively collect one thing but I can’t help myself picking up pebbles and bits of lichen. I even found the most beautifully delicate bone I picked out of a river on Dartmoor, I still don’t know what it belonged to.
What is the best thing about being based in Devon?
The green; it’s a lush county with rivers, moors and seaside, but also there are a lot of makers based in Devon. As a creator, you feel like you’re in good company – doors are open I think, they just need to be found.
If you could have coffee with anyone (past or present) who would it be and why?
That’s a very difficult question, its not really in my nature to ponder such things. I suppose the truth is I would happily enjoy coffee with a great many people, coffee is a great part of the day. I have one particular ancestor on my mothers side that intrigues me, he worked on the railways in India – in the 1920s I think – I could be mistaken there.
Lastly, where can we find/buy your work?
Really the only way I have been really selling my work lately is on stalls, as previously mentioned I am very new to this and haven’t necessarily built up stock that I can put online quite yet. Having said that, I am about to update my website with a shop: ellacunlifffe.com
Love Ella’s work? Find her online:
For Commissions: email@example.com