Homage to Collage: An Interview with Artist Ellie Vandoorne

When in Hammersmith I happened upon the Hepsibah Gallery on Brackenbury Road, a space slightly reminiscent of “The Mirror World” in The Mighty Boosh. I was pleased to find Ellie Vandoorne, the artist in question, sat by the window.

Armed with my microphone, she hid any hint of disapproval at the suggestion of an impromptu interview. Specialising in mixed media collage work, Vandoorne creates strong, stylised female portraits and profiles worthy of the description, “iconic”.

An Interview with Ellie Vandoorne

B: They’re very “Vogue” front cover images…

E: It’s funny you should say that because actually, the first piece I ever did was called “Flower Girl”. This was the only piece where the figure is actually based on someone, it was inspired off an old photograph that I had found on the front of a Vogue Issue from the 1960s! The model is called Celia Hammond. A lot of people have said there is something fashionable about her and funnily enough, the person who came and bought the number one print was the fashion designer, Matthew Williamson. Flower Girl definitely speaks to the fashion world.


B: So when did you start making this kind of work?

E: 2013 was when I first started, however I had my first show in 2015. Almost 2 years ago today in fact I released Bird Girl and Flower Girl. From then I’ve experimented more and more until eventually this year which has been the first year where I’ve done 3D collage work so with the real feathers and the real butterfly wings. It’s just about pushing that style and seeing how far I can take it.

B: And when you pick your objects, where does that come from? Are you drawn by the figure first?

E: The first thing I think of, definitely, is the figures, the woman I’m going to have in the piece. Originally when I was working with them, I started off with the flowers and then did the birds and I thought “what else do I like? What else could I try?”.

I’m very drawn, as you can probably see, to colour, nature and colour. I try to think “what are the most colourful things you find in nature?”, well, you get some amazing birds, I did one called “Birds of Paradise”. Underwater, you get coral, you get so many different fish that are so bright, same with butterflies. I felt I’d done a lot of work with that, so I then thought I’d see how I could get closer to nature which is what drew me to actually working with real feathers and real butterfly wings.

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“Fragility” (detail)

An Interview with Ellie Vandoorne

B: I can’t even imagine the stress of putting these together…

E: Yes, so fragile! I actually decided to use a number of butterfly wings that were damaged as well, it’s called “Fragility”. I was painstakingly having to work with them without damaging them too much but often people think of nature being quite female, “Mother Nature”, so I thought they were two things that married quite nicely.


B: So, when you work with the female figure, what are you trying to achieve with it?

E: One of the few figures that I’ve worked with and done a lot on is Ophelia, she is seen as someone who’s incredibly fragile. The pre-Raphealites absolutely loved her and she was represented as this sort of beautiful, delicate sort of flower and yet instead of having her as a three-quarter profile which would have been much softer, I wanted to add a little bit of impact.

I said to myself “No, she’s not just this beautiful, delicate thing, she’s actually part of something incredibly tragic”. Hamlet is a tragedy and certainly what happened to her was incredibly tragic and so the two points I’ve represented are “Ophelia Crownet Weeds”, that’s when she falls to her death in a stream, and “Ophelia Sweets To The Sweets”, she’s dead at that point. Through the beginning of the play, Ophelia thought that one of the reasons why Hamlet wouldn’t want to marry her could be linked to the fact that his mum, Queen Gertrude, might have thought she wasn’t good enough for him. That’s where it becomes quite tragic, there she is lying dead and it’s Queen Gertrude who says “sweets to the sweet” and it becomes apparent that she would have been very happy for her son to have married her. All these things that contributed to Ophelia going mad.

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“Ophelia Sweets To The Sweets”

An Interview with Ellie Vandoorne

B: Where did you start? You must have done some work with female figure before… but when did you go “this is what I want to be doing”.

E: Well my background is in graphic design and illustration. I always wanted to be an artist, ever since the get-go but I just never thought I’d make it. Who the hell is able to make it these days as an artist? It’s so competitive but I knew I wanted to do something creative so after a number of years doing graphic design and illustration, through a very good friend of mine who used to run an organisation called “Pocket Arts” they convinced me to put on a show a couple of years ago. I went ahead and did it, I was very fortunate, it was a sell-out. It was very much testing the ground back then. 


B: A testing ground and yet your first show was a hit! Where have I see your work before?

E: The fashion designer Matthew Williamson came to my first show and he’s quite integral to my success because he bought something and he Instagrammed it and then suddenly my phone went crazy. I got loads of extra followers and I was like “oo! Okay, thank you, Matthew”. On top of that, after my first show, he got in touch because he wanted to collaborate. I did the cover for one of his books, “Matthew Williamson: Fashion, Print and Colouring Book”. He’s particularly famous for print design and so the girl’s headdress is made up of all different motifs from some of his most famous prints.



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Matthew Williamson Colouring Book featuring Vandoorne’s work

An Interview with Ellie Vandoorne

B: You talk about competitiveness in the art world, what gets you through it?

E: Some artists would say “no matter if my stuff sold or not, I would have to create, I would keep on making art”, I couldn’t. Of course, I love what I do and I get so much enjoyment out of doing it but I’m not sure if I would be able to do this if no one was buying it! I’d be like “what’s the point? Am I just going to do all this art and it’s just going to sit in a room?”.

I love the thought of someone buying my art and enjoying it and I think that’s why I tend to be drawn to bright colours and even though I have someone who’s quite haunting as Ophelia, on the whole, my stuff is quite uplifting. Matisse is arguably one of my favourite artists and he said: “I want my art to have the same effect as a good armchair on a tired businessman”. That feeling of your art having a positive impact on someone’s life, someone coming home and just sighing and saying “I’m really glad I bought that”. It’s certainly not the only reason why I do this but it’s what encourages me to keep doing it.


B: Is there anyone that your work is particularly for? Is it for an audience or is it self-expression?

E: My art’s bought mainly by women. They’re relatively affordable so I guess that the people who tend to buy my art, are typically between the ages of about the mid to late twenties and early forties. Not just women, men buy them too and obviously, people fall outside that demographic but seems to be who are attracted to it. I do quite like the fact that my artwork’s not too expensive and people say “You could be selling them for far more”. 


B: You’re quite modest about it!

E: I guess people who buy my art tend to be like me, they’re a similar age to me, they’re not making millions or anything like that, they’re still paying a couple hundred quid for a piece of art. Even the 3D work, £600, that’s still a lot of money! There’s something quite nice about selling artwork to people that are a bit like you.

B: What have people said about your work?

E: People love the colour. The fact that my art is accessible to your average person.


B: So people who don’t “get” modern art?

E: Yeah, exactly. Some of them also love the links to literature, the “Titania and Bottom” and the “Lucy and Aslan“. What’s really nice is when I have done something that’s taken from a book or a play, especially with Titania and Bottom, I had people say “this one really speaks to me, if I were to picture a poster for the play, that is the sort of thing that I would imagine”.

For the headdresses, they’re quite heavily packed, especially “Ocean Girl”, I could look at that for hours even though I created it. I can look at it and say “oh yeah! I put something there and there”, you can look at it and find something new.

Funnily enough, a few fine art critics that have seen my work struggle to get it more than people who have nothing to do with the art world. The young generation is also far more accepting, digital art is quite a new thing. It’s been around for so long but it’s only recently that digital artists are being accepted as artists in their own right. People still find it hard to get their head around the medium.


B: How do you prefer to work?

E: I’m not someone who multitasks very well in the sense that I literally focus on a piece and I work solidly on it for a few days. Some of them have taken me longer than others but usually, I sit down and within two days, their headdress is done. I struggle to leave it to go to sleep. It’s this weird thing, once I’ve started, I need to get it finished. There have been a couple of times where I’ve really struggled with a piece, “is this not working? Do I need to let this go?”. I’m really stubborn, I hate the thought of wasting time on something. If I had the idea, it’s got to go somewhere. Touch wood, I haven’t abandoned a girl yet.

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An Interview with Ellie Vandoorne

B: How is it that you sit down and come up with your ideas?

E: To be honest, in most cases, I find that my next piece comes from my last piece. Sometimes I will have spoken to people, my boyfriend was constantly on my back, “you should do something 3D!”. It’s a mixture of exploring and look at the notes section on both my computer and my phone, they’re amazing because who doesn’t have their phone on them 24/7? Whenever you get an idea, it goes straight in. I draw inspiration from just about anything and everything. It might be that I’ve gone to an exhibition and I’ve seen something with butterflies or I’ve been talking to someone about a book and a character pops into my head. Mainly, it is just that process. Even though the artwork is finished, it’s still prodding me to do something else. It’s almost like they pass the baton on to each other.


B: How does the art world look from a female perspective?

I think there are certain advantages of being a female artist in that amongst female artists, there is far more comradery. I did an art fair in March and you notice a big difference, “girls are quite nice to each other…”. On the whole, we’re better at talking and sharing problems, knowing that if you say that you’re struggling with something, it’s not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, you’re owning something and you’re open to hearing advice. That’s been something that’s been so nice. Amongst men, I think it’s a bit more competitive.


B: I see lots of big male solo shows these days but never a collection.

E: I have people on Instagram who share their own version of one of my pieces, that they’ve been inspired by and I love that. Some people look at it totally differently, I’ve had people send me messages saying ‘this person has copied you” and I was like “there’s no such thing as copying”. Fair enough, if someone actually had one of my pieces and tried to put their name on it, that’s fraud. If they’re experimenting with my style?- I shouldn’t even be calling it my style because it’s not my own to own. It’s just a particular style that I work in if someone wants to experiment with it then go for it.

The art world is borderless. As far as being a female artist is concerned, it’s great, I feel much more supported, and I’m speculating, than if I was a male artist I think. This is all relatively new to me, I had my first show two years ago.


Be sure to visit Ellie Vandoorne’s website to view more of her vibrant work. You can also buy postcards and greetings cards from her online shop to support her, a great option if you cannot afford a piece but would love to support this talented artist. 

Written by Brittany Sutcliffe.

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