Eli Trier is an Artist and Author who travels the world writing, drawing and making gorgeous picture books for grown-ups about everything from gratitude to productivity. She spends her days exploring ideas, messing around with paint and counting her lucky stars.
Her latest book The Gratitude Project: A Year of Saying Thank You to The People Who Changed My Life is available on Amazon.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Eli, can you please describe your work to our readers?
Thank you for having me. My work is illustrative – I work primarily in pen and ink or watercolour. I delight in capturing the joyful, wobbly, colourful gloriousness of life as I see it. I create from a place of joy and the sole purpose of my artwork is to share that feeling and make people smile when they see it.
I am an author and these days I use my artwork largely to illustrate my own books. I occasionally do commissions and collaborations but I’m happiest when I’m working on my own self-generated projects.
Carrie: When did you first realize your love of the arts?
My mum is an artist so I was brought up surrounded by artwork and inspiration. Art has been a part of my life since the day I was born. I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up and when I was six years old I set up my first art business with homemade signage and a little shop front and everything. It was called Art Cloud and I sold painted sticks and stones to all of my parent’s friends and anyone else to came to visit. I’m a born artist-entrepreneur.
As I got older I was drawn away from the arts (although I got my degree in Art History and Literature) and into a career in marketing. I was trying to be sensible but it was soul-destroying. I ended up reclaiming my identity as an artist a few years ago after suffering through a crippling bout of depression. Having a background in marketing has certainly been beneficial when it comes to selling my work though!
Carrie: What is the The Gratitude Project?
The Gratitude Project is my first book. It’s based on an art project I did in 2013 to help myself rediscover my creativity and overcome depression. It started out as a blog where I drew a picture and wrote a thank you letter every week to people who had made a difference in my life. The book contains all 52 ‘gratitudes’ as well as supplementary essays about depression and gratitude in general.
It came about because I realised that the only way to save myself from depression was to shift my attention from the bad things in my life to the good things.
I had spent several years working on a business which was completely out of alignment with my values. It culminated in an epic business deal which went horribly wrong. I’ve always been prone to depression and had been suffering more and more in the lead up to this big collapse. When it all blew up in my face I basically had a breakdown and retired to bed for a month. After a while I decided that if I was going to be that miserable I may as well be miserable doing something I enjoyed so I started making art again.
As I investigated my life I realised that there were things that made me feel better – the people who created the art, music, books, and blogs that always lifted my spirits, my family and friends, and so on. So I decided to draw a picture and write a thank you letter to one of these people a week, for a year. Thus, The Gratitude Project was born.
Carrie: How do your ideas come to you?
I download a lot of my ideas in dreams, particularly during that half-awake, half-asleep snooze time first thing in the morning. I do a lot of journaling and I try find ways of using my own struggles and experiences in a way that helps others. For example, the book I’m working on at the moment is an illustrated guide to reigniting your creativity. It distills everything I’ve learned about beating procrastination and creative block, getting organised in a way which utilises your creative strengths, and capturing that elusive ‘flow’ state we all crave in our work. These are all things that I’ve struggled with over the course of my creative journey and I’ve found canny ways to overcome these issues that I hope will help others as well.
With my drawings and artwork I am inspired to capture my impressions of the things I hold sacred. I look at the world around me with the question ‘how would I draw that?’ in the forefront of my mind – if it presents an interesting challenge then I’ll pick up a pen and figure it out.
Something else which always ignites the urge to draw is colour – particularly unusual or striking colour combinations. Colour makes me feel joyful and I try to capture that feeling in my work.
Carrie: What are important strategies or choices you make that help support your creative process?
I practice my crafts every single day by baking them into my morning routine. Every day on waking I grab a cup of coffee and write for half an hour and then draw for half an hour. This one action ensures that I keep my work flowing easily and it really helps to stem the blank page paralysis. Making creativity a habit, rather than doing it when I feel like it, means my work is stronger and these days I rarely get blocked.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
I travel a lot so I never know what set up I’m going to be working with. Ideally I like a large expanse of table top so I can spread out, but I’ve refined the art of working in small, unforgiving spaces. Because my work is small scale and I work primarily in a sketchbook rather than on large canvasses, it’s relatively easy for me to set up a portable workspace wherever I am. As long as I have my sketchbook (usually A4 or A3 size, hardcover, always spiral-bound), my drawing pens (Uniball Eye), and my watercolour set (Windsor & Newton travel set) and a water pen, I can work anywhere.
Carrie: How do you take risks in your art?
I take risks by constantly stretching myself and trying new things. It’s so important to keep pushing out of my comfort zone. For example, I’ve had an amazing idea for a book of portraits but I have zero confidence when it comes to drawing people and faces. In order to bring the idea to life I need to focus on building my skills in this area and to not shy away from it just because it’s scary.
Carrie: What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
One of my top tricks for getting out of that stuck place is to put on some funky upbeat tunes and start working on making the worst piece of art I can possibly make. It doesn’t matter if it sucks and looks like it’s been made by a hyperactive toddler, because that’s the point. It’s suppose to suck. I work on the bad picture for the length of a song and then start another one immediately. By the time I’ve done four or five really awful pictures I can feel myself getting more relaxed and at ease. The very act of making marks on paper without judgement or fear usually unlocks my brain and the ideas start to flow again.
Carrie: How do you know when an illustration is finished?
An illustration is finished when I’ve captured exactly what I want to say in a way which makes me feel joyful.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I’m hugely inspired by travel – the act of going to a brand new and unfamiliar place forces you to see with fresh eyes. Anything new or unusual or colourful has me itching to pull out my paints.
I’m also inspired by ideas – I love the process of sharing ideas with other people and finding new ways to solve problems or express solutions in a visual way. People are endlessly fascinating to me.
The work of other artists is inspiring as well – I love the work of people like Danny Gregory, Koosje Koene, Wendy Macnaughton and Maira Kalman.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Photoshop – I use it daily for cleaning up drawings, designing book layouts and playing with ideas for alternative colours, backgrounds, etc.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity is the act of creating something from nothing.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How can you prepare to take your creativity with you when you travel? I want to know! Tell me what materials, at minimum, you’d need to create on the go, in the comments below.
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