Ellie Mae is an artist and business owner based in East Sussex. Her love of nature inspires her work, whether it’s the color palette, variations of flowers, or landscapes. While her primary focus has been on flowers, she has recently found inspiration from fruits, still life and landscapes. Her works include a variety of pieces such as prints, tea towels, tote bags, and other home and lifestyle goods. She enjoys being able to take inspiration from the outside and turn them into indoor treasures that can bring joy, comfort and peace.
CB: Ellie Mae Designs is a relatively new business, what led you to creating your own brand and selling your products?
EW: It all sort of just fell into place really. It was never something I had considered before nor thought of as an option. I went to university in lockdown to study Textile Design as I felt very pressured by my school to go. However, my sixth form had no creative support in terms of different pathways you could take, so I ended up going. It didn’t last long though! I hated it so much that I dropped out after less than a month and found a job working for a local small business called Precious Little Plum. This was owned by a young woman named Emily, who designed customized gifts and ran her business herself. It was such an eye-opening moment. I remember walking into her studio and thinking, “Okay, this is what I want one day.” So that’s what inspired me to give it a go, and here we are.
CB: Have you always been drawn to painting? When did your love of painting begin?
EW: I actually used to prefer sketching and always drew as a child. I would spend hours copying pages from my Paddington books onto plain printer paper. In sixth form, I started to use acrylic paint because the school’s watercolors weren’t great as they never had much pigment. It was only recently that I experimented more with different mediums and fell in love with gouache and watercolor.
CB: Your work contains a lot of delicious fruit and flowers. Where do you find inspiration for your paintings?
EW: All around me. I love nature, I love flowers so it comes very naturally to me to use these as my subject matters. I also love going to charity shops and finding gardening and nature books, as they always spark inspiration for me.
CB: Walk us through a day in the Ellie Mae Design studio. Are you painting early in the morning or late into the evening? Are you getting outside for inspiration or staying rugged up indoors?
EW: My routine is probably not quite as exciting as you are hoping for, but every day varies. In recent months, I have really taken a step back to assess who and what I want to be. I want to focus more on the concept of slow living and being present in the moment. Running a business, especially in the beginning, can be extremely time consuming and hectic. However, I am at a much more relaxed stage now where I can take moments away from “work” and be in nature, and get out to find inspiration without feeling the need to produce new pieces every moment. That being said, I spend many days working till very late at night either packing my stock room or planning bits and bobs. It’s all a learning experience.
CB: What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome with creating your own product line?
EW: Probably just realizing that not everything you create will be a sell-out. I think there’s a common misconception that if you put in 110%, you will reap the rewards, but to be completely transparent, that isn’t the case right away. I have spent months and months researching, designing, sampling, photographing products, spending thousands on a product and then when it doesn’t sell like you thought, it can be really heart-breaking. But, the positives are that you learn more about certain products, your customers and of course, yourself as an artist. It highlights the areas where you enjoy putting your efforts the most.
CB: As a maker of planners and gorgeous stationery, can you share any organisation tips that you use to stay on top of everything in your small business?
EW: Oh gosh, my organization method involves just writing lists upon lists, then seeing which ones are most important or achievable and prioritizing those ones first. I don’t think you can ever stay on top of your business; it’s always about going with the flow and seeing what comes next. (Well, that’s how it is for me anyway!)
CB: How long does it take you to go from idea to final product? Can you briefly walk us through your creative process?
EW: The process can take months, and sometimes even a year depending on the product. First, it starts with the initial idea, followed by the sketching, the notes, then looking into manufacturers – which is my least favorite part. Then, it’s about actually designing the product, getting it sampled, and working out the logistics to see whether the product will be profitable at this stage. It’s a long journey that’s for sure, but it has certainly taught me a lot!
CB: What are five things we might find on your desk that you can’t live without?
A million paintbrushes
Vase of flowers
Ceramic paint palette
CB: What role does social media play in your creative process? Does it hinder or inspire you when sharing your work?
EW: Firstly, I love social media as a creative platform; the community I have grown has been such a lovely one. For me, creatively speaking, does it inspire me? Yes and no. It’s great because seeing new artists and content creators pop up is inspiring, and I particularly find homeware accounts inspiring. However, sometimes it does make me question myself. They say comparison is the thief of joy, and I do feel that sometimes.
CB: We are in love with your hand-painted baubles for the Christmas season! Can we expect to see more custom works and collaborations in the near future?
EW: Thank you so much; they sold out in a couple of hours and I couldn’t believe it. I love working with other brands and this is something I am very keen to do more of. In terms of custom works, I’d love to start selling originals at some point too.
CB: What are you looking forward to in the future with Ellie Mae Designs?
EW: I think it’s just about seeing where next year takes me. As I said previously, my mindset has shifted positively since when I started, so I am excited to have more fun experimenting, evolving my style and filming that process. I currently stock some work in Kew Gardens, so I would love to expand my stockists and collaborate with more brands on projects. I’m manifesting that for 2024!
CB: Do you have any advice for aspiring young businesswomen on how to turn their creative passion into a business?
EW: Just go for it! Failing isn’t something to worry about; it can be a positive thing because it shows you how to get better and gives you determination. It can be hard; I won’t sugar coat it, but owning a business is the most rewarding job in the world!