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Ellen Porteus on Putting in Work with Nike's Air Force 1

Date: November 20 2018

By: Cesca Benson

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Melbourne-based artist Ellen Porteus deals in colour and creativity. With a knack for vector graphics and whimsical animation loops, she’s forged a unique style and made waves as an illustrator. And it was her playful and modern aesthetic that made her collaboration with Nike’s Culture of Basketball a perfect fit.

Recognising basketballs reach beyond the arena, the Swoosh are celebrating everything that makes the game great, bringing together sneakers, music and, of course, a bit of bball for Battle Force. Especially for this event, Ellen has taken the Air Force 1 as her canvas and reimagined its decades of hardwood heritage into an installation of epic proportions. 

We sat down with Ellen, and her adorable pup Maggie, to talk design processes and Air Force 1 heritage.

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First thing’s first, your work is unreal! How did you start out?
Thank you! I studied graphic design and had a very, very short-lived career as a graphic designer. Outside my work hours I was spending all my time illustrating for fun, which suddenly and unexpectedly gathered a lot of attention and I started getting offered paid work. I was so stoked by this that I quit my design job four years ago to follow my love for illustration, and I haven’t looked back!

You can definitely see that you haven't looked back! How has your distinctive style evolved?
I’ve always loved really bold and colourful work with a bit of a sense of humour, whether it’s pop art or 90s cartoons, and that influence has always been really present in my work, even in the early days. I like to evolve my work by pushing my own boundaries and trying new mediums, which is why I got into animation, and now why I’m doing murals and installations.

Those animations have become somewhat of a signature — how do you approach them differently to your other works?
Animation is really fun, but it’s also super technical and requires a lot of planning and forward thinking, so the biggest difference is that I’ll always have the finished product in mind, but with illustrations I like to let them evolve a bit more organically over time.

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Talk to us about that planning and how you ‘put the work in’ as an artist. 
I put the hours in! Getting your foot in the door as an artist takes an incredible amount of persistence, dedication and energy. I put a lot of labour into everything I create, and I try to challenge myself as much as possible so that it never gets too easy. Comfort kills creativity.

What are some of the challenges you face as a creative/artist, and how do you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge is psychological. I’m a one-woman band, and while it’s awesome being my own boss, it comes with a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism. I overcome this by learning how to keep posit it until I make it! And, most importantly, surrounding myself with an amazing support network of fellow female artists who always have my back.

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Talk to us about that planning and how you ‘put the work in’ as an artist. 
I put the hours in! Getting your foot in the door as an artist takes an incredible amount of persistence, dedication and energy. I put a lot of labour into everything I create, and I try to challenge myself as much as possible so that it never gets too easy. Comfort kills creativity.

What are some of the challenges you face as a creative/artist, and how do you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge is psychological. I’m a one-woman band, and while it’s awesome being my own boss, it comes with a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism. I overcome this by learning how to fake it until I make it! And, most importantly, surrounding myself with an amazing support network of fellow female artists who always have my back.

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There are such exciting times ahead for you! Tell us about your piece for Nike Battle Force event. What elements of the Air Force 1 did you latch onto for inspiration?
The mural/sculpture installation I have developed for Battle Force will be the largest 3D printed piece that I have ever created in Australia! It will feature giant 3D printed limbs that protrude from the ground up, which I will be painting live during the event.
We all know the AF-1 is a classic, but I delved into the history of its creation and got a new appreciation for its iconic design — because it was revolutionary at the time it first released. I was particularly inspired by the pattern on the soles, which I always liked the look of. I didn’t realise the concentric circles were designed as pivot points, which I thought was really cool, so I wanted to make those soles a prominent part of the artwork. I also wanted to bring in the cultural history of the AF-1, so I’ve included elements that nod to its place in pop culture over the decades.

Did you have more than one idea for the project, or did you know your direction from the start? 

I had quite a few ideas but really wanted to do something big and bold — something new and challenging for me. Something I could put the work into and see come to life at the Battle Force event. So I’m super glad Nike got on board with my idea. It’s going to be so fun!

Why do you think the Air Force 1 still captures people’s imagination, even after 36 years?
I think it’s just the classic, iconic design. It’s become timeless — it’s lasted for 36 years so I’m sure it’s going to be sticking around for a very, very long time.

Finally, if you had to choose one, what would it be: the Triple White or pink Sage Low AF-1?
I’m terrible at keeping white shoes clean, but I can’t go past the classic ‘Triple White’!

To check out Ellen's work IRL, head to Battle Force on November 25. Register here to secure your spot.

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