Ellen Dubreuil’s Happy Compulsion

h1 August 21st, 2019 by jules


I’ve been remarkably erratic lately about featuring the work of student or newly-graduated illustrators, which I try to do the first Sunday of each month. Today — in an earnest attempt to make up for my inconsistency — I’m featuring an illustrator whose work I really like. It’s not a Sunday, I know. It’s a wild-card, mid-week kind of up-and-coming illustrator feature. Livin’ on the edge, right?

Her name is Ellen Dubreuil (don’t forget to visit her website, linked there, to see more of her art), and she recently graduated from the School of Visual Arts. She shares more about herself below and also shares lots of artwork, for which I thank her. Let’s get right to it and hand 7-Imp over to her. …

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Ellen: I just moved back to Somerville, Massachusetts, after two years in New York, where I was getting my Master’s at SVA from the Illustration as Visual Essay MFA program, which was a real eye-opener. New York is jam-packed with stories, and just living there was as much of an education as attending school. Since I graduated, I’ve been working to establish my personal practice outside of the structure of school, getting used to being back in a quieter town, and getting ready to teach again in the fall. (I teach illustration at the college level at Lesley Art + Design in Cambridge). I’ve also been illustrating kids’ apparel, which I sell locally, and entering work into local calls for art.








I love curiosities, whether they’re natural or man-made. I collect objects and toys and photographs and books. I love the idea of these small stories and histories existing in these things all around us. I’m also interested in the experience of childhood, the inner lives of children, and how imagination and play are utilized as we grow up.

The children’s book artists I looked at most when I was growing up were William Steig, Quentin Blake, Maurice Sendak, and James Marshall. I was amazed by Beatrix Potter’s work and couldn’t understand how a human being could make things that looked like that. I loved Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, as well as Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams team-ups, particularly Mister Dog: the Dog Who Belonged to Himself and The Sailor Dog. I loved The Simpsons and The Far Side.





(Click to enlarge)



Nowadays, I’m thrilled by the emergence of funny, feminist, intelligent female cartoonists. Not that they weren’t always there, but the internet has made it a lot easier to follow them and feel like there’s a community there — Liana Finck, Lisa Hanawalt, Emily Flake, Julia Wertz, Liz Prince, Sarah Glidden, Lucy Knisley, Hallie Bateman, and of course Roz Chast, who I had the total honor of having as an advisor in school. I would like some of the cartoonists I follow to delve more deeply into children’s books, actually, since I think some dark humor is definitely needed in order to cope these days. The children’s books I look at now are still a generation or two old — Tomi Ungerer, John Burningham, Angela Banner’s Ant and Bee books (the ones illustrated by Bryan Ward). I guess I’m sentimental.

I’ve also been looking at Charles Addams’ work a lot.









I want to make pictures and stories, because I’ve always been driven to, because it’s fun, and because it’s a happy compulsion. And in terms of making work for an audience: I love the moment when a piece of art ceases to be mine and becomes the audience’s. When I’ve sold work or given it to people or even posted things online, there’s this transfer of ownership. That drawing or story isn’t mine anymore; it’s theirs. It stands on its own feet. When I think about the books that moved me when I was little, like Frog and Toad and The Little Fur Family and Goodnight Moon, I don’t think about the creators. I think about the stories and the object of the book itself, and they are all mine. To me, that’s magic, and as an artist I feel really privileged to get to do that — to be able to make something and then get myself and my ego out of the way. I would love to do that more and more.





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All images reproduced by permission of Ellen Dubreuil.

3 comments to “Ellen Dubreuil’s Happy Compulsion”

  1. I love these so much! Thank you Ellen for sharing!

  2. I want the stories behind EACH AND EVERY ONE of these pictures. I LOVE the details!!!

    May we all have such happy compulsions.

  3. I remember evaluating Ellen’s undergraduate Senior illustration portfolio: just fantastic and so memorable. Good to see her turn up here. Where to now Ellen??!

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