Life Lessons

My spirit needs art like my lungs need air

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Sometimes you don’t realize your heart is aching. You don’t realize that it’s waiting, seeking, and hoping for some glimpse of the divine. Then you witness something as heartbreakingly beautiful as Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia.  Suddenly your heart is filled with hope and humility. Hope that perhaps if you just don’t give up, if you keep exploring the questions lining the inner walls of your gut, you’ll be able to explain who are. You feel the sting of humility from doubting the capabilities of the human spirit, for dismissing its quest for meaning as meaningless, and for ever succumbing to the ego’s nihilistic tendencies.

What is art and why do we need it? How do I—from another time, country, ethnicity, sex, race, class—feel the weight of Gaudi’s vision? For what reason should my eyes fill with tears and my stomach feel as if it has descended into my womb? ART is the reason.

For me art is the language, the vessel by which inner worlds communicate across time and culture. My spirit needs art like my lungs need air.

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Work In Progress

Learn the story behind Organic Lyricism

Hi my name is Arlene Ellis and I’m the founder of Organic Lyricism. I founded this brand to combine my passions for art, fashion and biology. Through Organic Lyricism I aim to create socially responsible fashion and art. From edgy botanical-inspired patterns to psychedelic animal illustrations, my limited edition art and fashion prints aim to instill an appreciation for nature, craftsmanship and sustainable design. Throughout the centuries artists and designers have taken inspiration from nature. Now more than ever it’s time to give back. With every product you buy, 15% of the pre-tax dollars will go to a nonprofit organization focused on human and environmental rights.

Many people have asked me to explain how I journeyed from biology to art and fashion. Here is my story:

Lifelong Organic Distractions (Illustration by Arlene Ellis)

This was my first full scale illustration. This piece was meant to capture my journey from art to science to art again.

As a child, I dreamt of becoming a fashion designer or an artist. Then at age 15 I learned about fractals, which are geometric shapes that can be divided into smaller parts with each part resembling the overall shape regardless of scale. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of fractals that I ditched art for science.

Unfortunately, except for in my biology and English classes, I didn’t make much of an effort in high school. I was a pretty cynical teenager and perceived most of my classmates as too shallow. To avoid being annoyed, I skipped dozens of classes during my junior and senior years of high school. Instead I would stay home and read science articles or watch nature documentaries on PBS. This was not the smartest way to get into an undergraduate science program!

My indifference to high school eventually caught up to me around college application time. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get into a top college with my grades and sheepishly entered the honor’s program at Miami Dade Community College, MDCC,  (now called Miami Dade College). (I used to be too insecure to mention that I attended a community college, but I’ve been around enough pretentious people to realize that is not a characteristic I want to embrace). While at MDCC I met some of the most inspiring professors and made some life-long friends. Unlike me most of these friends were at the college for financial reasons, not because they screwed up in high school. Many of my friends ended up transferring to schools such as Smith College, Yale, Wesleyan, Williams, Amherst, Cornell, and Columbia.  I also ended up transferring to Smith College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.

Early biology-inspired design at Smith College (Arlene Ellis, 2004-2006)

I began creating patterns inspired by biology while studying neuroscience art Smith College.

Pursuing a Smith neuroscience degree in two years was pretty challenging. While at Smith, I probably took maybe three or four humanities courses (two of which I eventually dropped). I dreaded most of my science exams and felt depressed staying in a lab all day collecting data. I only found refuge in observing the patterns of cells under microscopes and writing science research papers. During my last semester, I realized that I was a humanities person trying to be a scientist. While there are many people who could pull that off, I couldn’t.

Regenerative Medicine Graphic (Illustration by Arlene Ellis, 2006)

This was my first attempt at graphic design. My boss at Dartmouth asked me to design him a logo that symbolized regenerative medicine. I knew nothing about logo design, but I was excited about drawing a salamander! Needless to say, the logo didn’t work out. Still, I was grateful that my boss had always encouraged me to be creative.

Despite all the warning signs, after college I still went to work as a research assistant for a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Joseph Rosen (we called him Joe) at Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering. He’s probably the best boss I’ve ever had, so encouraging, generous and down to earth. Although I loved working for Joe,  witnessing the lifestyles of the medical students and medical residents convinced me that I was not committed to pursuing a career in medicine. I was more interested in designing posters for Joe’s biotechnology lectures than studying for the MCAT. Yearning for a more creative job, I reached out to my network for help. With the help of a friend’s father, I was able to find a job in New York City in pharmaceutical advertising. At the time it seemed like an ideal balance between art and science.

Mucha Under Water (Illustration by Arlene Ellis, 2010)

I drew this while working at one of the most politically toxic environments. I knew my days of working in the advertising agency world were numbered. This was my first illustration of a sea creature. It’s a jellyfish made out of plants. The tentacles were inspired by Alphonse Mucha.

Since leaving Dartmouth, I’ve spent most of my professional career in professional pharmaceutical advertising. Professional, meaning I helped create advertisements geared towards physician and nurses. These advertisements are found in clinical journals and at medical conventions. Initially I enjoyed the work because it exposed me to the latest medical advancements. Plus I was constantly learning about human physiology. Eventually, however, I became a little disillusioned with the politics of corporate advertising.

Chameleon Necklace 2010 (by Arlene Ellis)

Miserable at work, I started drawing more during my downtime. I scoured through magazines and nature online galleries to find inspiration for patterns and color schemes. This necklace was inspired by the color scheme of a chameleon.

Throughout all these career transitions one thing has always kept me grounded, creating art. Whenever I have felt blue, illustrating and designing has always lifted my spirits. I’ve realized that I had neglected an essential part of myself since watching that fractal documentary age 15. Yes fractals fascinated me, but did I really need to abandon art for science? No. The truth is that my ego chose science. As much as I adored fashion and art, I also thought they were shallow and frivolous. I wanted to prove that I was capable of more “intellectually demanding” work. In retrospect this was a ridiculous assessment because some of the most intellectually rigorous thinkers I know are artists and designers.

"Orchid Inspired Torso" (Illustration by Arlene Ellis, 2013)

In this illustration I combined my love of orchid patterns with my love of neuroscience and the decorative arts. Can you see the neurons among the flowers? This illustration is actually not done. Stay tuned.

Nevertheless, I don’t regret that I pursued neuroscience instead of art in college. It was my experience in science that has guided my artistic hand.  My years at Smith has sharpened my analytical skills and given me a more nuanced perspective on creativity. I’ve learned that both scientists and artists are champions of abstract thinking. Both enrich our lives by challenging our perceptions and revealing the beauty in the ordinary.

"Mucha Under Water Dress" (Illustration by Arlene Ellis 2012)

I created this when I was just beginning to experiment with textile design. I used Stained by Sharpie Brush Tip Fabric Markers to draw this on fabric. The illustration took 6 hours.

"Hand Drawn Botanicals on Vintage Leather" (Illustration by Arlene Ellis, 2012)

Last August I donated my first textile design on a vintage leather jacket to this awesome charity: http://swim4life.org/. After helping this charity out I was inspired to incorporate a charitable component to my business. P.S. I’ve decided that I will not illustrate on leather anymore.

Today I embrace science and art by creating illustrations and textiles inspired by biological patterns. My goal is to instill an appreciation for the natural world through wearable art. You will not notice any sellable textiles on my website yet because I am currently learning about sustainable manufacturing of textiles. As soon as I have this knowledge base, I’ll begin marketing my fashion prints. Stay tuned! And thanks for reading!

Psychedelic Seascape

Work in progress photo-illustration montage by Arlene Ellis.

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