Illustration, Life Lessons, Textile Design, Work In Progress

So this is what my subconscious comes up with after listening to Alan Watts lecture about our brains, the universe, reality, God…

Inspired by eastern art and philosophy…

Just an internal conversation…

Converse Neuronal Bling (Arlene Ellis, 2014)

Converse Neuronal Bling (Arlene Ellis, 2014)

Life Lessons

My spirit needs art like my lungs need air


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.

Illustration, Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Science, Work In Progress

I’m a generalist, in other words I’m going to starve!

Over the past several weeks, I’ve realized that I need to reevaluate how I’m branding myself and my company, Organic Lyricism.  Although my friends and family are very familiar about my passion for art and science, I have a nagging feeling that my passion is not resonating online.

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

A couple of days ago I reread one of my favorite books on branding, The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier. In the book, Neumeier forces you to answer these THREE LITTLE QUESTIONS:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

Over the upcoming week, I will try my best to answer these questions. In the meanwhile, this is what I am now…

Arlene Ellis Overview, September 2013

Arlene Ellis Overview, September 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 10.27.59 AM

I’ve been told that I’m stubborn. I stubbornly disagree, of course. I’d like to think I’m open to alternative approaches, provided I respect your reasoning. Let’s see, what else have I been told?

  1. “You need to focus, focus, focus!”
  2. “You think too much!”
  3. “You over analyze everything.”
  4. “Well, you’re just interested in everything. Aren’t you?”
  5. “Your illustrations are really out there! Are you sure you don’t take psychedelics?”
  6. “You’re too uptight, logical and practical. Relax a little!”
  7. “You’re definitely a Type A!”
  8. “You have a good heart, but you have to censor your ideas.”
  9. “You’re brave for pursuing your art.”
  10. “You’re naïve for pursuing art.”
  11. “You need to be more humble.”
  12. “You need to be more confident!”
  13. “You’re smart, but how can you help me?”
  14. “You need to stop caring what people think!”
  15. “I admire your passion and idealism, but you’re going to stave.”
  16. “Good luck with your dreams. You’ll need it.”
  17. “Why be anti-corporate, you’re not going to change anything.”
  18. “Stop being so practical!”
  19. “Start being more practical!”
  20. “It’s admirable that you care about human and animal rights, but nothing’s going to change.”

How I could be perceived as both too pragmatic and not pragmatic enough, is beyond me! I can’t get too annoyed by all the concerned opinions people throw my way. Most of the people who tell me these things care genuinely about my survival.  I don’t think I’m that unfocused. Nor do I think I’m interested in everything:

Main Interests Over the Years
Ages 6-14:
Fashion and Visual Arts
Ages 15-17: Biology
Age 18: Fashion and Visual Arts
Age 19: Visual Arts and Writing
Age 20: Biology
Age 21-22: Neuroscience and Visual Arts
Age 23: Medicine and Graphical Arts
Age 24: Graphical Arts and Medical Marketing
Ages 25-27: Medical Marketing and Medical Copywriting
Age 28-29: Medical Copywriting, Visual Arts and Fashion
Age 30: Visual Arts, Fashion, Biology

Call me crazy, but this list of interests does not seem to include “everything.” It looks to me like I’ve always been interested in art, fashion and biology. Over the past few years, I’ve been advised to pursue graduate degrees in these professions. “Have you thought about earning an MFA? Why not pursue a degree in fashion or textile design? You should get your Ph.D. in biology.”

A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources… A specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet. Most organisms do not all fit neatly into either group, however. -Wikipedia

As of now, I’m not interested in pursuing graduate degrees in the visual arts, fashion or biology. Why? Because I would be miserable. I understand the need for specialists;  however, I also think generalists are vital too. Generalists are the people who can mine useful insights buried across multiple disciplines.  Many writers are generalists. I suppose one could argue that writers have specialized in the craft of writing, but the craft is a merely a means to an end.

It’s not about writing, painting, sewing, drawing, etc. These are modes of communication. It’s about the idea. Ideas are what change the world.

My illustrations are not simply about depicting natural phenomena through a decorative lens. They are about revealing the interconnectedness among all species. They are intended to inspire an appreciation and hopefully a desire to protect our natural world.

My bird Illustrations over the years (Arlene Ellis, 2013)

I’m not sure when I developed a thing for birds, but apparently I’ve been drawing them since 2010! I thought it would be interesting it to see how my illustration skills have evolved over the last three years.

Fashion Designers

Is John Galliano worthy of your empathy?

Charlie Rose Interview of John Galliano

“But, in the end, it’s not the fashion establishment who will have the last say on whether Mr Galliano’s tentative comeback will be accepted. That will come down to the end consumer, most of whom were witness to the video of Mr Galliano’s drunken, drug-fueled rant which exploded online and which has been played over and over again in the aftermath of Mr Galliano’s final meltdown. Indeed, no matter how many of the biggest names in the fashion establishment welcome him back, no global fashion business will risk having themselves associated with someone who may still cast a pallor on their sparkling brand identities.” —Imran Amed, Editor of “The Business of Fashion”

The continuous ostracization of John Galliano reveals how empathy has become quaint in popular American culture. You would think we are a nation filled with infallible people based on the amount of personal attacks you see in social media when a person falls from grace. The media, who seem more concerned about sensationalizing scandals than producing balanced reporting, seem to thrive on these types of public lashings. Then profit a little more based on the comeback story.

Do I condone what Galliano did? Absolutely not, but I do believe in cases like this people deserve second chances. He did not commit murder. He didn’t embezzle millions of dollars from peoples’ retirement funds. My goodness, if someone recorded something offensive your friends or family members said in an intoxicated state would you want that to be held against them for the rest of their lives? If you don’t believe that people can change, then I suggest you talk to your parents about your childhood. Chances are they’ll be able to remind you how you behaved in elementary school, versus high school, versus college and so on. Unless you’re living in vacuum, your brain is constantly reacting to external stimuli—establishing, pruning and strengthening neuronal connections. If you want others to believe you can change, then be open to others changing as well.

In this interview it looks as if Galliano is genuinely trying to atone for his statements. And if you’re not convinced then what would convince you? Is his 2 years and 3 months of ostracization not long enough? What is long enough then? 10 years? Would you be fine with being ostracized for 10 years for saying something despicable while you were drunk? Are you being harsh on him because of his fame or wealth?

I have put my foot in my mouth enough times to realize the importance of forgiveness. I’m grateful that I have people in my life who won’t define me based on some stupid statements I’ve made. I really admire the friends who stuck by Galliano during his scandal. Them supporting him as a person does not mean they supported his statements. It means that they understood one of the hallmarks of a being a true friend, being there for someone even when the world turns against him or her. (To be fair though, everyone one has a breaking point for loyalty. I find controversial statements forgivable, but violent behavior is another story).

I’ve realized that a good way to test if you’re being hypocritical or too rigid in your judgments of a person embroiled in scandal is to imagine that person as someone you love (a lover, a friend or a family member), then ask yourself would you feel the same way? Would you want your loved one to be given a second chance?

Sustainable Design

Nike’s Three Barriers to Sustainable Design

Yesterday I fundamentally changed my perspective on sustainable design. This shift happened during the Ethical fashion 1 class I’m taking at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Our professor showed us a video of the General Manager for Nike’s Considered team, Lorrie Vogel, succinctly discuss the barriers involved in sustainable product design. Vogel emphasized that reducing our “footprint” won’t get us to the green economy; instead we have to focus on how to affordably create products that can be reclaimed and recycled (closed-loop products). What I found fascinating was when Vogel laid out the brutal reality of creating a closed-loop product:

Nike’s Three Barriers to Creating Closed-loop Products


The two largest textile materials Nike uses are polyester and cotton, both of which use scarce natural resources. Polyester uses petroleum and cotton uses way too much water and landmass. The company is trying to figure out how to reduce the environmental impact of producing these products

1. Don’t know yet how to create low-impact materials

The two largest textile materials Nike uses are polyester and cotton, both of which use scarce natural resources. Polyester uses petroleum and cotton uses way too much water and landmass.

How much water does Nike need to create one cotton t-shirt?

700 gallons (a hot tub 5 feet around and 4.5 feet deep is filled with 500 gallons)

This calculation was based on the amount of water required to grow, dye and finish one t-shirt.

How much landmass does Nike need to grow one cotton t-shirt?

1,1000 square feet of cotton

According to Vogel, 60 percent of Nike’s impact is embedded into their materials (water, wastes, toxins, and energy).

Design Question: what will be the new low-impact material?

2. It’s too expensive to manufacture recycled textiles

In 2008 Nike debuted their lightest and fastest swift suit at the Beijing Olympics. The suit was made out of recycled polyester. Yet it was 20-30% more expensive to make than using virgin polyester.

Design question: how do we cost-effectively recycle?

3. Materials cannot be clearly identified


Vogel cited and example in which a Nike designer created a shoe that can be easily disassembled, to make the shoe easier to recycle.

Vogel cited and example in which a Nike designer created a shoe that can be easily disassembled, to make the shoe easier to recycle. However, when Vogel took the shoe to one of the top recyclers they told her it would be too expensive to recycle. The shoe would be grinded into a million pieces then would have to be manually sorted, mechanically sorted, water density sorted, air sorted, optically sorted, and so on.

Design question: how can we clearly identify materials to reduce the sorting process in recycling?

The good news is that these barriers don’t seem insurmountable. And we really don’t have much of a choice but to figure this out, especially when you consider what Vogel asked the audience to consider:

If it takes 700 gallons of water and 1,100 of land mass to create one cotton t-shirt, then multiply that by the number of cotton t-shirts on the planet. Think of all the materials used in all the consumer products in the world. The planet cannot sustain it, especially when you consider there will be 1/3 more people in the world by 2050.

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: 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.