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.

Kindness Chronicles

WATCH: This photographer will make your day

Lately I’ve tried to focus on being kinder and appreciating the limited moments I have on Earth.  Unfortunately, it’s shocking how easy it is to stumble into negative thinking. You have to be vigilant and seek out positive role models, people who aggressively appreciate life.  Meet Brian Nice, a photographer with enviable comedic timing who’s planning to travel across America to inspire survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury.

Garrison Art Center show 1 (Photograph by Brian Nice)

A recent photo from the Garrison Art Center show in August 2012.

“The project will include the production of a gallery exhibition of photographs, a full color coffee-table book, and a documentary film about the journey. Any profits from the project will be donated to an outstanding local facility called the Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Cold Spring NY, which helps others affected by Traumatic Brain Injury.”

A brain disorder may have almost taken Brian’s life 4 years ago, but his spirit appears stronger than ever. If you want to feel inspired today and help survivors of traumatic brain injuries, then please support Brian’s project on Indiegogo.

“I love photography and I want to keep taking pictures. After my first brain bleed and surgery in September 2009, I could not imagine how I would be able to continue doing the art I loved, any physical activity, or even the basic task of living life. It seemed like all had been taken away from me and my goal was to simply survive…”

Garrison Art Center show 3 (Photograph by Brian Nice)

A recent photo from the Garrison Art Center show in August 2012.

“…A friend gave me a point and shoot camera and this was an uplifiting experience. My current work is very different, yet it helps me express and show how I see the world now. It allows me to continue my art and gives me a real sense of myself. I still connect to the world through a camera – I just have a different perspective. ” -Brian Nice

Life Lessons, Quotes

Friend-ship. A friend is someone who helps you on your journey.

"Seedy-self-portrait V3" (Illustrated by Arlene Ellis, 2013)

“Seedy-self-portrait V3” (Illustrated by Arlene Ellis, 2013)

Last night I remembered why it’s so vital to have supportive friends.  My friend Bob (name changed for privacy reasons) has a knack for helping me  pinpoint my irrational fears. Last night while we spoke on the phone, I told him that recently I created a project timeline for someone. I couldn’t believe how easy it was for me to think strategically about helping this person overcome her obstacles, yet I had such a difficult time doing that for myself. “Why?!” I shouted, “I mean I have project management experience for goodness sakes!

Chess Player Syndrome

Bob said that I suffered from “chess player syndrome.” FYI I’m not sure if this phrase exists outside of our conversation. “What’s chess player syndrome?” I asked. He explained that it’s when you’re able to look over a chess player’s shoulder and visualize the moves he needs to make to win the game; you can see things objectively. But when you’re playing the game, you become so mired in your anxiety that you’re unable to see the big picture. Boom! Diagnoses. Bob recommended that I create a similar timeline for myself.

"Seedy-self-portrait Vs" (Illustrated by Arlene Ellis, 2013; Original photo by Boris Poletaev )

“Seedy-self-portrait Vs” (Illustrated by Arlene Ellis, 2013; Original photo by Boris Poletaev)

Wearing a Coat of Fear

Bob then began questioning me about the specific thoughts that mired by objective lens. I explained it was the usual, a fear of failure. Then he asked me to visualize myself without this fear. I couldn’t.  So he said, “Imagine your fear is like a snug coat. You’re comforted feeling its texture press up against your skin. It’s so close to your body that it silences the sound of your heart beating and the murmuring in your guts. Now imagine yourself taking that coat off tomorrow. What would you do differently?” My stomach immediately knotted up. (In fact my stomach is knotting up right now while writing about this.) I knew he was right and the simplicity of it all made me sick.


As my conversation with Bob winded down, he suddenly had an epiphany,”I finally get it!”

“Get what?”

“Friend-ship. A friend is someone who helps you on your journey.”

Yes and I’m grateful for the company 🙂

Old Greenwich Beach (Arlene Ellis, 2013)

Old Greenwich Beach (Arlene Ellis, 2013)

Conservation Biology, Quotes, Sustainable Design, Work In Progress

How a bad illustration can inspire something deeper

The Cape Perrot Plants an Idea (WIP illustration, Arlene Ellis, 2013)

What you’re seeing above is a fashion illustration gone wrong. I had a completely different vision in my head. Initially I used a vintage fashion illustration to inspire the pose and silhouette.  In this case I was more concerned about drawing the textiles than the construction of the garments.

The Cape Perrot Plants an Idea (Sketch, Arlene Ellis, 2013)

Half-way through the drawing I thought to use a bird’s head instead of a human head, so I googled “parrots, National Geographic.” One of the first results was a National Geographic article about the endangered green and gold Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Cape parrots are endemic to South Africa and are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss. They usually eat yellowwood fruits but because the yellowwood forests are being cut down for agriculture the birds no longer have a steady food supply and are becoming malnourished, which makes them more susceptible to infections.

After I read the National Geographic article I replaced the human head with a Cape parrot head. Then I infused the textile with elements of the parrot’s life: the colors of its feathers, the shapes of the yellowwood fruit, the color of  vasculature to hint at infection and finally the color of the sky. Still not satisfied with the illustration I tried to salvage it digitally. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out well :).


So why am I explaining all this? I’m terrible at maintaining journals or even sketchbooks because I’m my own worst critic. When drawing or writing for myself, I can’t help but rip apart everything I’ve created (not literally). However, because my blog is public it offers an audience and weirdly enough I feel more compelled to create for an audience than just for myself. In the end though, the main audience member I’m speaking to is my future self. The future me who will have accomplished her dream of becoming a successful fashion designer. The future me who will ask, “How did I get here?” She will look back on these posts and chuckle about how seriously I took myself and my mistakes.

After I finished this fashion illustration, I watched a video of conservation biologists Steve Boyes discuss his dedication to saving the Cape parrot. I was so moved by the plight of these beautiful birds, that I realized I wanted to help them. Yes the first illustration the birds inspired was crap, but it has inspired me to dig deeper.

“Just two weeks ago, I was in the Okavango Delta…but when you’ve come to this place it’s not a wilderness area anymore. We’ve changed it too much. We’ve lost too much of it. And now we must give back.” -Steve Boyes

The main reason I started Organic Lyricism is to instill an appreciation of the natural world in other people. I was growing frustrated by how so many of us take from nature but don’t care to protect it. People like Steve Boyes inspire me to keep making mistakes because there is a greater goal beyond satisfying my ego. If I can harness my talent to create something that people will buy to help protect a species like the Cape parrot, then I’ll keep taking risks.

By the way, if you’re interested in art designed to give back then I invite you to check out my limited edition posters. I hope you have a great day!