Courtland “Illesigns” Ellis
What happens when you cross Hip Hop and dope art?
Let’s be real. Somewhere between allowing Shaq to rhyme with Biggie and the epidemic that is auto-tune, Hip Hop started to fall off; some even believe it’s been happening since the late 80s (see Canibus, Poet Laureate II). Personally, I believe Wacka Flocka Flame was sent here Terminator-style to be the end of Hip Hop as we know it. But no matter what you think about the music, there’s no denying that the culture is alive and thriving and influencing everything from fashion, to TV ads, to animation, and even comics. Courtland Ellis is one of those artists whose Hip Hop influence is prominent in everything from his energetic line strokes to his creation of characters that seem to move to their own beat. Plus, he’s a Lupe Fiasco fan and you can’t go wrong with that.
Courtland credits three things with his artistic evolution growing up: his mom, who taught him how to draw, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, giving his work an undeniable urban feel, and Hip Hop culture. Prior to graduating college, he worked as a graphic designer for Brooklyn Public Library Central and Food & Wine Magazine, but his heart was always in animation. So it’s no surprise that he is currently employed at Postage, Inc., contributing work to it’s sister company, The Fictory. The Fictory is an animation turned multimedia studio out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania founded by Joseph Krzemienski. Krzemienski has won the award for Best Animated Short at the Philadelphia Cinefest among other accolades for his animation American Terror: Company Men, inspired by Jeff McComsey’s graphic novel series, American Terror: Confessions of a Human Smart Bomb. Shortly after, he started The Fictory.
So how did all this play out for Courtland? Well, sometimes being in the right place at the right time has it’s benefits, especially when you end up going to the Hussian School of Art, the same school as the guy you currently work for.
“Joseph Krzemienski and I each graduated from the same school,” says Courtland on meeting Joseph. “One day he came to the school to show some of the things he had been working on and someone convinced me to show him my sketchbook afterward. The rest is history.”
If by history you mean becoming graphic illustrator for The Fictory’s first iPhone game, Pinball Massacre, penciling one of the company’s web comics, Stabb Gunner, and landing a position as an animator for their latest short in production, Atomic Robo: Last Stop, then yes, history it is.
“My roles on Atomic Robo Last Stop included Key and Tween animator, a colorist at times and the illustrator for promotional art,” says Courtland. “It’s interesting bringing something that has only been seen in still images to life with animation. I myself found the turn around of Robo’s head to be challenging.” But Courtland is just the type of straightforward guy that grits his teeth and gets the work done. “It can be difficult at times to find a balance,” he says of juggling work, freelance projects, and a social life, “but it’s surprising what you can do when you put your mind to it.”
Perfect, when you’re trying to make history.
And there’s another type of saga being made, one panel at a time: namely Stabb Gunner, one of five weekly rotating web comics from The Fictory Comics, a branch of the main company. With it’s bright colors, reminiscent of graffiti, and engaging line art, Stabb Gunner really shows off what Courtland can do in the comic arena and is a testament to his Hip-Hop influenced style. “It’s great working with Joe. It’s nice to work with some one as out there as me,” says Courtland on their collaboration on the project. “As for the style of the comic, it was something that naturally evolved into what it is. This was the first comic for Joe and I, so it was quite a learning experience and as we grew so did Stabb Gunners Style.”
Style is something that Courtland has tons of but, like any artist, his influences come from…well…other artists.
His two biggest influences are artists that also seem to have a heavy Hip Hop influence in their style: Lesean Thomas and Shawna Mills. “I consider the two to be opposite sides of the same coin,” says Courtland. “Lesean Thomas is, in a sense, very traditional. He builds his artwork off of life itself. If you pay attention you can see the influences of life drawing in his work yet at the same time see the influence of other things like the hip hop culture, anime and manga.”
Courtland partially credits Shawna Mills as the inspiration behind some of his more eccentric and stylized characters, and often tries to emulate the energy that she portrays in her work. “Shawna Mills is all about expression, exaggeration and stylization,” he says. “Her work tends to be very poppy. Bright colors, hard contrasts, the works. You can really get the sense of stress in her character art’s movement. She also has a slight graffiti feel to her work that makes it perfect for apparel.”
Courtland tries to strike a fine harmony between his two greatest artistic influences as he balances his style and creates something that is true to who he is as an artist.
The funny thing about influences is that it makes our artistic world go round. Somewhere, there’s someone saying the same things about Courtland that he said about Lesean Thomas and Shawna Mills, paying forward the influences that can be found in his work.
Still, with all that’s going on in Courtland’s world, I wondered if he even had time for his own projects. “I have many personal projects but maybe only 3 that I am continuously working on,” he says. “I don’t know about soon, but eventually I’ll unveil my own projects. Maybe even as a The Fictory Comic.” Here’s hoping that’s sooner rather than later (hint hint).
And you know, with all this talk about Hip Hop influences, I couldn’t let him get away without asking who his five favorite rappers are. “Lupe Fiasco, Lupe Fiasco, Drake, Kanye, and Jay-Z.” Laughing, he adds, “Yes Lupe Fiasco takes 2 spots because he’s that good!”
I can only disagree with Courtland on one thing: I would’ve given Lupe three.
Thanks for reading, guys. Until next time!
Courtland Ellis is currently working hard as an Illustrator and Animator at The Fictory in Lancaster, PA. He is open for freelance work and can be found at one of these many places online:
The Fictory: http://thefictory.com/
Deviant Art: http://cle2.deviantart.com/