Art and Activism: into Ella Trudgeon’s sketchbook

Sumaya interviews an up-and-coming young artist and advocate about all things activism and tackling the creative world

Something I love about working at Rife is being allowed the opportunity to elevate voices and works that matter. Though I may be a lil’ biased, because I have all the love to give this lovely gal, I can’t think of an individual more deserving of recognition. Not only is Ella an immensely talented mixed-medium creative, but she’s also a highly intelligent, compassionate, generous and wonderful human being who continually inspires me in both a personal and creative capacity. She’s been involved in many projects working towards bettering the state of our planet and life for all its inhabitants, and has produced an array of amazingly beautiful and intriguing artworks. I’m the most proud of her, and would love for y’all to join me in celebrating how far she’s come on her journey. You’ll also be sure to benefit from her super wise words!

Hola! Could you please introduce yourself and briefly outline what it is you do?

Hello! I’m Ella. I am an activist-illustrator, puppet-maker and filmmaker who creates content about conscious consumerism and empowerment.

How do you attempt to balance your personal life and your varied creative work?

I’m still learning this one because when I’m deep in a project, it’s easy to burrow into a creative cocoon and disappear for a while. More recently I’ve been learning the importance of saying ‘no’ or ‘yes, but not right now’ – which is difficult for me because I love a collab and I’m overly optimistic about my capacity to take on everything. It’s so important to make time to do nothing if you can, that’s what I’m learning.

Artwork and image c/o Ella Trudgeon

What fuels your desire to create art?

On the surface, there’s something magic about being able to turn a thought into a thing that another human can experience. I love it, especially the weirdest bits emerging from the back of the mind. A little deeper, it’s this feeling that we’re surrounded by absurdities in this world that are really difficult to verbalise, and that art might be able to make alternative perspectives more accessible.

What does your process look like?

From the outside, it’s a mess of a lot of paper and sometimes some tears. Through my eyes, it looks like this: thinking about an idea, often in the bath, and then there’s always a lot of writing and drawing. Filling blank books up with ideas and thoughts until I’m so excited to make the work that it feels impossible not to. It’s not always a comfortable process and I’m learning to be transparent with my journey, but it can be challenging when consuming pixelated perfection on social media. On a recent project, I was spending lots of time working with really painful content about the meat and dairy industry. It became emotionally exhausting for my art to be so entwined with real suffering. That’s not really the kind of process that we see shared on Instagram stories. Maybe we could all benefit from recognising the human in each other, so that we don’t forget that there’s a lot of self-doubt and development – many drafts, edits – that all artists work with before they share their polished final piece online.

Artwork and image c/o Ella Trudgeon

Is there a medium of art you enjoy working with the most? Why?

Colour pencil, water colour, paper. Oh and polymer clay, my newest love. Both watercolour and colour pencil are gentle friends of mine because they slow me down, they can be very calming and it’s satisfying to build layers of colour. Polymer clay is like plasticine that can be baked to become hard. It’s smooth and can be reshaped into anything, which is fun because I love love love creating faces.

How does your art comment on current social and political issues?

Recently I’ve been playing with children’s perspective as a lens to see society, because children can see the world without layers of conditioning. They’re seeing it objectively in all its confusion before they’re taught about what’s right and wrong, normal and not normal. I think that can be really powerful, remembering that everything isn’t so fixed. That there is beauty amongst the chaos, and that together we have the power to change our world when we unlearn what we think we know, whether it’s how we perceive identity, or our political climate or our relationship with the planet and animals. I hope that what shines through in my activism is the potential of compassion. It’s powerful.

Artwork and image c/o Ella Trudgeon

How do you navigate the art world as a young creator? What are some of the struggles?

I think we are all navigating the art world a little blindly, because there’s no map for the majority of us. The art world currently lacks diversity and that is reflected in what’s being produced – it’s still very white, straight and cis-male. Mainstream education has failed to teach us how to empower ourselves and one another to reach beyond the different barriers young creators are facing, but we’re learning together and helping one another up. We’re deconstructing the system by building our own networks and communities to create our own opportunities.

In Bristol we are lucky to have incredible organisations such as Rising Arts Agency, 8 Creative Agency, BFI Film Academy and Creative Youth Network who are diversifying the industry by empowering and training young talent. For anybody feeling the struggle, reach out to these lovely lot. They can support with free learning opportunities and give guidance on all the bits that make the creative world so inaccessible, like learning about funding, tax, invoicing and contracts.

Artwork and image c/o Ella Trudgeon

What are some of the ways you’re developing career as an artist? Do you have any advice for other young people trying to do the same?

Self-learning is the coolest thing to me, because we no longer need qualifications or teachers when we have the internet and motivation to learn. I’ve begun telling myself ‘gentle perseverance’ if I feel disheartened. It’s a reminder that moving forward slowly is enough – because it can be very overwhelming to feel the pressure to achieve and succeed, especially when you’re the only one holding yourself accountable. I think gentle perseverance is a self-compassionate way to work towards your dreams. That’s the path I want to take, and I’m ok with walking. We have to be kind to ourselves and the creatives around us, celebrate our small achievements and recognise our growth.

Artwork and image c/o Ella Trudgeon

Is there anything you’re currently working on coming up that we have to look forward to?

Yes! I’m so close to sharing a recent project called Eat Dogs, a short film about our relationship with animals explored through a child’s questions. You’ll be able to see some of the process on my Instagram: it’s pretty surreal with puppets and stop-motion animation but it has a real message. There’s a couple of exciting projects I’m mulling over during long baths, but at the moment they are still being thought up: so, stay tuned!

Be sure to check out more of Ella’s fabulous work by heading over to her Instagram!

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.