Ellen de Bruijn, also known as Atelier Titi, is a Dutch illustrator and printmaker who lives and works on the outskirts of Utrecht.
Quitting her job to focus on illustration three years ago, Ellen transforms her fun, light-hearted drawings into digital, riso and screen prints.
I met with Ellen at her studio in Leidsche Rijn to find out about where she finds inspiration, how she made the leap to become a full-time illustrator, and her current (very exciting) project…
How did you become an illustrator?
“I’ve always drawn. As a kid, we had a lot of children’s books at home, and all the stories, fairy tales and pop-up books that my mum used to buy for us triggered me to start drawing. Eventually, when I had to make a choice about what studies I wanted to do, I decided to study illustration. I moved to Utrecht from my hometown of Enkhuizen, because the illustration course at HKU is really good.”
Can you tell us about your work, and how you started printmaking?
“I’d describe my work as colourful – it’s little bit naive in style – very flat. It’s also lighthearted – I like to bring a lot of joy in my work. When I first started at HKU we immediately started experimenting with linocut, screen printing, and also with letterpress, which I really enjoyed. When I started making my own work I focussed on screen printing, which works with my style – with the flatness.”
Where did the name Atelier Titi come from?
“Ellen de Bruijn is really common name in the Netherlands, so I had to find something else to call my illustration business! I decided on ‘Atelier Titi’, in honour of my Great-aunt Titi. When Titi was 17 she cycled all the way from Utrecht to Paris to study to become a nurse. She ended up staying there all her life. I recognised a lot of her habits, and I found her house and all the things she kept there really inspiring. I think I have the same taste as she did. She also really liked cats – and you know I love cats!”
Where else do you find inspiration?
“Children’s books are a big source of inspiration for me. Illustrators like the Moomins’ creator, Tove Jansson – she really inspires me. And others like Quentin Blake, and Dutch illustrator Fiep Westerndorp. While their styles are completely different to mine, it’s the subjects and the energy – and the careers of these mainly female artists – that inspire me.”
What’s your favourite print you’ve made?
“My favourite work is Kees the Cat – it’s a black silhouette of a cat who’s looking around with big eyes. I made Kees into a pin, postcards, some tiny screen prints and a risograph. Very sadly Kees is no longer with us – he got hit by a car last summer. I was heartbroken about losing such a sweet cat. I’m extra pleased that I made all the work inspired by him, it gives these images even more meaning for me.”
How much time do you spend screen printing?
“If I’m not working on a commission, printing is my next priority. I spend maybe 20% of my time screen printing things to sell on my web shop. Sometimes I find it stressful, because I just want to make it perfect. Especially when I’m printing with layers – getting the registration right can be difficult. And it’s a long process. But it feels really great when it works out well.”
What’s the best bit about your job?
“Both the best and worst part of my job is probably the fact that I have to do everything myself – it’s all up to me. I have learnt a lot of lessons from this. In the beginning I did some work for free, or for less money, but I stopped doing that because I think it’s really important to get paid correctly for the work you do – you have to stand up for yourself.”
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an illustrator and printmaker?
“When you want something in life, you can do it, but you have to work hard for it. And it’s not easy – it’s still not easy for me. But when I look back I see progress. If you look back and you see any kind of progress, then you’re on a good path. I quit my side jobs three years ago and I found that really frightening, but I just did it. At that point I couldn’t yet live on the money I earned from my illustration work alone. But as soon as I quit my side jobs, all my focus was on illustration, and it allowed it to grow. So it’s also important to just take risks.
With screen printing I think in the beginning it’s really important to just have fun and experiment a lot. Don’t get too frustrated about the results – just focus on the process. Eventually you’ll have enough experience and you can make prints to sell.”
What’s next for that Atelier Titi?
“I’m currently working on a book – it’s a collaborative project – but that’s all I can say! It’s really exciting. I hope I’ll be able to share more later this year.”