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‘It’s easy to get distracted at home, when there is no one working around you.’ We are drinking tea in Ellie King’s kitchen and playing with her new dog Coco. Her home and studio is a lucky find in Melbourne’s Thornbury, a space that is almost completely tiled (even her bedroom). To overcome the incidental isolation of working from home Ellie makes sure she does at least one social thing per day – and today we are one of those occasions. Ellie is the kind of person that asks: why can’t I do this? But with these big ideas, comes an ability put them into action. After running a café for a couple of years, Ellie missed creating things and started sewing and painting at night as a way to calm down. As we sit in her tiled abode, Ellie tells us how she transitions from café life to selling her wares full-time under the well-known name Rittle King.
While you need not label yourself as one thing, tell us a little about the crossover between being an artist and a designer?
When I was growing up I always wanted to be an artist. Both my parents were graphic designers, so I was always like “I’m going to be an artist”. I’ve never studied art, only graphic design and then illustration. I’m probably more of a designer…I mean I make products; I don’t actually make artworks. My friends that are artists would call me a designer. But my other friends would call me an artist. I would never call myself an artist…it makes me uncomfortable. You have to explain yourself more. If you’re an artist you need to have meaning behind your work.I feel like my stuff is very aesthetics based. It’s stuff to decorate your home and there isn’t a meaning behind it. It looks good and I like it and it’s something I’d want to have in my home. You design products to look good, rather than to have meaning. It’s a more logical way of thinking…it’s branding and products and business.
Talking of products…do you think about the functional side of what you make?
The more I think about how much stuff there is in the world, the more practical I want to be with what I make. I used to be like: I’ll just make what people want. The t-shirts I create make me feel a little uncomfortable… I mean people don’t need more t-shirts. Planters seem more practical. You want to have some sort of function to it as it makes it more justifiable and doesn’t seem more wasteful.
Your illustrations and handmade pots seem quite playful. There is all this talk around the role of play and it’s connection to happiness. What do you think about this?
I’ve never even thought of this. I guess my work is really playful…but I don’t think of myself as a really playful person. I mean my stuff is colourful and happy. I guess it is because I’ve always liked comics growing up and that illustration style. Being naïve is a really great way to make something that looks good and not take yourself too seriously. I never even thought about it as me sitting around and playing and having a good time. I’m just drawn to things that are naïve, wacky, unusual and ugly.
Do you make all of your works by hand here?
I build here by hand and then get them fired at Northcote pottery. I tried the wheel in high school, but I like things looking messy. There are so many people making perfect things that you can buy. I think if I were painting on perfect things would be pretty weird too and maybe a bit shit. It might look like I bought them and painted all over them.
You’ve mentioned eBay plays a role in your ideation – what do you find so fascinating about it?
I’m obsessed with eBay and I draw inspiration from the things you find in the depths like American folk art. I guess I just make things I would want to own or I think my friends would like. It’s the world’s biggest international op shop and you never know what you will find. I also love the way people photograph their items which can be pretty incredible. My house is made up of treasures from eBay and I’ll never stop hunting, my friends think looking for things must be so tedious but finding a gem is the best thing ever.
Ellie King’s playful ceramics can be found on the shelves of Junior Space and start from $40.
Photography: Bec Capp. Words: Lauren Brumley.