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Main People My place: Carson Ellis

My place: Carson Ellis

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Written by Vivian McInerny   
Monday, November 12, 2012

She puts pencil to paper and a small world takes shape in shades of gray. Carson Ellis has illustrated album covers, posters and eight books, including the children’s fantasy-adventure series The Wildwood Chronicles in collaboration with husband/musician Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. They and son Hank, 6, live in a 1908 farmhouse on a densely forested hill near Portland. They converted the garage to studios. What had been a plywood loft accessed by a ceiling hatch is now her light-filled workspace where militant moles, ragtag coyotes and an adventurous girl named Prue are realized
on paper.

2013DecJan CarsonEllis

Photo by Jon Jensen

LIGHTWEIGHT: The gray sofa “is nothing. It’s upholstered cardboard. It’s so light, Colin carried it up to the studio balanced on one hand.”

WORKPLACE: She built her drafting table with reclaimed wood from The ReBuilding Center in Portland.

HOME LIFE: “My parents say they weren’t hippies. When I was born, they lived in a souped-up van with a stove. That sounds
hippie to me.”

FINDER KEEPER: Years ago, hiking deep in the woods in California, Ellis found an organic, sculptural tangle of dried branches, curly bark and twigs, hauled it home and has “moved it and moved it” ever since.

MOTHER LOAD: “I’m not a pack rat. I purge. I used to be more on top of it. If it didn’t seem important or beloved, I got rid of it. [Now] if your kid loves this ugly plastic thing, then you love it too, because you want them to
be happy.”

TAKEOUT BOX: A stash of old letters and photos is “the first thing I would grab — after my kid and cat — if there were a fire.”

BETTER RED: In 2001 she and friends lived in a Portland warehouse with the battered red chair. “Many chairs in better shape were given to Goodwill.” The red end table “was a chair that lost its back so it became a table.”

PICTURE THAT: The deep-blue skin and gold freckles of her self-portrait “remind me of stars.” Rather than wash and layer paints, she finishes one area in detail before moving to the next, as evident in the black-and-white Vista Avenue drawing on the back wall. “The details are the fun part.”