Oh, modernist pioneers! Recent grad Ellen Surrey illustrates California’s trailblazing women

Ellen Surrey is a fervent flea market flâneur. “My greatest inspiration comes from American nostalgia, and a single thrift store find can hold so much history,” says the Spring 2014 Illustration graduate whose work is featured above and on the cover of the current issue of Dot magazine.

Her love of Americana is evident throughout her work, including her illustrations of folklore hero Paul Bunyan, a series that marked an artistic turning point for Surrey. “I really pushed myself stylistically and medium-wise and from that point on I started to gain a lot more confidence as an illustrator.”

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2013 Surrey won a scholarship from the Society of Illustrators’ national student competition.

“Ellen [brought] smart ideas and excellent skills to her assignments every single week,” says faculty member Paul Rogers. “She does the thing that great illustrators do—she always shows up with something extra you’re not expecting.”

Take Surrey’s California Girls, for example. During a study abroad term in London as part of the Illustration program’s annual immersion in all things British, students were asked to create a project around California Modernism but given very little direction beyond that—a freedom that Surrey, born in New York and raised in La Crescenta, Calif., relishes. She took the assignment and ran with it, creating exuberant illustrations for a book honoring eight women from the modernist period in California—from Ray Eames and Corita Kent, to Peggy Moffitt and Lucille Ball. It’s Moffitt who appears on the cover of Dot.

“Each of these women made great strides in the arts and are responsible for some of our culture’s most iconic images,” says Surrey. “They deserve just as much attention as the men of that time.”


This story originally appeared in Art Center’s Spring 2014 Dot magazine, where you can read more about alumni and faculty achievements.


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