Hullo, Dear Reader. Welcome to what shall hopefully become an ongoing feature where I pester fellow creatives to chat about themselves and their process of birthing art.
As many of you would already know, art can and does take many forms. Sure, it can be a standard landscape on a gallery wall, but it can also pop up as a stirring folk song or taboo busting webcomic. Art doesn’t need permission to appear however it wants. As long as people from different walks of life are making it then it’s going to bust preconceptions wherever it goes.
There’s someone who was born in Antwerp that I’d like you to meet. She’s half Flemish, half Dutch, and she lives in the Netherlands. I’m not sure if she paints scenes of the countryside but she definitely sings songs and draws comics, ergo she’s an artist. So, hey, let’s break out the billiard chalk and buff our eyes for the click clack of words that follow…
TONY: Welcome, Elly Kellner. I’ve spent the morning listening to your rather pleasant vocal stylings at Creatieve Vlo. You see, I hadn’t even realised that you’re an accomplished singer ’til I tore my eyes away from your comics to find a clearly visible Music tab at the top of your site. As soon as I clicked on that… Well, all I can say is my hearing aid did a little flip of approval! How long have you been singing for?
ELLY: Well I’m glad you liked what you hear! Gosh, I’ve sang ever since I can remember! And when I was 9 years old I started picking up the guitar and after a while songs magically started to appear in my head.
TONY: Wow! What kinds of things were you singing about at that age? Do you remember?
ELLY: I read a lot of books from the library then and would sometimes be inspired by things I read, for instance a story about a girl that got run over by a car and died. I first performed my own song ‘Rain’ in music class at age twelve. It described the sun smiling at a dark rover (a dark cloud with a gun) as he took over the night shift and looked down on us with a grumpy frown. And how his rain made my clothes all wet and how I wished to be home beside the warm fire.
TONY: It’s clear that you had quite an active imagination from a very young age. And empathy too. Where do you think that empathy came from? Was yours an idyllic childhood?
ELLY: Oh dear, idyllic? No, my upbringing was like a fairy tale to me, filled with monsters, witches and much darkness. I was just trying to find out if I was the only one going through what I experienced. I left home at age 15 and lived ‘ever after’ and I still put a lot of energy and focus into the ‘happily’ part every day.
TONY: Yes, people do tend to forget that fairy tales were a lot darker back in the day. I’m glad you were able to find a way out of yours into a much happier story. So, what things make you happy these days?
ELLY: The first that comes to mind is drawing! It was my first creative love as a child but as soon as the music appeared my focus shifted and drawing took the backseat. But now, after some 30 years of focusing on making music my inspiration has decided to not come out in songs anymore. I spent a year without inspiration and then it suddenly came to me in images! It’s a bit scary seeing my dear friend ‘Music’ wander off… but I’m happy my long lost friend ‘Drawing’ came back to me as a replacement. In July 2016 I started creating my own comic and it’s been a fun journey so far!
I’m also quite proud of the give away shop that a friend and I set up a year and a half ago. The shop is open to the public to come shopping for free or to drop off things they don’t use anymore and that someone else may be happy with. It’s a great joy and shows the light side of life; everything in the shop we received from kind people including the shop interior and even the space where our shop is we may use for free. I find that’s pretty amazing! I’ve recently left the shop to focus more on my drawing and it is now run by my friend and six volunteers but the whole thing just proves to me that if you set out to do good and ask for help people are very willing to support you.
TONY: How on earth did you come up with the idea of a give away shop? That’s a quiet kind of genius that could change the world!
ELLY: Here in the Netherlands we have about 40 give away shops so for most of us it’s a normal thing. Of course there are special places all around the world for the needy and poor (I assume?) but a give away shop is for everyone! Even someone who has enough money may enjoy up-cycling and durability. They may enjoy rummaging through old clothes and finding that one gem!
TONY: I don’t think we have an equivalent to be honest. The closest perhaps are the charity shops here that sell second hand essentials at severely reduced prices. I prefer the Netherlands’s approach though. It feels more generous! Do you give away books as well? And what books do you personally love to read? Do you have a favourite author?
ELLY: Yes people can pick books as well as DVDs and some choose to return them once they´re done with them. Hmm, Haruki Murakami´s Kafka on the Shore remains a favorite as is Alice in Wonderland. I don´t read much though, I don´t have the peace in me to quietly sit and read.
TONY: Which explains why you have your fingers in so many creative pies in a way. So, could you tell me a little about your webcomic, and how and why you started it?
ELLY: I guess I’ve always needed a creative outlet to let off steam about my day to day experiences and emotions. I used to put it all in my songs but since that musical inspiration went on a holiday I just had to find something else. I slowly started getting images in my head and tried to draw me! It took a while before I found the right way to draw me.
We have to take into consideration that I’ve never much read any comics before, I had no interest in it whatsoever, except as a child I read the Donald Duck and old Flintstones comics. And I don’t research stuff, I just do it my way. It was the same with music making and writing songs, I just gave it a go and didn’t research what others were doing or how it was meant to be done. And I quite like that tactic in life.
With drawing it works the same… I do follow artists on Instagram, and I just discovered Chuckdrawsthings who draws pigeons that make me laugh or gets me teary eyed sometimes. It can be very inspiring but I don’t want it to influence me too much. The main thing I draw about is me. Anything I draw in these Creatieve Vlo web comics is about my experiences and my feelings. With dating and trying out a polyamorous lifestyle there was enough stuff happening to draw about so I started off with that. Positive body image, me being silly, my relationship with food, mental issues and life with its darker and lighter moments also come into view. And then I have many more ideas to work on…
TONY: Has drawing your strip been as satisfying as you’d hoped it would be? What are some elements of it that you wish to develop going forward?
ELLY: As I’m getting more practice and seeing there’s development in the drawings it gets more and more satisfying. But also, I have so many ideas to draw and it’s just so much fun to get it out on paper and see it actually work! I’d like to keep trying to be open and honest in my work, so try to go into the core, to areas that many would possibly recognize but not many would openly talk about. That way I can be of some help I hope! I think hurt starts the moment one thinks he or she is alone in it. And it can be very comforting to realize there’s many more people feeling the same as you do. I have more ideas that go more towards the ridiculous, talking poop or talking penises for instance. They seem to lead a life of their own so I’ve started drawing them too. I bet they’re very pleased with me.
TONY: I’ll bet they are too! In fact, you mention penises, and there’s something I’ve noticed with that. I get the distinct impression that you are completely enamoured of them! Is this the case? I ask because you seem to draw them on a regular basis.
ELLY: Yes, to me a penis definitely has a certain charm (as an entity of its own) and I also find them aesthetically pleasing, just like ladybugs, boobs, trees and birds. The penis is just another beautiful thing in this world that I enjoy drawing. Now this isn’t a shout out for males, ladybugs or trees to come tug at my sleeve so they can model in the nude for me. No thank you, don’t call us, we’ll call you…
TONY: Yes, this isn’t a cattle call, Dear Readers. Elly’s doing just fine, thanks very much. Well, I guess all that remains is for me to thank you for taking part in this interview. Is there a question that you wish I’d asked?
ELLY: Hmm, did you ask about where the name Creatieve Vlo came from?
TONY: Oh my god. Yes! Of course! That!
ELLY: Creatieve Vlo is Dutch for creative flea! Sometimes when I get a creative idea it’s like it’s an itch that needs to be scratched or dealt with asap. Once I was telling a friend that I was in a good flow with so many creative plans while I was thoughtlessly scratching my head. He smiled and commented that I might have the creative flea. So I really owe the name to this friend.