Art director Ellsphee: ‘we’re constantly suspended in a state of self-discovery’

It’s not often you come across somebody whose artwork is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Sphelele Gumede aka Ellsphee’s work is exactly that, a true original with energy and social commentary all of its own. We spoke to Sphelele about what inspires him and how his work has been an ongoing interpretation of the world.

Barbershop. Tell us about yourself and how you got started as an illustrator.

My name is Sphelele Gumede aka Ellsphee and I’m a multidisciplinary Art Director from South Africa. My work encompasses several disciplines such as Design, Motion Graphics, Animation and Illustration. I have been illustrating for as long as I can remember. It was the thing I did to stay out of trouble when I was young, and I think it eventually became a safe space for me. I started off with pencil on paper and it wasn’t until I was studying Animation that I started working digitally. The earliest memory I have of drawing was the one time I drew a pencil sketch of my great grandmother. That’s the first drawing I remember being really proud of.

“The earliest memory I have of drawing was the one time I drew a pencil sketch of my great grandmother. That’s the first drawing I remember being really proud of.”

How would you describe your style and the themes of your work?

My work is an introspective exploration where personal life experiences and the ceaseless search for my own meaning often cross paths. Over the years I have explored various themes such as coming to terms with my own mortality and being able to see the world as more than what meets the eye. The use of vivid colours is quite intentional. The aim is to bring my audience closer.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m inspired by people and various art forms such as music, film and photography. Seeing how other people interpret the world is always interesting to me.

Talk us through your workflow; how do your designs tend to develop and how long do they take? What equipment do you use?

Each one of my artworks begins its life on my sketchpad as a very rough sketch. The aim at this point is to get the main idea out. I then scan the sketch and use it as reference for the illustration on Affinity Designer. I work monochromatically at first as this helps me set the tone for the artwork. The emphasis at this point is creating contrast. I prefer using my Wacom Intuos Pro to draw because this gives me better control. The amount of time each piece takes differs. I generally don’t like to finish my work in one sitting. I like being able to go back and add to it until eventually there is nothing more to add.

Which illustrators/designers do you admire the most?

I’ve drawn immense insight and inspiration from many different people, from street artists like Faith47, Banksy, Jamie Hewlett, Jon Burgerman, Sindiso Nyoni, Shepard Fairey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and last but not least, Takashi Murakami.

How do people typically react to your work? And what do you hope they take away from your designs?

I am often caught by surprise by how positively my audience reacts to my work. From my perspective

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