In the Studio with Detroit Artist Ellen Rutt

BY Taylor Rebhan

Ellen Rutt is a multidisciplinary-artist and designer whose desire was to steep her identity as an artist in the spirit of Detroit, so she chose to locate her studio within an old warehouse in Milwaukee Junction, just east of New Center. While outsiders might not think of this area as an attractive place to explore, many artists are drawn to its dynamic automotive past and in recent years have transformed the vacant buildings into their own creative enclave. 

Using sketchbooks to plot out her art installations and play with new ideas is a natural part of Ellen’s creative process, so we asked if she’d be interested in testing out a few Shinola Sketch Books.

Catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Ellen at work in her studio and hear how she uses Shinola’s American-made, hard linen sketch books in the story below. 


Shinola Sketch Book

Inside the studio that Ellen shares with other artists, hammocks swing from a loft and there are art supplies in every corner. 

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Ellen moved to Detroit and landed a job as an art director at an advertising agency.

“I was struggling for a while right after college with anxiety and spread myself thin working on a lot of freelance projects I didn’t love just to make ends meet, so I reluctantly accepted a full-time position at an advertising agency,” Ellen says. “I loved learning about advertising, but also found my passion pulling me in a different direction. That experience taught me how to find humor even in intense workplace environments and gave me the self discipline to structure my time more effectively.”


In her studio, Ellen uses the Shinola Sketch Book.

Ellen switched gears and landed a job as the art director of 1xRun, the world’s leading publisher of art prints and fine art editions with a brick-and-mortar location in Eastern Market. “It was an incredible place to work because I was surrounded by other creatives and worked on projects doing the branding for events like Murals in the Market, which was a lot of fun to design and introduced me to a network of internationally-renowned artists,” she says.

Today, Ellen’s work regularly sells out at local gallery exhibitions, in addition to working on several freelance projects like designing tiles for a company in Grand Rapids and also painting a mural for the Detroit Achievement Academy, a free public charter school serving kindergarten through fourth grade students. “Really, I just love any opportunity to make new work,” she says. “And doing so in Detroit makes that special.”


Ellen working in a Shinola Sketch Book.

Ellen’s collected and filled several sketchbooks over the years, and when we gave her some of ours, she immediately commented on the size and versatility. Sketchbooks, she says, aren’t just for illustrators: “I don’t necessarily always draw in them, but I use them all the time for sketching thumbnails or working through ideas, compositions and experimenting with collages,” Ellen says. “I can be forgetful and scatterbrained at times, so sketchbooks are crucial. Anytime I have a thought or something comes to me, I write it down.”

Her current body of work is a call for inclusivity and a celebration of diversity through a collection of painterly collages that depict a wide range of Detroiters interacting with layered shapes. “I’m interested in playfulness as a vehicle for authenticity and using humor to help soften communication around cultural and political belief systems. Regardless of the scale of each project, all my ideas begin within a sketchbook,” she says. 


Ellen wears The Birdy Moon Phase 34mm.

As a firm believer in creating minimal waste, Ellen says her current color scheme was born out of paint that were left over from a different project. “Sometimes the most resourceful ideas are born out of necessity and end up being the best ideas,” she says.


Ellen wears The Birdy Moon Phase 34mm and works in the Shinola Sketch Book.

Ellen frequently wears thrift store finds that she personalizes with paint, like the sweatshirt she wears above or the outfit she wears below. 


Ellen’s playful approach to color and shape is continually evolving. “Collaging is a big part of my mixed media pieces and conceptualizing ideas in the Shinola Sketch Book helps me finalize the best options,” she says. “This paper is a good weight, and holds up to glue and paint well.”


Ellen creating a collage in the Shinola Sketch Book.

Shinola Sketch Books are formulated with a 100lb weight paper using 100% US-sourced materials including acid-free paper from sustainably managed forests. Other features include an elastic closure and expandable inner pocket. 

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Some of Ellen’s clothing and artwork displayed near her inspiration board + at work in her studio (right).

Detroit’s creative scene is unique in it’s ability to offer large spaces at affordable prices, as compared to New York or Los Angeles, and Ellen wouldn’t ask for a better community of people to collaborate with. Recently she worked with her friend and fellow artist Ouizi, to create a mural highlighting Detroit’s foreclosure crisis. She loves experimenting and loves getting involved in a variety of projects. 

Her travel plans for 2017 include Europe and a visit to the LA Arts District to kick off the new year with an inspired, fresh mind. 


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