Ellie Bryan connects natural world to society through ceramics

The artist highlights natural and dark imagery in her illustrations and pottery.

Ksenia Gorinshteyn

Ellie Bryan’s connection with the natural world is ever-present in her work. As a crafter, Bryan’s pottery, illustrations and music harbor the spirituality she feels is present in nature.

Bryan graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota in 2015, but pursued various creative outlets before her time at the University. From age 7 to age 17, Bryan took art classes at Studio Seven in downtown Minneapolis every week.

However, her flair for the creative was apparent even before that. 

“When most kids [were] drawing scribbles, I was drawing little stick figures and putting eyelashes on them,” Bryan said. “[My mom] always says, ‘You used to put eyelashes on them, that’s not something that most kids do.’”

Bryan’s mother, Jenny Bryan, wasn’t the only one who could see Bryan’s need for a creative outlet.

“When she was in kindergarten … the teacher said to us, ‘Ellie really needs to do art,’ and we kind of laughed like, ‘Oh yeah, we know, Ellie loves art,’” Jenny said. “She goes, ‘No, you don’t understand. Ellie has a need to do art,’ and she was like really serious.’’

This inclination for the arts led Bryan to attend Perpich Center for Arts Education and Minneapolis Community and Technical College for media arts and photography. After taking a class in ceramics at the University, she started making pottery more seriously.

“It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever tried in my life, so I was actually really discouraged at first,” Bryan said. “I felt like I was really bad at it, and I had been feeling kind of successful in the other things I had been trying.”

She found her niche in pottery with a technique called sgraffito. Bryan would scratch through the surface of her pots to reveal contrasting colors, making her illustrations pop. 

“It’s just so smooth and it feels super natural,” Bryan said. “I got to do what I really loved, which is drawing in that style … so it just kind of clicked.”

Bryan’s work is filled with illustrations of owls, goats and various natural scenes from hikes and time spent outdoors. These scenes motivate her to create art that unites the natural world with an anthropogenic society.

“The inspiration is kind of this perpetual thing of being inspired by nature and animals and that’s something that has always been really important to me,” Bryan said.

Much of Bryan’s connection to nature is spiritual and symbolic; she believes there is a certain kind of energy in nature.

“I could see her being inspired by the textures and the visuals of the things that we would be hiking around and witnessing and see that a couple months later in a piece on the table,” said Jason Tompkins, a friend of Bryan’s.

Bryan’s work as a potter was highlighted when she received the 2016 Jerome Resident Artist of Color grant at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. For a year and a half, she was able to use the space and materials to produce her art for one of their shows and for her business, Black Banjo Arts.

“It was really awesome to be recognized there as … a legitimate emerging artist,” Bryan said. “All of the opportunities I got there to make work, to meet people … it’s an opportunity I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

In 2017, Bryan joined the art collective Conspiracy of Strange Girls. The collective is another source of motivation for her, pushing her to create pieces for various shows that the collective puts on.

“It was kind of this small thing where we were just like, ‘OK, let’s find some artists in Minneapolis that are like, kind of weird, kind of edgy, kind of dark, and we’ll get together and we’ll make some stuff happen,’” Bryan said.