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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Marcy Ellis: Art in Living Color

Jul 31, 2019 10:57AM ● By Suzie Agrillo

The work of Marcy Ellis. Left: Botanical Sisters; Top Row: Boug In Villia Dreams, Magic Embracers; Middle Row: Offerings of Love; Marcy Ellis (pictured); Bottom Row: Floral Sisters

Dedicated, compassionate and inspiring, Marcy Ellis creates art that implores us to embody the connection and responsibility we have to our world. Women’s bodies, nature and flora proliferate in her paintings, connecting plants with human life.

Ellis grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where her parents owned a plant nursery. As a child, she taught herself how to draw flora while she sat in a wheelbarrow at the nursery. After her family moved to Tucson, Ellis attended Ironwood Ridge High School. She drew inspiration from her high school art teacher, who changed her path and was instrumental in her decision to pursue a career in art. Initially, Ellis contemplated pursuing opening up a boutique, and she took classes at Pima College in fashion design.

A turning point was when Ellis went to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala through the Wesley Foundation. During this trip, she visited one of the only deaf and blind schools in the region and brought art and school supplies to these children who had very little, which, in her words, “opened up my eyes.”

When Ellis returned, she enrolled in the University of Arizona, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education. After graduation from college, she taught art in Amphitheater School District. “I had to stop teaching in the classroom because my business has exploded within the last couple of years,” she explains.

According to Ellis, resourcefulness and a willingness to do the extra work are the components of being a professional artist. “It’s challenging professionally to be an artist, because you have to do everything yourself. You have to be the accountant, book art shows, market your work on many different platforms, curate your own content and design your own website if you want to be successful,” she laments.

Despite the demands of managing her business, Ellis finds the time to light the way for others to learn art. She teaches art to youth at The Drawing Studio in Tucson. “Art is such a huge part of development for social skills and problem solving. I tell my students, ‘Relax, you can do it.’ Everyone has a creative spark, even adults who think they can’t be creative,” she notes.

Ellis sports a tattoo on her wrist which reads, “Oh yes I can.” This mantra has translated into her art. She doodles the mantra onto the bodies she draws. “It has become a motto for my work,” she says. It is important to note that Ellis utilizes her art to reflect who she is and what she stands for. She is a feminist, and she draws inspiration for her work from connections she makes with other women. Illustrations of the female form are ubiquitous in her portfolio, and flora is a common theme in much of her work.

Ellis’ art juxtaposes different avenues of transformation. It embodies the concepts of personal growth in humans and the growth of seeds into flowers. “We walk the Earth alongside these beautiful plants. Like plants, we are always evolving and growing in cycles. There is resilience in plants and strong women,” she observes.

While she’s drawing her designs in her home studio downtown, Ellis likes to listen to ambient sounds. If it’s a long project, she might listen to a podcast, such as a TED Talk, or Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays. The Tara Westover interview on Oprah intrigued her so much that she binge-listened to the audio book, Educated. “I couldn’t stop,” she shares. In her spare time, Ellis enjoys having a beer at her favorite watering hole, the Crooked Tooth Brewery, or a cocktail at the Owl’s Club. For dinner, she likes the ambiance and food at Penca and Time Market.

Her business has gone in some interesting directions. She started getting a lot of requests to translate her drawings into tattoos. “People from all areas of the country are getting them. My drawings resonate with them, and they want to have them made into tattoos. I love it. It’s the highest honor when someone wants my art on their body,” she relates.

Recently, Ellis recently got a commission to travel to Santa Barbara, California to paint a mural on a store window. “I’ve done some window murals in Tucson. It’s a new direction and it’s exciting to put my work in a different context,” she notes. Ellis’ art reflects who she is as an individual. “My whole process is working with line as expression. I work with a lot of natural watercolors and I make my own colors from boiling vegetables. I try to create with a sustainable and environmental process,” she states.

Her favorite artists are Frida Kahlo, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O’Keeffe and Yayoi Kusama. Kusama is a celebrated 90-year-old self-professed “obsessional artist”. She is known for her extensive use of polka dots and for her infinity installations. Kusama lives in a mental institution in Japan, and her extraordinary life has been documented in the film Kusama: Infinity.

Ellis sells her work wholesale to boutiques and shops around the country. Word of her talent has spread exponentially, and she is very grateful. “I have my work in over 45 shops around the country,” she says. In addition to boutiques, Ellis sells her art on her website, at the Pop Cycle Shop, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the MOCA Museum Shop, Etsy and Instagram. 

Ellis wants to live a meaningful life. “I stay true to myself and my work. I try to make the world a little bit brighter every day,” she relates. As a prolific artist, she has created a life of possibility for herself, and concomitantly made the world a little bit brighter for the viewers of her art.

Connect with artist Marcy Ellis at or @marcyellis on Instagram. 

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].

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