catching up with ellis rosen, '02-'04

Tom and I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Ellis Rosen, a Summer Arts alumnus and former apprentice teacher. He spoke with us about his experiences at Putney and how that has influenced his path and work since.

Ellis Cartoon

Ellis Rosen is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in The New YorkerThe Paris Review and The Millions. He is the illustrator of a children's chapter book, Woundabout, from Little, Brown and a contributor to the Eisner-nominated graphic anthology Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land. You can also read his absurdist web comic Bunnyman at

Tom - It's great getting the chance to catch up with you Ellis.  I wanted to dive right in and ask, what did you learn as a student during your summers here?

Ellis Picture

Ellis - Putney was exactly what I needed at that stage in my creative development. Teachers like Lisa Rader (Drawing Teacher) explained things to me so clearly, pushed me in the right directions, and gave me honest feedback all while encouraging me more and more. While I had been drawing for a while, it was at Putney where I learned how to draw and how to think about drawing. The sense of community was also very encouraging.  We were all learning together, figuring it out and advancing. Being part of an artist hub like that is a vital experience for any artist.

Dan - What did you take away from your time as an apprentice teacher?

E - You know, a really good way to learn something is to try and teach it to other people. You start to realize how you think about something and then have to figure out how to teach that to someone else – to a whole class of students. It’s sort of like a required element for anyone who wants to learn something, to try and teach it to another person. Being an apprentice and having to teach the evening classes at Putney and being with students in the dorms solidified what I was learning at the time.

D - And, how did your experience at Putney help you while you were applying to colleges?

E - Oh, boy.

T - You bounced around a little bit didn’t you? You went down to Savannah and up to Chicago?

E - Yeah, I went to Chicago (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) for college and Savannah (Savannah College of Art and Design) for grad-school. I think my college portfolio was at least 90% Putney stuff. Putney is where I did my best work. You’re able to be just so focused in an environment like Putney, which is part of the reason I miss it so much. It brings out your best work. When I was Putney age, making art was not something I did all the time. You don’t have that discipline or attention span to draw every day, but when you go to Putney, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You start to build those skills. Eventually in the middle of the grind you look up and you start to realize you’ve created you’re best work to date. So absolutely, my portfolio for Chicago was mostly Putney made art.

T - In terms of how you are making work now, is there anything that resonates from your time at Putney? Something that was nurtured, or that you came to realize at Putney?

Ellis Picture

E - I’m not sure if I can think of any comics specifically that I was doing back then with Jason Whiton (B&W Photography Teacher). He just let me do my own thing. He and everybody were super encouraging. They allowed me to be myself and build my own sensibilities and my own sense of humor, which was not something I was getting in school or in the other places that I tried before Putney. That confidence building was absolutely important to my work. I mean the fact that I’m sitting down and doing cartoons in the first place and feeling pretty good about it, takes an ego that can only be encouraged. Maybe it’s the general environment and the friendliness and a shared passion that everyone at Putney feels.

T - Who would be the people that influenced you?

E - When I was that age I didn’t have the best taste. I remember trying to convince Mary An (Painting Apprentice Teacher) that Preacher was a good comic. That was sort of the cool thing a boy that age would like.

T - Yeah, but then there were some books by some people who were doing comics in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s who were talking about it as an art form.

E - Oh, sure yeah. It was probably about the time I discovered Will Eisner and Scott McCloud. They are the two guys you go to learn about comics and understand them.

T - Well, it was really your influence as a student and Jason’s (Whiton) willingness to take it on, that I think we offered a Comics & Graphic Novels workshop. When you talk about a shared passion at Putney I see it with students and with adults. It’s a mixed conversation. I wonder if that’s your sense of Putney.

E - Absolutely. I know what you mean with Jason, too. He would encourage me and get excited about everything I was excited about. And you know, that builds a certain type of confidence. You go, ‘wow -the adult agrees with me about something.’ There’s a shared passion that breaks down the age boundary and becomes about the art.

D - So, where are you finding work?

Ellis Comic

E - The New Yorker, that’s the main one I like to tell people, because people have heard of it. Some freelance stuff. I also do some art work for a writer who pays me to spruce up his pitches with illustrations, and some wedding invitations. I’m also the comics editor at a publication called Blunderbuss Magazine. It’s been online for years, and now we’ve started doing print issues. Our first issue came out before the election. It’s got poetry and comics and essays, that kind of thing. Very politically charged, but still funny and satirical.

D - Who are your influences now?

E - Right now, since I’ve been doing The New Yorker thing, I’ve been getting obsessed with New Yorker cartoonists past and present. When I first started doing it I wanted to figure out a new approach, different from the way as I had tackled the children’s book or some of the other comics I had done. I looked at all these different artists and I found one guy by the name of Chon Day. At first my earlier cartoons were more like his. Now they’ve sort of taken on their own thing, but Chon Day was a big influence. In terms of humor and general thought process this guy Charles Barsotti is just the funniest of them all. And of course Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor at The New Yorker. I could go on forever about these. Jack Ziegler, George Booth all the main guys you may or may not have heard of. They are all fantastic in their own way.

T - I’m just curious parenthetically, what’s the culture like? Do you guys together? Are you funny when you get together?

Ellis Picture

E - Oh, totally. That’s the best thing. You go in every Wednesday, you bring 10-15 cartoons and everybody has an individual meeting with Mankoff. You sign up to meet, and you’re hanging with all these cartoonists in the lounge and that’s the greatest part. I’m out there with George Booth, P.C. Vey and all these guys who are legends, and I feel like these are my people. They are sharp, and funny, and very encouraging. They’re a lot like Putney that way. I remember one guy before I had sold one was like, “Have you sold one?” I said “No,” and he was like, “You will” and said it with such confidence that it made me feel confident.

T - And how did you get the intro?

E - I have a friend, Sam Marlow, who had done some cartoons with The New Yorker. He’s an animator at a company called Titmouse. Sam was working on a cartoon that was put together by Paul Noth. Paul is one of the biggest cartoonist at the New Yorker. Sam asked Paul for an intro, and then I asked Sam for one.

T - Very cool. Well, I think those are all the questions we had. We appreciate your time Ellis, and are very glad to be back in touch with you.

E - Thank you so much guys, this is great.

D - Thank you.

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