Luke Ellison

Luke Ellison



Imaginative and layered, Luke Ellison’s artwork is surreal in ways that can make you laugh, think, feel slightly uncomfortable, sometimes all at once. Incredibly talented and able to carefully change his style through different series’, he has a deep love for popular culture and an eye for social detail. We caught up with Ellison to talk about what he’s currently working on, designing a graffiti mural at the Toledo Museum of Art, and Ikea. 

Tell us more about some of your past projects?

Working reverse-chronologically, I was commissioned by Lourdes University to illustrate both the cover and nearly two-dozen interior alumni portraits for their summer edition of atLourdes Magazine. The entire issue was superhero themed, allowing me to play with dynamic poses and strange costuming for each of the featured alumni. That work, like most of my current work, was a mixture of hand-drawn line art and digital coloring. Last year I was accepted into the Animate Europe publication, presented by the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation in Belgium. My contribution was an eight-page water-colored comic about a young German boy who yells “hello” atop a mountain to his European neighbors. The echoes in reply reflect the similarities and differences between languages. All of the original publication artwork toured Europe for the better part of last year, and is possibly still touring now. Or they burnt it. I am rather horrible with correspondence. 

What current projects are you working on? 

On the commercial side, I am co-developing several animated properties with 10 Forward Productions, which is based in Los Angeles. One of my bestest best friends, Amit Tishler, who I collaborated with frequently during grad school, runs the company. In addition to story development, my job is to help design characters and locations, and storyboard sequences for studio pitches. On the Fine Art side, I am working on a yearlong series of paintings that depict actor Tom Hanks holding koalas, kittens, and other adorable creatures. 

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

Being located at the “crossroads of America” is handy in regards to travel. It’s a straight shot to artistic hot spots like Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit/Ann Arbor, and NYC.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

Before the expansion/renovation of the Toledo Museum of Art’s contemporary wing, the museum held a fundraiser that they called Eclectic Avenue. It was an 80s theme shindig that included a graffiti wall for visitors to sign and “tag.” I was charged with designing the graffiti mural and with the assistance of Vincent Garcia, then a student at the Toledo School for the Arts. The museum was adamant about using brush paint only, due to the proximity of the ancient antiquities one room over. Through persistence and a bit of white lying, I was able to convince the museum to let us use actual spray paint for the mural. It was kind of surreal using aerosol paints less than 50 feet away from 4,000 year-old objects. Now Vince and I hold the claim of being the only artists allowed to live spray paint within the TMA building proper. The mischievous devil inside of me takes pride in that little fact. 

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

Visual artists who set my creative spirit ablaze include Fiona Staples, Jon Foster, and Ashley Wood. If you’re curious as to what specific things trigger my creative juice flow, that list would look like the randomly-generated ramblings of a person with heatstroke or sleep depravation. Clouds. Tequila. Halftone dots. Pryor and Carlin. Aquarium environments. Gyros. Microbiology. 3D printers. Rubenesque ladies. Hammocks. Roadside attractions. Fabriano 300# Hot Press. Tetris vs Dr. Mario. 

Tell us about your background.

I was conceived in a Dodge van, born nearly 11 months later, and raised in every corner of the city. 8-year old me decided that becoming a professional artist would be the most bodacious job ever, so I am working hard to fulfill that kid’s dream. If 8-year old me knew how little artists make and how hard it is to support a Lego addiction on an artist’s salary, a different career path might have been chosen. After 80-odd years of commercial jobs and gallery work, I suckered the Minneapolis College of Art and Design into bestowing upon me an MFA in Illustration degree. This opened the door to my adjunct faculty position at Owens State Community College, where education is both affordable and close to a Denny’s.  

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

F**k it Dude. Let’s go bowling.” –Walter Sobchak

Favorite place for local culture?

It was Major Magic’s All-Star Pizza Review until the government shut them down… now I suppose by default it’s the Old West End Festival. Le sigh.

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .

The following sparks constant debate between my girlfriend and me. She, being a Michigander (bless her heart), always insists we park in the Anthony Wayne Trail lot of the Toledo Zoo. She refers to this as the main entrance, when every Toledoan knows that the main entrance is by the aquarium/amphitheatre on Broadway. The AWT side is the “tourist” entrance that causes traffic nightmares every holiday season, and costs money to use. As a local, you go to Walbridge Park during the snow months, where you can park for free and watch the sunset over a frozen Maumee River, then head to the line-free main entrance for the zoo light spectacle. Oh, and you’re suppose to go on Mondays around 11:45 am, followed by a nap somewhere until dark. 

My favorite place to chill locally is . . .

Anywhere with cider on tap and Keno machines within arm’s reach.

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .

My first inclination would be the Botanical Gardens, but they’re a bit too manicured to be a natural space. I’ll go with Pearson Park since it has the Botanical Garden vibe without the constant influx of amateur wedding photographers. 

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . .

People watching at the mall. Not like a creeper. It’s just a great place for my illustrator side to observe social behavior and quirky-looking patrons. 

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

The Arts desperately need more support from our government and all levels of the education system. In addition to an increase in funding, there should be a promotional campaign stressing the importance of language and art to the millennial generation.

Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?

Currently, I am developing my own comic book imprint, which will debut a massive 3-issue zine featuring a dozen artists from across the globe. I am working as the editor, co-writer, and publisher on this project. I wish that I could say more, but I have to trademark a few title names and purchase a few domains before going public. You should check back with me next spring. It’s going to be an impressive little book. Seriously, I need the promotion. Check back.

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

It would be fun to develop a pantomimed bat-swatting interactive experience using a hologram of John Candy and augmented reality software.

Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without. 

For a brief period of time, my kidneys were haphazardly fused to a copy of Orwell’s “1984.” However, thanks to Obamacare, I could afford to surgically remove the book and I am now 100% nondependent from media. 

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .


Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

I would want my limited music selection to be as bi-polar as possible to accommodate for potential mood swings. Must haves would be Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Devotion by Beach House, Danny Elfman’s A Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth, and O by Damien Rice (insert LOST season 1 reference here).

My biggest vice is . . .

Keno or the answer below.

I’d like to see __________ in Toledo.

We’re probably too close to Canton for this to become a reality, but I would be excited for a Toledo-area Ikea. Swedish meatballs are my Kryptonite. 

What’s the last dream you recall having?

To the best of my recollection, there was a dream where I was driving a racecar made of Jell-O gelatin with a Wookiee version of Mike Rowe as my co-pilot. We crashed into a pool full of zombies. Long vines hung over the pool, so I climbed out of the pool and Tarzan-swung myself to safety. Unfortunately, Mike didn’t make it. His over-saturated Wookiee hair proved to be too much of a handicap for escaping zombies.

The last lyric that moved me was . . .

“You are what you love, and not what loves you back.” - Jenny Lewis 

One movie character I identify with is . . . 

Joe “Versus the Volcano” Banks.

The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

That dancing Spiderman chatroom avatar still remains a classic. He had some impressive moves. Wait, was the question asking about gifs or gifts? Either way, I’ll stick with the same answer.

My most inspiring moment was/is . . .

Many, many moons ago – back in the days of Party in the Park – I was invited by the director of Citifest to organize the second annual Teen Graffiti Mural near Promenade Park along the riverfront. Towards the completion of the mural, I distinctly recall a young boy walking past me while excitedly saying to his mother, “Mommy, I want to be a graffiti artist when I grow up.” It was one of those rare and surreal moments where you know that your efforts made a positive difference in a person’s chain of thought. To this day, those twelve overheard words still fuel me as an art educator and practicing maker.

I want my last meal to be _______________.

A juicy dinosaur steak artificially constructed by a food synthesizer. 


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