Artist/circus performer/creative/ultimate slashie, Ela Bartilomo is a force to be reckoned with. A few years ago Ela Bartilomo decided to leave her life in Brisbane to study a Bachelor of Circus Arts at NICA in Melbourne. Not only is she absolutely rocking it in the Melbourne circus scene, she also manages to keep up with her love of visual art by creating designs that she pops up on her online store. Keep an eye on this one, she’s going places…
Tell us a bit about what you do?
I am a circus performer, visual artist and just generally addicted to creating things. I am currently in my third and final year studying circus at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne, where I get to train circus from 9am-5pm 5 days a week (usually a lot more). For these past three years I have been specialising in aerial rope, contortion, handstand chairs (stacking chairs on top of each other) and group acrobatics. It is super fun but also exhausting both physically and mentally. As an athlete and a performer you are constantly trying to push your body to its limits and challenge your mind creatively which is tough, but ultra rewarding when you succeed. Though circus occupies most of my time, I am really passionate about visual art and try to squeeze it in every spare moment of the day, combining it with circus where I can. I use water colours, coloured pencils or just a fine liner for my drawings. This year I started teaching myself how to draw digitally and I have kind of fallen in love with it. Youtube tutorials are great, but I know I still have so much to learn so I am considering going to study that at some point.
What made you want to become a circus performer?
When I graduated high school I was a little stuck about what I wanted to do, my youth circus director at the time, Alyssa Venning encouraged me to audition for NICA. With nothing to lose, I did and to my surprise I was accepted. That kind of decided my career path for me. It wasn’t random though, I have always been physical, growing up doing dance, gymnastics, soccer and everything else I could try. I eventually started training and performing circus with C!RCA’s youth ensemble Circa Zoo and stuck with it. Though I love circus right now, I definitely want to study visual art or graphic design at some point. I figure while my body is at its best I should explore my physical creativity first and study visual art later when I get too tired.
How do you get inspired to create?
Honestly, I don’t actively seek out inspiration but I think subconsciously I get inspired from things I see or hear during the day like my Instagram feed or an annoying rock stuck in my shoe. My daily life and the people who are in it are all inspirations that lead towards those 4am ideas. If I am really stuck I will usually scroll Tumblr for visual and/or performing artists or grab a pen and start drawing on a blank piece of paper. Usually my biggest inspirations are things that I am passionate about, I am at my best creatively when I have something to say.
What keeps you motivated to keep creating art (whether that’s performative or visual arts) even when the industry can be difficult and it takes a long time to get noticed?
I’m not going to lie, it is hard. I often get demotivated and overwhelmed about creating things. It starts to feel like everything you come up with is rubbish or has been done before. I have to constantly remind myself that creativity is just a muscle that I have to keep training and the possibilities of art are infinite.
The circus industry is still fairly small, which means the opportunities to perform professionally are kind of limited. I find the best thing you can do is go out there and make your own work. Hard work will always get you far, the more you are out there creating and performing the more opportunities to perform and create you are likely to get. The chances that someone will see you and scoop you up without having any performing experience are very slim.
In terms of visual art, I find it a lot easier to motive myself to create things because it is just for fun. Because it is more of a hobby than my career path at the moment, I feel a lot less pressure to succeed. Also due to my lack of professional training in the area I feel a true sense of freedom in my practice. I have only just recently started putting my visual artwork out there and right now it is mainly just the people I know who know about it. I’m not really sure how it works in terms of getting noticed but I assume it will take a while and I’m not too fussed. I’m just going to keep making stuff, showing people and let whatever happens happen.
Who inspires you? What inspirational women are you listening to/watching/talking to at the moment?
So many women inspire me! Firstly, I am super inspired by the women around me and all my peers. Firstly, my housemate Oonagh Slater who is currently studying dance at VCA and is also a visual artist is a bit of a creative genius. The way she approaches her work is just like no one else I know and she thinks really differently to me, which is refreshing.
Similarly, Maya Tregonning and Cece Martin are two of my best friends who happen to be really amazing circus performers and creatives who really inspire me. Maya is a comedy genius and everything Cece makes is just kind of magical.
I also admire heaps of other professional circus artists like the kooky Australian juggler Olivia Porter and the groovy Montreal based rope artist Una Bennet. Currently I am loving the work of some wonderful women on Instagram like Frances Canon, Furry Little Peach, Filthy Rat Bag, Lisa Currie, Shantell Martin and CJ Hendry.
I also love Ambera Wellman’s wacky work and the awesome costuming and photography of Prue Stent. Of course it would be crazy of me not to mention the incredible Marina Abramovic.
What do you listen to get inspired?
I have to mention Lisa Mitchell because I have always been quite obsessed with her sounds. Other women currently motivating me in my Spotify playlists are Alex the Astronaut, Ariela Jacobs, Billie Holiday and Gwen Stefani. I really love listening to podcasts while I draw or train, I feel like I am absorbing the knowledge and regurgitating it straight into my work. Currently obsessing over Honor Eastly’s podcast ‘The Starving Artist’ which I highly recommend to any creative type and Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk.
What’s tough about being a creative person and trying to make money from your work?
I mentioned previously that I find my visual art practice easier to create, as it is more of a hobby than circus currently is. I have no obligation to yield any rewards from my drawings and if I happen to get a little bit of money it’s just a bonus, so it is just all for fun. This is not the same for circus. While I am so grateful I get to make a career out of doing circus, it can be quite hard. As soon as you attach expectations to things, like making money, you are more likely to be disheartened by them. Also, quite often the things that are going to challenge me creatively and fulfil my artistic vision are not the things that I will be hired for and make money from. There is a clear struggle between time, money and outcome. I often have to sacrifice a lot of my unusual ideas in order to play it safe and make something I know my audience will love: i.e lots of big looking tricks and pretty arms. When I have the opportunity to make something a little more out there or risky I just have to, it’s the only thing that keeps me sane.
What do you absolutely love about what you do? Why should others be doing it too?
I have never been very good with speaking or writing, but I love stories and have lots of opinions. I am so glad that I am able to use visual art and circus as mediums to express myself. I am constantly excited by the thought of my sketchbook and just love being on stage. The feeling of someone receiving your art and being affected by it in some way is honestly the best in the world. I consider myself lucky to have made my passions my career, and I just wish everyone could do the same! I have never understood Mondayitis, when you’re doing what you love it just doesn’t apply. I urge everyone out there to tap into their real passions and find the things that make them happiest. Make these things a priority to do every day, I can guarantee improved happiness and you never know, maybe you might start making money from them.
We’re giving away one of Ela’s illustrated t.shirts over on the @littlewren_mag instagram account. Enter now for your chance to win a snazzy tee that your mates will try to steal when they’re over.