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Sketch Pad

Gene Ellis
Bringing it all back home
by Kathy Anderson

Gene Ellis' art is vast and varied -- from filmmaking and photography in Hawaii to illustration and metal sculpting in the Pacific Northwest. His influences are similarly diverse -- a Chippewa heritage, the lighting techniques of Rembrandt, and the South Pacific -- all of which have found their way into his life's work. The 64-year-old Portland native, whose mother was a sculpter, began drawing at age 5. He lives in Vancouver, Wash.

"Swamp Warrior Billy Bowleg," pencil.

The eyes have it
History and heritage frame Gene Ellis' artwork, while modern technology helps him create it.

Gene began his artistic journey as a Navy photographer in the 1950s, and in 1999 was adopted into the Cherokee tribe and given the name Wolf Eyes.

The honor has influenced his work in a series of American Indian portraits and metal sculptings in images of Chinook salmon, bear, elk and other wildlife.

"My heritage is Chippewa," he said. "My maternal grandmother was from Rockyboy Reservation in Montana and half Chippewa."

Gene's name in Cherokee is Waya Dikta of the Ani Waya of the Ani-yunwiya. Translation: Wolf Eyes of the Wolf Clan of the Cherokee.

"I am very pleased about this," he said.

"B-25," Photoshop and Fractal Painter.

Motion on the ocean
Gene's Navy photography tour began in 1954. In '56 he went into motion pictures, where he was attached to the combat camera group in the Pacific. After 10 years with the Navy, Gene set up camp in Hawaii.

"I worked for Technicolor Corp. for a year, then started my own motion picture lab in Honolulu at KGMB-TV," he said. "I spent the next nine years in Hawaii, doing everything from news camera to salvage diving."

"Fly-fishing," colored pencil.

Film at eleven
In 1973 he came back to Portland for a job with KOIN-TV.

"I worked news again for a year, then went into commercial production, doing commercials and documentary films," he said.

"In '81 I started developing a motion-control system for camera and motion picture special effects. Three years later I sold the prototype to Vinton Studios and went back to schlepping cameras."

Gene's film credits include: set-building on "Hawaii," a '60s Julie Andrews film; background filming for "Tora, Tora, Tora"; 2nd Unit work on the pilot movie for the "Hawaii 5-0" TV series; courtroom artist and transportation captain on HBO's Portland production of "Last Innocent Man" with Ed Harris; and underwater cinematographer for pilot production of the Woody Crocker film "Shallow End."

"Lewis & Clark at Cathlapotle," Fractal Painter.

After another five years in production, Gene began the adventure of making a living with his artwork -- storyboards for film and video production, general illustration and screen-printing. From 1994-99 he worked as an artist and art director for a software company in Vancouver, Wash., where he progressively taught himself computer art programs and a 3-D computer animation program.

Making book
Gene has illustrated two books: a memorial book on the USS Missouri and another on the USS Blueback, sold at OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in Portland.

"The Missouri book is doing very well," he said. "It's in its second printing, with about 370 copies sold each month at the ship. Not big time, but the publisher is happy and so am I.

"I also have a small line of note cards that several shops are selling," he said. "Again, nothing big, but it all counts, I guess."

"Heron in landscape," metal sculpture.

Last year, Gene's military aviation artwork, portraying WWI and WWII aircraft, was on display at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Wash.

And he recently completed a 16-ft. mural in an old theatre in Ridgefield, Wash.

"Now I'm prepping for another mural and working with Ridgefield High School art students to produce more murals for display in the town," he said.

"I'm also in the process of doing a fairly large metal image for a building in the St. John's area. It'll cover the front of the building; the center piece is nearly eight feet tall."

When all is said and done
Gene recently stopped punching a time clock and started his own company, Tai-Pan Productions. He likes being his own boss. His metal sculpting is getting a good reception, and he plans to try some bronze casting.

"Crown Point," watercolor.

He uses Adobe Illustrator to set up files, then converts them to CAD files for cutting mild steel with a two-axis plasma cutting machine.

"Then I grind, polish and burn color patina into the metal to create some very nice effects," he said.

"I also use the computer to scan pencil work, treat it abstractly, then print it or send it to a publisher."

"It's a long way from the birth canal to the end point, and fortunately I am still on the right side of the grass. I'm hoping to get some of the things that I want to do, done in my lifetime."

Reach Kathy at kanderson138@attbi.com, and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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