Neighbourhood Series: An Interview with Ella Ward
We chatted with Ella Ward, a second year Visual Communication Design student at Ara University, about her experience as a young artist and the mural she created for the Princess Margaret Hospital here in Ōtautahi.
While she can’t put a finger on when her love affair with art started, Ella is certain her high school arts programme had a positive impact on both her creativity and confidence.
The Creative Arts at Cashmere High has a history of excellence and succession of talented teachers which Ella was fortunate to experience first hand. She took a range of visual arts courses during her high school years and, with some encouragement from her teachers, participated in several extracurricular arts competitions and exhibitions. The classes combined with the push and support were beneficial to both her creative development and perspective of her own work.
“I was really fortunate to have had such an amazing arts programme and inspiring teachers during school,” she explained. “In year twelve, my art teacher introduced me to The Creators’ Room and encouraged me to apply for the programme and submit some of my work. I remember being so apprehensive as I had never considered displaying my art in the public eye before. It was definitely nerve wracking and exhilarating, especially when I was accepted into the programme and saw some of my pieces for sale online and hanging in The Welder for the 2020 ‘Arts Stars’ Exhibition.”
Stunned would be an appropriate word to describe the way Ella felt when she found out two of her prints sold at that first exhibition in 2020 and five the following year. “I never expected anyone to purchase my work so that was crazy. I remember being absolutely shocked both years when I found out.”
Along with the shock, Ella recalls feeling a boost of confidence and a burst of hope when she heard the news. “I’ve always been an artsy individual, but never thought much about my own work. In class, I was constantly being told off by my art teacher for tossing out my drawings the moment I wasn’t happy with them. The Creators’ Room definitely gives people with a passion a bit of hope. At least that’s what it did for me.”
After graduating from Cashmere High, Ella decided to continue her arts education, enrolling at Ara Institute to study Visual Communication Design. She explained that while she doesn’t have a defined career path in mind quite yet, she feels incredibly fortunate to be studying something she’s truly passionate about.
Earlier in the year, the young artist heard about the #TogetherGreaterMuralProject – a mural competition created by Westpac, Māia Health Foundation and the co-founders of The Creators’ Room to brighten the Child, Adolescent and Family (CAF) outpatient service at the Princess Margaret Hospital here in Ōtautahi.
Looking for a vibrant and welcoming mural for the space, Ella decided to give the competition a go. “I love using all sorts of colours, textures, patterns and shapes to create vibrant, engaging and abstract pieces which is exactly what I did with my submission for the competition. I wanted it to be bold and bright, but also comforting and inspiring with themes of growth and recovery carried through.”
After being announced as one of the top three candidates, the public had the final say and voted for Ella’s artwork. She spent the next three weeks transforming her visionary concept for the wall into a massive 3.6×2.4 metre mural.
“I coined the piece ‘The Pohutukawa Pathway’ to reflect that no two journeys are the same. Every individual faces unique challenges, but can all reach sunshine at the end.”
In May, Ella unveiled the mural alongside mental health advocate and Westpac NZ ambassador Sir John Kirwan. The Pohutukawa Pathway is now hanging in the child and youth mental health outpatient space and will be transferred to the new facility when it’s ready next year.
Similar to her school days, Ella was shocked when her mural made it to the final round, let alone being named the winner. “I couldn’t believe that I won the competition and got to be a part of such a special project. The whole thing still feels so surreal.”
For artists and creative spirits alike, confidence can be messy. While she’s still working on taking her own advice, Ella encourages young artists to take every opportunity that’s thrown their way and never give up.
“I never thought anything would come from my art. If I had any advice to give it would be to believe in yourself and never give up, as cliche as that may sound. It might seem so unrealistic, but you never know what could happen. I definitely never expected to sell my artwork, create a mural for a hospital or even be interviewed for this Toi Ōtautahi article right now. You never know what could happen but you won’t know if you don’t try.”
Born and raised in Ōtautahi, Ella knows some of the best spots in the city. Here are a few of her favourites in the CBD and Cashmere – the neighbourhood the young artist calls home.
Go-to for a good cocktail
Favourite art gallery
This series is brought to you by our Creative and Digital Partner, Publica.