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You know the old adage: you are killing it in math but crappy in the arts or vice versa. It’s a left brain/right brain thing: Left brain equals science, right brain equals art. All of which makes Ele Willoughby a walking/talking/ working contradiction...

A meeting of the minds occurs working from home | Toronto Star

You know the old adage: you are killing it in math but crappy in the arts or vice versa. It’s a left brain/right brain thing: Left brain equals science, right brain equals art. All of which makes Ele Willoughby a walking/talking/ working contradiction...

A meeting of the minds occurs working from home | Toronto Star

You know the old adage: you are killing it in math but crappy in the arts or vice versa. It’s a left brain/right brain thing: Left brain equals science, right brain equals art. All of which makes Ele Willoughby a walking/talking/ working contradiction — or a woman with two brains.

A native Torontonian, she is a marine geophysicist and artist/printmaker. She has three degrees in physics: an honours bachelor of science, a master’s of science, and a PhD with a specialty in geophysics, which is a branch of earth science. She has worked as a research scientist in marine geophysics while building her printmaking portfolio, making prints about the history of science, natural history and interactive art using paper and textiles in the studio of her three-bedroom home in the Coxwell/Danforth area.

One bedroom is for her 3-year-old son Gabriel, another is the master bedroom and the other is her studio, filled with art, tools for art, masks and artifacts from her travels used for visual stimulation, as well as pieces from other artists and printmakers. The walls are jammed with photos and pictures, including a snap of her late silver-grey tabby cat Minouette, after whom her printmaking company is named.

In her son’s room, she painted the walls yellow and dotted them with white fluffy clouds. Her husband Roger Hallett, a photojournalist-turned-carpenter in the film industry, made the firetruck bed, and she built the hot-air balloons mobile. The canopy above the bed is from Ikea.

The living room is dominated by a handsome 51-inch wide oak map cabinet, which stores the Japanese papers she works with and also supports the Christmas tree. A wondrous rocking horse made by her husband idles beside the cabinet.

Willoughby is inspired by nature, myth, fairy tales, legend, literature and science. Her subjects include everything from Chinese Zodiac prints to women in science.

“I had an exhibit of women in science — and not just Madame Curie,” she says, opening the map cabinet to extract a print of actress Hedy Lamarr. “It is based on a diagram straight from her patent. She invented a frequency-hopping communications system because she was worried about Nazi submarines in World War II.”

Willoughby made many of the ornaments on the Christmas tree, including moons, garlic buds and radiolarians, which are microscopic ocean creatures and which render my sluts-and-shoes Christmas tree all the more frivolous.

“I carve linoleum in reverse,” she explains. “I ink them up and burnish them. I work by hand with a flat disc in fabric or paper.”

Though she attended art courses at the Art Gallery of Ontario as a kid, learning etching, screen printing and lino printing, she says she fell into her artwork. “As a kid, I said I wanted to do something with math but I loved art. You can’t be an amateur scientist but you can pursue art. I got a degree in physics, got a summer job as research assistant in general physics and never left. I did art on the side.”

She opened her printing business in 2007. “I was selling art to pay for my art-supply habit,” she says. “When my (physics) contract ended, I wanted to start a family. I do some geophysical consulting; I feel unbalanced if I don’t do both. I use both sides of my brain to satisfy my creative side and my scientific curiosity.”

WHY WORKING AT HOME WORKS FOR HER: “Cost is the big one,” Willoughby says. “Since we have enough space, I can use a bedroom as my studio. I can balance my schedule around my son because I’m in the home. It’s an efficient use of time because I don’t have to travel. I sell online (at minouette.etsy.com), so it is easy. I wrap it up and walk down to Shoppers post office.”

WHY IT DOESN’T WORK: “One (factor) is that sometimes people don’t realize it is your workplace and you have set work hours. It’s ‘Oh, you’re at home. I can drop by.’ Sometimes it is a bit of a challenge not getting out of the house. It is possible to work all day and then it’s dark and you realize you haven’t been outside. It is isolating; you miss the connection of the work place.”

HOW SHE COMBATS CABIN FEVER: “Having a child means you have to take him out. I can’t be lonely because he’s here and he keeps me active. It is tempting when making artwork to continue working and get lost in it and not move. I don’t have that option; kids need to run around, get out and get fresh air.

And I have to go to the post office.”

HOW SHE SEPARATES WORK FROM HOME: “I keep the workspace largely confined to the studio. The large map cabinet is in the living room but it is a nice piece of furniture — Gabriel uses it as a play table. I keep the work knives I carve with and the inks that are messy away from him.”

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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