Studio Visit

Elliott 'Numskull' Routledge

The name Elliott Routledge (or, as he’s more commonly known, ‘Numskull’) mightn’t be instantly familiar to all of you… but if you live in or around Sydney, there is every chance that you’ve spotted this artist’s distinctive work.  Known for his impressive large scale public murals, Elliot is a versatile creative talent, who has exhibited all over the world.  Many of you would also most likely have seen his much celebrated cover of Sunday Style in August 2013, depicting a demure Miranda Kerr, donning a giant pair of illustrated wings.

You’ll spot Elliot’s striking paintings at TDF Open House in Melbourne this week…!

Amber Creswell Bell

Large scale mural in Sydney’s CBD by artist Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge..  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Artist Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge in his Sydney studio.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Detail from the studio of Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Recent painting by Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge, hanging in his Sydney studio.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Details from the studio of Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Details from the studio of Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Details from the studio of Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Artist Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge in his Sydney studio.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Amber Creswell Bell
5th of December 2014

Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge is an Australian-based contemporary artist, working out of Sydney in a variety of fields and mediums including painting, sculpture, illustration and large-scale murals. Bypassing art school, Elliott credits his dabblings in graffiti as a bored, skateboarding kid as being formative. At that early time Elliott and his brother discovered how to use spray paint, which led to an understanding of other mediums – and ultimately it all evolved into ‘proper art’. Later, enrolling in a private college to learn multimedia and animation methods ultimately gave Elliot the tools to find his unique style.

Unknowingly, until recently I lived around the corner from Elliott in Sydney’s Inner West, which has formed the natural playground for his mural work. Now, in hindsight, I recognise that his work was quite literally EVERYWHERE and I had often admired it and seen him in the act! It is very distinctive, both in form and his signature colour palette of red and blue.

Over the past 15 years, Elliott has been creating public murals wherever he goes; not just all over Sydney, but also in  Newcastle, Queensland, New Zealand, USA, Europe, and beyond. Sydney-siders strolling about the corner of Park and Pitt Streets in the CBD recently would have been hard pressed to miss his significant ‘Here Now’ mural on the side of a building, which formed part of the Art and About Festival.

As far as street art is concerned – Elliot’s work is pretty major. But, much like another recent TDF interviewee, Fred Fowler, Elliot has managed to transcend his roots in street art, creating paintings on canvas which are now highly collectible, and have shown in galleries throughout the world, in London, Vienna, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Singapore, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. The last couple of decades have seen Elliott’s painting style evolve, and he has chosen to focus on ‘colour hierarchy, typography, abstract heroism and themes of idolism within modern contemporary culture’.

In an example of Elliott’s diversity as an artist, he recently collaborated with skincare brand Kiehl’s, to produce a Limited Edition label for their Ultra Facial Cream, with proceeds from sale donated to the ‘Adopt Change’ cause.  In addition to undertaking various projects, exhibitions and commissions, Elliot also runs his own excellent blog called The Opening Hours, which showcases local artists and art events.

And if you think all the success and acclaim that Elliot has achieved in recent years might have has gone to his head – you would be entirely wrong, as you will see!

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?

I never made it into art school. I just couldn’t get the right qualifications, and at the time I wasn’t interested so I chose to study animation instead. Somehow I found an animator by the name of Rodney D’Silva who taught traditional animation classes in his home studio in Lane Cove. He used to animate for Hanna Barbera and others and taught me a lot about motion, characters and generally how to enjoy life. He was wild. This combined with a Certificate in Multimedia led me to design, and has influenced my style to merge my painting background and graphic nature.

My mum was always encouraging us to try creative things too. She would let us paint all over our bedrooms and set up big sheets of ply in the back yard for us to paint whenever we wanted. This had a profound affect on me.

What have been one or two of your favourite projects in recent years and why?

It’s really hard to choose, but the two that stick out are my Residency in Vienna and the cover artwork I did for Sunday Style. 

In March this year I lived in Vienna for a month where I had a residency at the Museums Quartier. Something I will always remember as a big change in my career. It was a unique opportunity for me to take time out, paint in a different environment, meet people and share ideas and experiences and in the end show a whole body of work to a completely new audience with no expectations. It’s now one of my favourite places in the world.

The second would be the cover of Sunday Style magazine. Basically Cleo Glyde randomly found and invited me to create my work over a photo they took of Miranda Kerr. It was a great way for me to get my work out to a wider audience and an interesting process, but also very surreal to have my work next to three well-established artists.

How would you describe your work, and what influences your style? 

I would say my work is bold, bright, full of contrast, and abstract. 
My influences come from all over the place. Weird people I meet, social situations, fashion, textiles, nature and anything else that randomly hits me. I’ve recently been looking at the contrast between natural objects and foreign, man made textures. I find influence in some of the smallest things. My phone is filled with the weirdest photos.

Tell us a little about your creative process – what materials do you employ, is it an intuitive process or meticulously planned, and how long does each piece take to complete?

My creative process is both chaotic and strategically planned. I have multiple projects going on at the same time. When I’m in the studio creating paintings, I have a pretty strict process, which I have perfected over the years through trial and error. If I’m painting a mural, I try to plan ahead of time as best I can, but every wall is different and has it’s own challenges and variables. So quite often my plan gets aborted quickly, leading me to improvise on the spot. I never used to be so organised. Maybe having my son has changed that in me.

What does a typical day for you usually involve?

My day starts at around 6am when my son wakes up (and wakes me up). We hang out in the morning and go walking around Black Wattle Bay, grab a coffee at The Little Marionette, then I head off to my studio in Annandale where I spend a couple of hours sitting on the computer sending emails, blogging and planning out the day. 
Every day is different, but if I’m in the studio preparing for a show, by around mid morning I start painting or using the wood work room to make sculptures and build frames. If I can swing it, I’ll sneak in a game of ping pong or excursion to find a new food spot, then the afternoon into the night is spent face first into a canvas. 

For my murals, it’s completely dependent on the brief, location and situation.

Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media you tune in to regularly? 

I spend a lot of time browsing blogs and reference websites. I run a blog called The Opening Hours, which showcases local artists and events, so I try and scan blogs for as much up to date information as possible. I use Feedly to keep up to date with my blogs, which are too many to list.

 For inspiration I choose to look at a lot of fashion books, photography amongst other things. If I’m painting in the studio, these days I tend to listen to podcasts instead of music. I’m so hooked on them now. This American Life, 99% Invisible or Joe Rogan are solid favourites, but a friend has told me to start getting into audio books, so I’ll try that soon.

Which other local artists, designers, creative people do you admire?

I share my studio space with around eight other artists who I respect and admire. It’s something I’ve always done as I like to be able to talk to people while I work or bounce ideas and concepts off them. As far as local artists and people I admire, Rone, Matt Rabbidge from Mild Manners, Hiroyasu Tsuri, Jonathan Zawada, Lynes and Co, Will Cooke, Trent Whitehead, my brother Marty Routledge and so many more.

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

I can’t nail it down to one thing, but I think one of my favourite aspects of my art, is travel. I love it so much, and believe it truly does have an affect on my work as a whole. I’m so lucky to be able to experience different parts of the world through my art.

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration? 

My dream collaboration would be to have a show with my son one day. That’s if he’s keen. He might be off it.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m going to Fiji for a holiday! I haven’t had a proper holiday in a very long time so I’m super excited.


Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

The Inner West. I live and work in Annandale, so for me the Inner West area of Sydney is my favourite type of neighbourhood. Having such a close proximity to the city, but without being in the city, is a nice feeling.

Where in Sydney do you shop for the tools of your trade?

For bulk acrylic paint either Bunnings or Dulux Trade Centre in Redfern. Spraypaint either directly from Ironlak or there’s a store on King St in Newtown called 567. For my canvas work I use a paint made in Sweden called Lascaux that can only be bought at one store in Sydney called ArtScene. Thank god for them.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

At the moment, Great Aunty’s in Enmore is running pretty hot on my list. It’s a lunchtime thing, but they do the quickest and tastiest Vietnamese takeaway food around like Banh Mi etc. The Coconut & Lime shake is one of the best things in the world. If we get a chance to go out for dinner, we usually go to any of Dan Hong’s restaurants. We went to school together and I admire his style of food.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Walking with my wife Billie and son Hunter down to the Little Marionette cafe in Annandale on the corner of Trafalgar and Albion Street. It’s a small operation so you wait outside, but it’s a nice place to stand around waiting, especially when it’s sunny.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

The TGS Clubhouse. A secret painting spot in Sydney that only a handful of people are allowed in. It hosts some of the country’s most famous street and graffiti artists, but is on private property so no one can see it.

Details from the studio of Elliott ‘Numskull’ Routledge.  Photo – Rachel Kara for the Design Files

Recent Studio Visit