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Theo Ellsworth

A page from Missoula artist Theo Ellsworth's comic "Capacity."

A Missoula graphic artist’s work is leaping off the pages and onto the walls of the Missoula Art Museum.

The exhibition, titled “Thought Clouds” features more than 50 illustrations from Theo Ellsworth’s narrative comic works, including many from the first two parts of a trilogy Ellsworth has been working on for three years, “The Understanding Monster,” which he both writes and draws.

“I’m actually working on the third one right now. Like literally, I’m in my studio working on it,” Ellsworth said.

He said when he is drawing, he tries to let the work come out in a stream of consciousness, the same way it did when he first started doodling as a kid.

“It sort of feels like a living thing. Like I’m just trying to keep up with it,” Ellsworth said.

“The Understanding Monster” is being published by Secret Acres, the same indie comic company that had put out his earlier work, including “Capacity.” Ellsworth had originally self-published "Capacity" as a set of seven stand-alone issues, and said when the publisher approached him to collect them all together, went back to add in another 100 pages or so to give it an overarching story.

“Then they have just been saying they want whatever was next,” Ellsworth said.

The third part of “The Understanding Monster” will be released in the fall, putting a finish on the longest piece of work Ellsworth has put out to date.

Even though his work has a narrative arc to it, Ellsworth said he doesn’t sit down in front of the drawing board knowing where his characters will end up. He might draw two frames next to one another only to decide later on that there was far more story that needed to fit in between the panels.

“When my comics are at their best, it’s like when I’m watching them from above and taking notes on what they are doing,” he said.

He calls the process of writing and drawing “deeply psychological” and said he has found that there are parallels between the way he makes art and the way that he thinks. All the way back to being in high school, Ellsworth said drawing was a way he helped organize his thoughts that allowed him to think more clearly, finding his work to become in some ways symbolic of his life.

“I can look at an old doodle and I would have this flash of what I was thinking about, the mood I was in,” Ellsworth said.

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