This post is a little interview I did with an illustrator called Stu Mclellan – not only does Stu draw the BEST birds (they’re so full of character, I love them!) in coloured ink, he is also very much in touch with the natural world, which has an enormous influence on his work, and his entire life. I asked him a few questions about his work and how important he thinks illustration can be in looking after wildlife…
I’m an illustrator by training, and illustrate for books, magazines, charities, festivals and more – but I love to make things beautiful in lots of ways – decorating a space, making food, playing music. I work collaboratively in schools and with other groups on creative projects – murals, illustration, mosaics etc. And with Verity I make The Barefoot Diaries, a quarterly journal exploring living life in relationship to Earth and each other.
1. What are your favourite art mediums to use? Does your art style and subject affect what materials you use?
I use pen and ink most often. I love the directness, the simplicity of using just ink, a pen and paper. I usually sketch in pencil first, but it’s when the ink hits the paper that it starts feeling more magical! I’ve found myself beginning to use natural materials more, especially for making temporary work – leaves, stones, sticks, chalk, inks from oak and berries. In terms of making work that’s more deeply connected to where I live, and that’s much more sustainable, that feels very exciting and taps into a deeper, more meditative part of me. The kind of work that comes from using those materials is quite different – though I have used oak gall ink with a dip pen and brush for doing some work that’s not dissimilar from my usual pen and ink approach. That’s quite satisfying too!
2. Where does your inspiration come from? Do you draw from life, from books, from memory..?
Inspiration is from lots of sources. I think primarily it’s from a sense of being connected to everything and exploring what that means – so I guess I would have once described my inspiration as observing nature. But I’m not just an observer, I’m part of nature, and that feels deeply inspiring. I’ve drawn inspiration from the books I’ve read, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had or overheard, ecological issues, perceptions of a spiritual journey, lots of stuff!
3. Do you have any tips for people who want to make art inspired by the natural world but don’t think they can draw, or know where to start?
I think to sit/walk/stand and experience ‘nature’ without an end result in mind is a good place to start, and just be open listening to the relationship we have with where we are! Drawing in the conventional sense is only a very small part of artistic possibilities. I love to make mandalas on the ground, circular patterned forms, using found materials, beginning in the centre with perhaps a stone or a seed, and then working in other found natural materials around it. It’s not drawing in the normal sense, but it’s creating line and pattern, and because it uses only things found around me in a specific place, it’s a way of becoming aware of what’s around me. I generally use what’s already on the ground, so I don’t, for example, pull branches off trees to use. So it’s an opportunity to gently begin a relationship with that place. And it doesn’t need any specific art practice or training or expertise, just a willingness to be in that place and discover what’s there.
4. Do you think art and illustration have a place within conservation and helping to look after our natural world? If so, please explain why.
Yes, definitely. It’s complex, and I do sometimes feel that we’re so enmeshed in using materials that are highly processed and not really sustainable at all. But for me visual images can be incredibly powerful in communicating messages, and they can also express something poetic and emotive that words can’t. I think one of the greatest honours (and most satisfying ways to work) is being able to contribute my drawings to projects that honour the Earth.
5. How does your illustration work compliment your other work you do outdoors with kids and young people?
I think it all feeds into the whole – my drawings are sometimes influenced by the work I do, sometimes what I do in collaborations is influenced by what I’ve been drawing.