Holly McGrane about bird boxes, the city and starting all over again.
DC: Illustration has been with me forever - for my whole life. For the last seven years, however, I have been working as a shop assistant in Madrid and Barcelona. I started working with the bags and accessories and I began to experiment with displays and what combinations of things looked good together on the wall. It was a way of being creative.
I studied illustration in Barcelona. The work was very much in a classic style with a focus on drawing and nature. It was through that training that I started to develop my style and, in particular, my interest in using nature as an inspiration. It was difficult because I had started to think of myself as an illustrator by the time I had finished my final project at art school – that was almost 2 years ago. It’s been a long process.
HM: So why Bristol?
DC: I studied with Genie Espinoza in Barcelona. I got in touch with her about a year and a half ago and she invited me over to come and see the city. I have always wanted to learn new things and coming here was a part of that.
HM: And what do you think of it?
DC: I love Bristol. It’s a strange thing but, even though I am so far away from my country, I feel like I am home. Sometimes, I don’t even realise I am in a foreign country. For years everything has felt like a puzzle and then suddenly, coming here, everything fits - every piece.
HM: Have you found much to inspire you in the city?
DC: England in general inspires me. I’m not sure but I feel like people in this country take artistic things more seriously. In Bristol, it has been so much easier to get involved in an illustration community because there are so many more people doing these things and people are much more open to collaboration.
DC: Yeah, I got a lot out of the bird box project. It was a huge challenge, mainly because it was my first exhibition here and I felt a huge pressure to do a good job.
HM: So what’s next?
DC: Since moving here, things have been moving really fast. I’m just trying to focus on developing my skills as an illustrator and mature my style. I’m working hard to get my first illustration job in the city. I’m so new to this country but I know these things take time to develop. I am spending time on drawing life around me: my home, my cats, birds.
HM: Are you happiest when you are drawing animals?
DC: I’ve always loved animals, I’m not sure why. I remember when I was younger I would ask my mother to let me draw insects and birds from the dictionary. Nowadays I am trying to develop them into characters. I’m really interested in creating images for children’s stories and using my animals in them. Generally, I find that nature, birds and animals inspire me most. As I get to know Bristol better, it makes me realise that I much prefer smaller cities. Barcelona is a beautiful city but I missed green areas.
HM: You are exploring lots of techniques and styles right now, but do you have a current working method?
DC: I have been working from my home since I moved here. It’s been fine but I am really looking forward to moving into the Drawn in Bristol studio – it will help me to be less blinkered, more in touch with reality.
Normally, when I am given an illustration brief, my approach is to find the problem and then work to solve it. I always used to paint with acrylic but now I feel most comfortable with pens and colours. When I started working with them I found it easier to control and that the colours and textures I wanted to achieve came more easily to me.
HM: So, new city, new direction, new challenges. How do you keep focussed?
DC: I’m just concentrating on developing my portfolio and my style. I want to build on my skills. At first, I had wanted to study illustration in Argentina when I was much younger but, looking back, I wasn’t mature enough. Now, I take what I am doing very seriously. I push myself to do things because I don’t take anything for granted. I’m open to everything at the moment because I’m just starting out in this city. I won’t close my mind to things. ■
Holly McGrane is a creative writer who has contributed articles to design blogs such as Inky Goodness, and we're stoked to have her on board. Watch this space for more from Holly.