I speak with British artist Olivia Kemp who creates the most incredibly detailed drawings in pen, inspired by observational studies and imagination. Scroll down for images.
Your drawings are incredible and so fantastically detailed and I’ve been an avid follower of your work on Instagram for a few years now. What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m working on an imagined mountain landscape in pen (all my drawings are done in pen).
It’s inspired by a trip to visit some of the famous Bavarian castles, particularly Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. This drawing is the third in a ‘Strange Worlds’ series. They are all inspired by the places and surroundings we romanticise and idealise, locations we only read about in books and landscapes we could run away to. The first was an archipelago of Nordic Islands and the second, a forest of treehouses.
But the drawings extrapolate that far out beyond logic or proportion. They become distorted and strange and humour creeps in too.
I’ve been working on this one for just over three months and as its pen the drawing just gets slowly added to and grows in increments. It feels like you make a new drawing every day, next to your previous day’s work. I can tell I’m nearing the end now, maybe just a few weeks left.
You’ve taken part in residencies such as Dumfries House and The Richard Ford Award. What were your highlights from these times?
The Richard Ford Award was brilliant. It offered me the opportunity to spend two months making drawings from the work in the collection of the Museo del Prado. I learnt so much about what I was compelled to draw and what interests me. I was making more believable landscape drawings before I went, with a clearer reference to reality. But at The Prado they have very few landscape paintings. I had to re-asses what else it is about drawing that I am interested in and it forced me to broaden my scope. I would seek out the most detailed paintings, ones with pattern and texture, group scenes where figures overlapped and interlocked confusingly. I still refer to those drawings and what making them taught me.
I rely on travelling, to see new things whether that’s Dumfries House in Scotland or Bavarian Castles. You try to notice the strange and unusual and make work about it. While you’re away you react to your environment and the work feels apt. The most fulfilling part is bringing it all back to studio and seeing it contrast with everything you made before, provoking new ways of thinking.
Can you tell us what motivates and inspires you to so actively create in the way that you do?
Well, most obviously, it’s because I want to and I love being in studio. Days off tend to serve as motivators for getting back in there. I don’t measure how much I get done per day or set targets, but it’s important to me to be there even if work isn’t going well. If I feel like it’s not going well I can’t really get on with anything else in or out of studio, it has to be fixed.
I have my space set up like a living room; pen drawing isn’t a messy practice so I can have rugs and plants in there, my bookcase, snacks, tea and coffee. It’s like a living room, so I enjoy being there.
I also think I get a lot of motivation from the way I grew up. I learnt very young that hard work is just the bare minimum required to help yourself and your work. I also never felt like a career as an artist was a viable option growing up, so I feel incredibly lucky to have what I do.
Because my work takes a long time to do, there are always hundreds of drawings you don’t end up making. To cut it down to just the one drawing for several months does require me to fully commit to it. If I’ve picked that idea then I’ll do my best to make it work.
What one piece of advice would you give to another artist who is struggling to produce work?
I’d say just keep making, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or if you like it, if you stop then it’s incredibly hard to get going again. Just by continuing to make, you can find a way through a problem, it works away at the back of your mind while you make and suddenly the answer is obvious.
Follow Olivia @livvykemp