In the Studio with Morven Douglas

Scottish artist Morven Douglas takes inspiration from many features of storytelling, folklore and mythology through her works. We met with Morven to tell us more about her practice, growing up in Scotland, and some of her greatest influences.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
Growing up with a pencil never out of sight predetermined my future as an artist, although I never really knew what an artist was or how I would go about being one, I just wanted to make work relentlessly and I couldn’t picture my life without doing that. I’ve always felt like an artist but I think I began to validate myself as a practicing artist when I finished art school a few months ago, not feeling free to make whatever I wanted because of the immediate pressure of an institution, was a weight much heavier than I had realised.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland in an all female household. My mother has always been a great reminder of the naturalistic ways of the world and my twin sister and older sister who are both also creatives are very supportive. Growing up in a low income family taught me to never take anything for granted and to persevere — that determination to make art has seen me through some difficult periods financially and emotionally. Being brought up with stories, folklore and traditional Scottish fairy tales really inspired my love for art and storytelling. I think growing up in a freethinking and unconventional household that values learning gave me a lot of space to explore art and its many facets, which I am very grateful for.
 Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?

I’m a 2020 graduate of the Glasgow School of Art in Painting & Printmaking. I originally had plans to study concept art for video games and animation at university but had difficulty finding a course that suited me. Somewhere I could develop my artistic skills, intentions and meet peers interested in doing the same was ultimately what I was looking for. I found studying fine art difficult at times because I felt I had to suppress my interests in comics, video games, anime and manga, however in my 3rd year I was incredibly lucky enough to study an exchange semester at Kyoto Seika University in Japan and was awarded The Friends of Glasgow School of Art Travel Bursary. It was an immensely reflective and valuable experience that helped me to reconnect with what I wanted to achieve through making art and I was able to get to a stage with my art that I felt was starting to truly express my voice. I still have a long way to go but I am enjoying the journey much more now that I am treating my practice with honesty and sincerity. 

What’s the message of your work?
Many visual and metaphorical influences combine together and exist within my work, like a cauldron of sorts. I like to explore themes of storytelling, narrative, symbols and characters within my paintings and zines. Pairing together metaphors with narratives and characters is kind of what fuels each work. Concentrating on narratives and characters through the vehicles of painting and illustrated stories, I aim to create visual fables where characters exist in a dream like world. Using reoccurring objects, figures and references of symbolism I piece together all of the elements so that multiple ambiguous narratives coexist. Oftentimes there are personal metaphors sprinkled in too. I have plans to make more sequential work next and hope to explore some more magic related themes.

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic?

Of all of the inspirations I have, most of them are more illustrative, which is the angle I consciously aim for. Joining this illustration lead motive with traditional practices is where I see my individual style coming to fruition. Making zines, comics and keeping sketchbooks help me to continue establishing a more graphic quality to my work. Alongside my inclination towards illustration, decorative art and graphic art, I have a deep found love for folktales, storytelling and fantasy. Despite the more ambiguous qualities of my current body of work, I would describe the aesthetic of my pieces to be somewhere between Illustrative Art and Narrative art.

Who and what are your greatest influences?

It may not be a very conventional influence but the video game The Legend of Zelda was one of my earliest infatuations that has influenced a lot of my art style and interests as well as a multitude of manga. I enjoy the work of a lot of artists notably Kay Nielsen, Agnes Pelton and Yoshitaka Amano and lately I’ve been really enjoying the work of Dominique Fung and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. The author Haruki Murakami has also been a great inspiration.

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

I collect ideas in words, colours, shapes and feelings anywhere they come to me. Usually a fuller idea won’t leave me until I do something about it visually, but most of the time the smaller inclinations are fleeting, so I like to use descriptive words to capture the feeling I have when they hit. I like to explore how to visually capture these feelings in my sketchbook through compositions, colour keys and sketches of figures or characters who happen to exist within the idea. Although the audience are welcomed to speculate the layered meanings in the works, I don’t often consciously think about how the ideas in my work will be received or understood. 

Sea Change by Agnes Pelton, 1931.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise? How has your art evolved?

By attending a Fine Art course at art school was the first direct change in how I produced art as a young adult. I had established an interest in drawing, character design, world building and storytelling before studying my BA, but art school helped me explore techniques in oil painting and printmaking which are core areas of my practice now. I like to sketch and explore concept art and character design digitally and often use photoshop to storyboard ideas and finished illustrated stories for printed zines. When I studied in Kyoto I learned how to make and use traditional Japanese paint made from natural mineral pigments, which I have experimented using in combination with oil paint for large paintings on canvas.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

When my ideas and descriptive words click with a visual in my mind all the way through the making process. Music, and other expressive forms like poetry and novels are also large contenders to my process.

What are your goals for the future? 

In the immediate future — COVID19 permitting — I am looking to secure a studio space with my peers to be able to continue actively art making in a space that allows large scale painting. I am hoping to continue screen printing also in a permitting space but I’ll keep making zines with different methods. I’m also looking forward to exhibiting the work that would be shown in my Graduate show, when it’ll be safe to do so.

How have you been keeping creative during isolation?

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing in depth research on any topic that sparks my interest — taking time to read books and study cultural history and also playing a lot of video games. Reconnecting with the version of myself that isn’t just an art maker but someone who loves art by consuming and supporting art of others has really excited me and has proven to be a positive distraction.


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