Fashion month is pretty much upon us, where the best runway looks from the ready-to-wear, couture, pre-fall and resort collections in fashion’s top cities will soon be streamed across the world, creating a buzz and inevitable frenzy for new styles and trends in fashion. While this is an undeniably exciting creative phase in the annual fashion calendar, it also raises questions around why we’re still not seeing more designers incorporating recycled and sustainable materials into their collections.
That’s not to overlook the many sustainable fashion brands that are already doing just that, particularly when it comes to incorporating recycled plastic into their designs (it still blows our minds) like Girlfriend Collective or Ecoalf and allSisters who specifically work with ocean plastic waste. It’s an approach that will hopefully become adopted by many more designers in the not too distant future, as let’s face it it’s a problem that can no longer go on ignored. Of course, quitting using plastic bags and single-use plastic is also key to addressing this. Every effort counts.
Never too far from our thoughts, it was made all the more real when we discovered the work of illustrator Nic Mac, who has reimagined Hokusai’s classic, ‘The Great Wave.’ With Mac’s approach a more realistic, up-to-date take on the original, it is aptly entitled, ‘The Great Plastic Wave.’ Wanting to know more about the origins of the piece and the artist herself, we recently caught up with Nic to discuss what inspires her as an artist and why she thinks the medium of art can be so powerful at conveying such important messages. Plus, she got us excited about a collab that needs to happen one day!
What led you down the path of working in illustration specifically?
Illustration became a natural focus for me after continuously pursuing it at every and any opportunity growing up. Art, and more specifically drawing, was the only thing that made my brain spark and being a massive dreamer meant that the idea that the wildest things imagined could become tangible in some way when drawn, well that was something that was completely addictive to me. It captured me entirely and I became hooked from a young age, with the encouragement from my family, and particularly my grandfathers really giving me the confidence to follow this path.
Though I think there’s always an element of accident involved with these things, in the sense that you don’t necessarily realise you’re choosing a certain path until you’ve been on it for a while and get a moment to reflect and wonder “when did that happen?” It’s more of a subconscious thing, where you have naturally followed that thing you identify with or feel an affinity to.
It’s not easy though, and life will always have its hurdles, trying to knock you off your path but you can’t really be swayed from the thing you love. Especially once you’ve tasted it! So, it’s hard to place one thing that led me here, as it’s more of a compilation of moments, good and bad, as with life in general, that created a weird twisty road and I don’t know where it’s going, but I’ve learned to trust the unpredictability of it.
Where does your greatest inspiration come from in terms of design?
Hmmm let’s see. It’s hard to be specific with these things but I would say ‘inspiration’ or how I imagine it to be, is one big mass of different elements that have clustered together to create some kind of inspiration transformer creature that chills out at the back of my mind, doing a little dance and a shimmy to get my attention when I’m drawing something.
If I had to be specific in terms of aesthetics, there are elements from a range of different disciplines which I take lessons from. But three of them, I would say, stand out as being the most prominent.
Japanese art, for example, is a big one for the balance and composition, making me aware of the distribution of certain elements – whether it’s colour, shade or shape.
Animations and cartoons constantly inspire, particularly old ones like Tom and Jerry and Cow and Chicken, for the way they evoke freedom, movement and excitement. And the way characters are warped and animated to exaggerate expressions and gestures, turning the recognisable into the unrecognisable in a flash of colour and line.
Image courtesy: ‘Dirt Mouth’ by Nic Mac
Lastly, street art has grown to be a solid and endless source of inspiration for me. Not just because of its boldness and the use of colours and gradients, but the whole ethos around ‘public art’ and the invitation for others to join in on the conversation. To me, it’s the purest form of political and social art, often making a statement, and it’s the honesty of that that I love.
Of course, there’s a lot of imagery over time that has shaped, evolved and inspired how and what I draw but nothing will beat the act itself; the possibility of warping, stretching and creating something new. Imagining what is possible or what is impossibly possible, is what gets me out of bed and scribbling. The greatest inspiration is that a drawing can be whatever you want it to be. The other world you create can be anything, and can be devoid of things like gravity or logic and the need to create it becomes overpowering and immediate. It would almost hurt to have to wait.
Image courtesy: Nic Mac
Do you have to get into the right headspace before you can get creative and if so, what helps?
I aim to be creative everyday, whether it’s drawing or writing. When it came to drawing I used to be very particular and almost tentative because I would overthink it and fall into the trap of being too critical of the work before I’d even started. Most likely it derives from being a bit of a perfectionist, I think. And the naive idea that failing or making bad work was a bad thing. I learnt early on that those fears only restrict creativity and also meant that I was never in the right headspace.
Being able to let loose and mute your inner critic by going crazy in sketchbooks and shaking the desire to like every page is the best advice I could give, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learnt so far. Just going for it and purposely scribbling rough thumbnails in broken biros, shopping lists and ripped pages, maybe spill a drink or two over it and make the point that sketches are sketches and sketchbooks are the place to be free and not judgemental.
When it comes to bigger work, the same applies. Rather than overthink it or over plan an idea, I’ll just try it! If it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Ultimately, it’s about not being too precious about it.
Your work covers some pretty weighted topics but delivered in a colourful, playful manner. What guides you to these themes?
Passion for a topic has the strongest magnetism. I also enjoy the challenge of communicating a message or highlighting an alternate perspective in an effective way. Really, it’s about believing in something and wanting to change it, which is a big driving force and War, Technology, Consumerism and the Environment are topics that are usually at the forefront of most of my ideas. I don’t want to just make something pretty. I want it to have heart. To instil a feeling or a thought or to highlight and communicate current issues we face today. I think it’s important that art, and illustration, is used and shared in this way. The ultimate goal for most artists is to touch people with their art and if I die having been able to move just one person with an illustration, whether it’s emotionally or actively, I’d feel like I had done my job.
You create murals, too. Is there an ultimate canvas/space that you’ve always had your eye on to work with?
I’ve always been inspired by a lot of the street art I see in Madrid, especially where artists have painted on and over the sliding metal shutters that the closed shops put down. I think that corrugated steel type texture adds a lot of depth and would be really exciting to pair with an illustration. So I’d love to work on something like that, as all of my canvasses have been relatively smooth so far. I reckon though that the ultimate canvass would have to be something big, like the side of a building would be the dream.
Image courtesy: ‘The Great Wave’ by Hokusai
We really love your reimagining of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ with your ‘The Great Plastic Wave’ as sadly it’s such an accurate portrayal of our oceans. Why do you think art has the power to communicate such powerful messages so effectively?
I feel art has the power or can channel the power to communicate effectively because it has the opportunity to sink in in a way that I feel words could fall short. Pieces of art that work effectively when communicating or highlighting tough subjects are ones that are memorable, simple and respectful. Anyone can write or paint what they want to say. But if it’s too aggressive, it won’t be digested effectively. I like the subtly of the medium. It doesn’t have to scream in your face to be understood. In fact, often it’s pieces that silently convey a specific theme or message that are the most successful as they can effectively usher the audience to interpret the message themselves. Plus, I think art, above all other mediums, has the benefit of being universal and non-specific, not dependent on a specific language or culture, it doesn’t need to divide or target certain people for it to be understood. It’s for everyone, and the far reaching aspect of that, I think, is what makes it one of the most powerful tools.
Image courtesy: ‘The Great Plastic Wave’ by Nic Mac
Of all your past work, is there a project or piece of artwork that stands out that you are most proud of?
Although I always enjoy the pieces of work where I’ve been able to go crazy with warped broken technology or twisting food into a sloppy illustrated mess, the ones I am most proud of would be when I’ve created something to help something or someone. I was recently commissioned to create an illustration that would instil or capture hope for someone who was struggling with their mental health diagnosis, and this is to date my favourite. It is the piece entitled, “The One You Carry” and I wanted to highlight the fact that the emotions of negativity and the burdening feeling that derives from the one ‘bad thing’ (depicted by a caged black bird) does not become all that you are, despite it feeling like that at times. Rather, there is so much more that makes you you (depicted by many white doves). I had the freedom and was entrusted to do what I wanted, from creating the message to how it was eventually depicted. Without a doubt, it has been one of my favourites to make, as well as a piece I am most proud of creating because of it being a message of hope.
Image courtesy: ‘The One You Carry’ by Nic Mac
Who is at the top of your collaboration/personal projects wish list?
There are so many illustrators, organisations and magazines I would like to work with/for, but I’d say that up there on the list would be Mr Ben Brown whose work has really inspired me in a way that I had never experienced before. When I first saw his Illustrations, that same day I was drawing and drawing non-stop. It was as if he had lit a creative spark within me at a time when I was really struggling. So I’d say that creating something mad and colourful with Ben Brown would for sure be something at the top of my wish list.