ARTIST Lucy Michelle joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her recent trip to Japan, the influence of mathematics on her work and her hopes for the future.
Q: Can you give us some insight into your background and how you developed your style?
A: I COME from a predominantly science and maths educational background so my creative skills stem purely from years of self-motivated exploration of art mediums.
I shifted to digital art when I was around 12 – when my dad noticed I was trying to make pixel art in MS paint using a mouse. He bought me my first graphics tablet – a Wacom Bamboo which came with Photoshop Elements and then everything evolved from there.
Since then, I have gone from anime-style drawing to graphic design and pretty much full circle into illustration with elements of my past focuses. The style that I have currently adopted is about taking traits of work that influence me and trying to interpret them in my own way. I am trying to isolate my attention to specific areas: line detail, use of colour and the composition which helps me really solidify how I want a piece to transpire.
Q: You are influenced by Japanese culture and recently had the chance to travel there. How was the trip?
A: ABSOLUTELY incredible. A lot of my past work is influenced by Japan – before I had ever even visited. After getting the opportunity to go there, it has just strengthened my love for it and made me feel less fake for making art inspired by a country I had never travelled to.
Everything about the country I adore – the food, history, culture, cleanliness and the hospitality. I am quite anxious when it comes to visiting a foreign place and feeling safe, but I felt so completely at ease in Japan which I think is also what enhanced my experience.
Q: We recently spoke to photographer Marilyn Mugot about her Night Project in Japan. What do you think makes Japan such an alluring country for artists?
A: THAT is a good question. I find it difficult to pinpoint, but it just has a natural charisma that is enticing to someone who has not lived surrounded by it.
I guess it is the same way that Hayao Miyazaki is so influenced by European culture in his films; it is a world you are not inherently part of, so you try and show your fascination and connect with it through your art.
Japanese characteristics have become the backbone for a lot of classic sci-fi and the emergence of the animation industry. So I think for myself growing up around both, I have always subconsciously been drawn to it.
Q: Besides Japan are there any other places that stir your creativity and are there any places you would love to visit – and be inspired by – that you have not been to before?
A: RIGHT now, top of my list is New Zealand and Iceland – two countries known for their incredible scenery.
I am very content with the amount of travelling I have done to big cities, so I am ready to just go somewhere a little off the beaten track where the essence of the country is not dulled by hordes of tourists shuffling to get a snap of the iconic landmarks.
I did sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed in Japan by the quantity of people in popular spots so it was a turning point for me in deciding what I want to get out of my next big holiday – a little peace and quiet and a whole load of inspiration.
Q: I was fascinated to hear mathematics is an inspiration for you. Can you tell us more about this?
A: THIS is a big topic for me because the impression I get from people in discussion is that art and maths are two separate entities. Everything in nature you see can be explained mathematically.
One thing you are always taught at art school is that observation is key and you spend a lot of time doing sketches of organic objects. So there is already an innate connection just by the two types of study.
I actually did my degree dissertation on plants by representing them programmatically in virtual space and exploring how an artist could shape it to their desired shape whilst it stayed physically accurate. Leonardo da Vinci was the pioneer in both science and art where he needed both to solve complex problems.
Q: You have also mentioned the importance of film and cinematography in your work – even referencing The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Memento, Leon the Professional and others. What do you love about film and what is it about a film that usually sparks your creative juices?
A: WORKING in the industry for a couple of years has really made me appreciate the artistry that goes into the film process. Films are literal art pieces – even the Hollywood blockbusters – because of all the background creative effort that goes into them. I am only a small part of it but it is a collaboration of a variety of talents – from concept artists, animators through to software developers.
What I love about film is that there is more to a shot than what you might see at first. How colour and lighting conveys mood is such an important element and the placement of characters can switch the tone instantly. I actually watch a lot of video essays and have been to a few talks where people give breakdowns on certain movie scenes – it is so intriguing.
Q: Your day job is visual effects and you have also put out a few animations. How are you enjoying learning these skills and how do they compare to illustration?
A: THEY can be quite disconnected because I spend my day working in computer graphics in 3D space on something completely unrelated to a subject I am illustrating.
However, 3D makes me appreciate the necessity for depth and giving objects volume within my personal work. Illustration is still your own snapshot of what you know of the world so having knowledge in real-life subjects such as lenses or light distribution can be helpful for creating the right kind of textures and shadows. I say all this, but it is really hard to put it into practice – I am constantly learning.
Q: What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have a vision of what you want to create in the future or how you want to evolve as an artist?
A: I WANT to really break out of my own self-inflicted confines and work more on large conceptual environment pieces. Maybe branch more into the area of sci-fi and make things a bit more futuristic?
I feel my on-going goal is to just follow through with the list of concepts that I have – inspired by past experiences – and not always go for the ‘safe’ route just because I know it will turn out decent. What is most important is that I am enjoying myself in the process.