10?’s with artist and illustrator, Marion Deuchars.
Marion, thanks so much for agreeing to do 10 Questions. We’re delighted to be chatting with you today.
For the very few people who don’t know, Marion Deuchars is an Artist, illustrator and author, who has been our go-to, feel-good, Instagrammer throughout lockdown, creating and sharing wonderful art, all captured by Angus Hyland, Marion’s husband. Here we go…
You have been a constant source of inspiration throughout lockdown with your book readings and water paintings. Where did your inspiration come from to be so active?
Since leaving college I’ve always worked from a studio away from home and thought that this was the way I worked best. Like many of us, I had to adapt pretty quickly to change because of lockdown! My husband Angus (a partner at Pentagram) assembled a joint studio on our ground floor in a few days. At the time I noticed that many artists were trying to help people be more creative at home. I saw many friends and contemporaries offering free artwork activities, tutorials, story reading, etc and I tried to contribute too. I was mindful that many people may not have the best environment to create art or have access to materials so I started making art with whatever I could find around the house. This included making shadow puppets with discarded face masks on the window and drawing with a mop and water in my small garden. It was a lot of fun. Angus or one of our two sons would film me from our top balcony. The change in environment helped me to have a different perspective and gave me a creative boost. Perhaps because the pressure was off, to a certain extent, I felt very inspired during lockdown. It helped that the weather was very sunny and hot.
Can you tell us a bit about your process? How do you come up with ideas, and decide which ones to go with, and has this changed through lockdown?
The only constant in how I start making work is that first and foremost; I ‘Play’
I always have a desk I can make a mess on and use hands-on materials like paint, pencils, collage, etc. I like to start there. I always have something going on in that space; I don’t have to have a goal or have to end up as something finished, it’s the process of making art that I’m tuning into. When I then have to come up with a specific idea, say for a book, those playful beginnings somehow find their way into the project.
My environment, what I see, and read also fuel ideas for work.
Since lockdown I have worked in several spaces. Initially at home, then we went to Spain in the summer and stayed in various locations. I started making artwork there too, with whatever I could find. More water art, drawing the boys a lot more, and then in one of the houses we rented, the land around was surrounded by carob trees that were just about to be harvested. I started drawing with the carob pods on a big scale and had Angus up a ladder and balancing on a wall to film those!
We are now in Hertfordshire for a few months and I have a small dining room turned into a studio. I started working on drawing on found stones and sea-glass. A few years ago I was obsessed with collecting seaglass and stones from British beaches. I knew I wanted to paint them but never found the time. Now I have limited space to work on, but it’s the perfect time. I’m also trying to use the local stone here in Hertfordshire which is chalk and flint. Some of the flint stones are incredibly beautiful. I walk into the fields and feel like I’m picking up treasure. So sometimes things are ideas on the back burner just waiting for the right time to come to life.
There’s a wonderful piece on you in Creative Review looking back on your career. Can you tell us a bit about your time at The Royal College of Art, and what effect that had on you?
I remember receiving my acceptance letter from the Royal College and it was like Willie Wonka’s golden ticket. I had been studying in art school in Dundee, Scotland and the jump from there to London was pretty major. The RCA was the only MA course Illustration in the country at the time and there were only about 25 students. Quentin Blake had just retired and handed over the reins to Dan Fern. He did pop in quite a lot for tutorials though and we had some great visiting lecturers including Peter Brookes and Andrzej Klimowski. What I remember is that my cohort were highly motivated and very talented. There were no projects set, and so the idea was that you had to find your own unique voice. It’s stood me in good stead ever since. We were basically all the best students from courses around the country and we were all so happy to be there. We worked hard and played hard. I spent the first year just absorbing everything; going to plays, cinemas, museums, cafes, walking the streets, following the river. I fell in love with London and have not really fallen out of love.
Your work is so full of joy and optimism. I wonder as you mainly work alone, where does your inspiration and motivation come from?
That’s nice to hear, I can’t say I think about that too much but I do try to appreciate what is around me and look for beauty in small things. I feel very lucky to be making art for a living. I’m motivated by the belief that my best work is around the corner. It may be or may not be true but it’s good to have a ‘project’ in life, any project. Of course, we all have good days and bad days. Sometimes I can’t make anything and I can have a real lapse of confidence. I try to ration my time on social media as I feel it can be a trigger for negativity. My rule is to spend more time ‘doing’ than looking. I know through experience that I will have some periods that are more creative than others.
You were firebombed at a McDonald’s in New York. That sounds terrifying, what happened, and has that put you off eating McDonald’s?
It was my first trip to New York, I was 19 years old and this was a trip I had dreamed about for years. I was on my own as I had signed up for a programme called Camp America and was scheduled to go to Massachusetts to teach kids art. My sister, coincidentally, was working as an au pair, and I had planned to meet up with her and hang out for a few days. I stayed in the YMCA. The city was just how I had imagined it. I’ll never forget the first night falling asleep to the sound of police sirens. That was so exciting for me. When I ventured out to get something to eat it in the local McDonalds, I remember the thrill of just walking in the street, the sounds and smells I'll never forget. The contrast between a small Scottish town and New York in the ’80s could not have been more different. New York was in a bad place at the time, riddled with crime and drugs. Within 5 minutes of standing in the queue to get my burger, some guys ran in and set a bin on fire inside the restaurant. There was a loud bang and a lot of panic. It was near the door so I couldn’t escape. I’m sure I just stood there dumbstruck. The incident was dealt with pretty quickly and I don’t remember feeling frightened. I think I’d watched too many American cop dramas and was thinking, well this is how it is!
You come from a small town in Scotland. How do you think that has affected you and your work, and was it hard to leave?
I am sure we are all partly influenced by our background. I love the landscape, the Scots humour and warmth but I knew from a young age that small town life was not for me. I was a dreamer, I looked at books and films and wanted something different, more exciting. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted but I knew I’d have to leave my small town to do that. My mum gave us wings (I’m one of 6 children). She perhaps did not have the chance to think about herself but she never held us back and indulged in our fantasies.
It’s so hard now for people to follow their passion for art. Rishi Sunak, thinks we should all retrain. What would you say to someone who’s considering following their passion but is terrified of the risk, or encouraged to ‘get a proper job’?
I think I had the same dissenting voices when I was trying to decide to go to art school. My family and art teachers were very supportive but almost everyone else just expressed fear. Art school at that time was not thought of as ‘proper education’ far less lead to a ‘proper job’. If you are very passionate about art and you have had enough feedback and encouragement to make you feel like it’s a viable option, go for it. If you’re not sure then there is no hurry to pursue art straight from school. I’d say it’s always best to try some other things first, get some experience, whatever it is, but live life a bit. I took a year out because I did not get into the college of my choice. That knockback, what I thought of a huge failure at the time, ended up being much better for me as I became more independent, learned how to be self-sufficient financially, and grow in confidence. In reality, there is not a job for everyone in the arts. It also pays badly generally. So if making money is high on your priority list, don’t go into the arts. Get a great job and continue making art without the pressure of it having to pay your rent. If after all that you still feel like you’d like to take that path, then do it for the passion and hope that the money follows.
Can you tell us a bit about your character, Bob the bird? Where did he come from and is he inspired by someone in real life?
Bob is based partly on myself and my brother (Robert). We both inherited very skinny legs from my dad. (I never actually ever saw my dad’s legs as he always covered them up saying they were pale and too puny to get out) Luckily Scottish summers are not that hot! I was very self-conscious about my legs and general skinniness and my brother too. I based the story on the character Bob overcoming his lack of confidence and how at a certain age small things in your appearance feel so important.
You have quite the rock ‘n roll home with both you and Angus. Is there any competition between you both, or do you inspire and push each other?
If you ask our teenage sons they will tell you that we compete all the time. Less about work where I think we are very supportive of each other, but in almost everything else, be it a game of cards, cooking breakfast, who’s done more steps; who the dog loves the most… you name it, we’ll be competing.
I’d like to think I help Angus with his work and I know I am so lucky to have him to help me with mine. I trust his judgement implicitly. We can both be quite critical of each other’s creative efforts, brutally honest, but when he responds positively to something and vice versa, then we know we have something good.
Lockdown and Covid days have been an interesting challenge and better than I would have imagined. The kids have had a chance to see us both working close up, it’s generally been a pretty creative time for us all because of that.
We are walking more together (with our dog) because not having to go into work means there is more time to do other things. We have not run out of things to talk about yet, we thrash out lots of ideas on those walks. I must recommend it, walking and talking as a way of resolving things best.
What’s next? What are you currently working on and when will we see it?
I’ve had 4 books published since July. The third Bob book; ‘Bob Goes Pop’; ’Let’s Make some Great Art Animals’ and ‘LMSGA Patterns' for Laurence King; I also illustrated a story for Helen Baugh’s ‘The Spots and the Dots’ for Anderson Press.
I’ve been working on some board books for younger kids; “Let’s Look at … Numbers/Shapes/Animals and Colour. They will be out in Spring 2021.
That’s probably enough books, for now, I’m just starting to think of some new ideas to extend both of those series of books. It’s quite nice not having a deadline. It gives me some headspace for new ideas and time to try some other things; my obsession right now is making sourdough bread and Kombucha. I know I’m a bit late in the game as everyone was doing it over lockdown. My fridge is full of all different starter samples and odd things in jars. I foraged fruit and berries and have made jams and sloe gin, My kids think I’ve turned into a witch making potions. They might be right.
Marion Deuchars is an artist, illustrator, AGI member, and author of a number of bestselling books including her first children's picture book, Bob the Artist, and a series of award-winning art activity books, including, Let’s Make Some Great Art and Let’s Make Great Fingerprint Art, all published by Laurence King Publishing.