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Melvyn Evans The Worry about Bees. Creative Illustrator

February 24, 2014

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Melvyn Evans began his working career as a marine engineer, working mostly on submarines, but even then he was drawing and painting. After finishing an apprenticeship at Portsmouth Dockyard he went to Camarthen Art college to do a foundation year and then to Exeter to complete a degree in Illustration. Then onto Goldsmiths College in London for a year where he took up drawing classes at the Royal College of Art under the tuition of Bryan Kneale RA. During this period he started getting illustration commissions for magazines such as Elle, Red, Homes & Gardens etc. This generated illustration work for design, Sainsbury’s wine labels, Marks & Spencer food packaging and advertising work for Network Southeast, Mini Cooper etc.

“I’ve been illustrating ever since, and if I get a bad day I know it’s never as bad as working on those cramped noisy submarines.”

I contacted Melvyn to ask him a few questions about his present day career path.

Can you describe the start to a typical day in your working week ?

The day always begins with walking Bessie the dog. She’s a hyperactive working Cocker Spaniel and quite a socialite, she’s always happy and when she’s excited she tap dances like Bruce Forsythe (she even has the chin). I love getting out first thing in all weather, it’s a great way to formulate ideas. The countryside around where I live is very inspiring even though we live close to London. There are many ancient trees, woodlands and copses. Sometimes in late January or early February the light as the sun rises is spectacular, a red orb silhouetting the trees, or a shaft of bright light penetrating through the dark purple clouds.

How did your creative path develop to bring you to where you are today? Did you always know you wanted to illustrate and be an artist ?

I think I always knew I wanted to be an artist, although I didn’t know which path this would take. My mother is an artist and we always had all the drawing materials at hand, and she didn’t mind the mess her four children made. We’re all artists now, from jewellers, woodblock engravers and etchers. My father was an engineer, very practical and inventive, I think he gave us a lot of confidence in our abilities, something every artist needs.

What a fabulous studio space Melvyn has to work in. These images show his old press (top) and the new  Albion Press (below) built in 1860.

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There is a mix of lino cut (hand rendered) work and photoshop or illustrator created illustrations amongst your portfolio. Is there one way of working that you prefer or do you see equal merits in both ? Does one provide a welcome change from the other ?

I started out as an illustrator whose style was relief printmaking, and I worked like that for nearly fifteen years before touching a mac, so I really like hand making and mark making, cutting and getting my hands dirty. I think this is my natural way of working and the way I prefer working. I think this goes back to my childhood with all the crayons, paint and glue covering the table and not knowing which to use first. Having said that, I do think the mac is wonderful as another tool to allow artists to create, scanning in drawings and then quickly blocking in colour alongside colour, testing combinations altering compositions. I think the ipad is the next stage forward, I’ve used a Wacom tablet for years, it’s good but it’s not like drawing on a surface. The ipad with the right stylus works really well, and there are some great drawing and painting apps, I’ve sketched on the beach at Whitstable and loved using it.

Some of your work looks like it’s specifically created for children. Along with the greeting cards and stationery products you’ve worked on, are these areas that you would like to expand into or perhaps create more one off commissions that were interesting asides from your preferred forms or illustration ?

I’ve been commissioned to create cards and other stationery products over the years. I’d quite like to expand the print work into this area, there are some great companies like Art Angels, producing cards from the artwork of printmakers. Another area I’d love to explore is patterns for textiles and papers, collaging the print with paint, texture and line.

Here’s three of Melvyn’s card designs and a mixture of his printed and mac produced illustrations.

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Melyvn kindly shares with us, some of his initial sketches for a series of printed pieces called The Worry Story .

He says “I would love to create a children’s book at some point, I have ideas in sketchbooks dotted around the studio. I created an image for a book I had in mind called The Worry, in which worries were tangible things that could be lost and forgotten. It’s something I would to love to explore further, filling the book full of relief print illustrations and almost making the books limited editions for adults and children. The Worry story is centred around the the little character in the print. He has a worry in his bag but he has no idea why it’s there. At night, in the dark he can see the bag on the table by the bed and the worry seems to get bigger, but in the morning it’s still there same as it was previous day. The story goes on with a series of encounters and in one he is so engrossed he puts the bag down and forgets where he put it.  So now he’s finally free of the bag and the Worry that was in it. ”

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Some lino-prints featuring the London shorelines, Whitstable and Hastings.Fishinkblog 7147 Melvyn Evans 14

Who’s work, would you say, continues to inspire and amaze you ?

There are so many artists, I love looking at new paintings or discovering new work by artists I’ve admired for years. I recently bought a catalogue of Henry Moore lithographs of Stonehenge produced in the 1970’s. The drawings are beautifully, dark and heavy, the almost abstracted forms of the stones stand like sentinels or lie like fallen giants. I’ll list a few favourites but it’ll read like a wish list of paintings prints and drawings I’d like to have on my walls. I think my first is the early work of Samuel Palmer, the woodblocks of Graham Sutherland, the work of Henry Moore, William Scott, Ben Nicholson of course Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, John Piper, Terry Frost and then bringing it up to date Laura Carlin, Emily Sutton, Ed Kluz, and Charles Shearer. It’s quite a list and these are only a fraction of the artists who have really inspiring qualities to their work. Recently your Fishink blog introduced me to the Chinese artist Zhou Sheng Hua who’s work is stunning. There are so many gems yet to be discovered.

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Are there any companies that you’d like to create some work for ?

I like companies that give illustrators and artist a lot of creative freedom. I’d really like to create textile designs for St Judes Fabrics and sell prints through the St Judes Gallery. They have a fantastic group of printmakers who contribute to their textile designs. I think they’re very much like the Omega Workshops and the Edinburgh Weavers, allowing artist to create and interpret designs. I’d also like to create a cover illustration for Penguin which sits within the classic and timeless Penguin paperback design.

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I really like your collection of work featuring bees and hives in the garden. Was this something inspired by your personal interest in the area or prompted by the increasing talk about their dwindling populations in the world news ?

Up until a few years ago my parents kept bees, so I’m aware of the devastating effects of the verroa virus, genetically modified crops and climate change have on bee colonies. So I was really pleased to be commissioned to illustrate a book called ‘The Wisdom of Bees’. I produced the front cover as a lino print, and the inside illustrations are all digital, there wasn’t enough time to complete all the illustrations as prints. It was a wonderful commission I really enjoyed illustrating the different rural setting and discovering more about the small insects we all rely on.

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Nature plays a large role in your work. Is this due to a personal interest / what happens to surround you / or what has a large appeal to your creative audience ?

Nature is very important in my work, as I get older I think its importance has grown. Its relevance is more apparent, especially pieces like ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, or ‘The Greene Knight’. These are figures in the landscape relating to our aural traditions and sense of place. I feel a connection with nature, sounds very hippy I know, but I feel it’s a similar kind of connection I see in the work of artists like Henry Moore or John Piper, where there’s a search for a deeper understanding of landscape history and prehistory.

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Do you have any specific plans for the future ?

Thinking further ahead I’d like to exhibit more. It’s something I’ve only just started doing even though I’ve been illustrating all these years. It allows me to concentrate on my own ideas rather than commissions. The other thing I’d love to do more of is paint. The trouble is I’m addicted to painting, I don’t do it very often because I know if I pick up a brush I can’t put it down. Oils are my favourite medium, they’re great for working into, pushing and pulling the paint around, marking the surface with scratches and textures until the idea forms into something concrete. I think this would be my ideal for the future, continuing to explore illustration, but spending more time delving into the infinite possibilities of printmaking and painting.

Thanks Melvyn for sharing your work and thoughts with us. I hope some of the items on your ‘future wish list’ come to fruition. Superb work, I’d love to see more of The Worry Story, and some more textile design work too.

Just as a point of interest, I came across this lovely print available on Etsy by illustrator Hannah Rosengren. Great information about which flowers to plant to help the plight of Bees, I thought it a fitting and useful end note for today. Please pass this onto your friends, those with (or without) green fingers ! : )
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As a nice little closing feature I received this in my inbox today ! Perhaps I need to put some site warnings up.. what do you think ? : )
4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2014 5:51 pm

    Particularly like the seaside ones, which are seaside without being obviously sea-sidey if you get my drift!

  2. February 25, 2014 12:01 am

    What a peaceful, calm studio… and so tidy!

  3. March 2, 2014 10:46 am

    love the way colour and form come together!

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