A living through book illustration
Former Napier resident Marley Mcleay, now living in Nelson, is making a name for himself in the world of book illustrating. I caught up with Marley to find out more about what led up to illustrating his latest two books — Carter and Friends and The Little Raindrop.
■ What are some of your earliest recollections of drawing/interest in art?
When I was at Westshore school, I consider it a point of chemistry. A friend of mine at the time, who I considered an above average talent with drawing, had this knack of capturing a unique feeling with his drawings . He did an artwork that made my heart sing. The drawing was of a space rocket ready to launch and behind it was the moon. It was the way he used lead from a pencil on top of blue felt tip which gave the impression the moon was a beautiful shiny disc. I asked if he could draw me a copy.
■ Where did those inspirations come from?
I had an interest in theTV series Star Trek since the early to mid 1980s. That spaceship Stevie drew sort of chimed in to my love of science fiction.
■ Did you always have a sense of your ability/talent?
I think so, yes. Try as I might, I was never a sports star but I could impress with my art.
■ Did you study art at school/ tertiary?
Art or drawing has always been my main interest at all levels of education. After high school I studied at Eastern Institute of Technology and then at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, just to keep tabs on what technology can bring.
■ How has your style changed over the years?
I had 22 years of building my style before owning my first computer and experimenting with the digital platform. I developed a very surreal style, rather inspired by the works of H.R Giger and Sylvia Siddell. I had always tuned into creating artworks that brought through all forms of emotions. Once I found appropriate websites that taught technique, it’s mostly been digital work for the past 17 years. My drive is different now, I am quite content with my achievements. I’m not solely focused on the fact that each piece must be of a certain standard of technical proficiency. I am enjoying what a small relaxing work can bring emotionally. My favourite pieces are still inspired by dreams and visions.
■ Have you had employment as an artist before you became an illustrator?
That is an interesting question — possibly not. The main form of income has been illustration work through children’s books and a little bit of graphic design. I’ve always considered myself the artist doing illustrative work.
■ Have you held exhibitions? Yes, in 2003 with a friend. It was called ‘Vs’ — a metaphor for our two distinct artistic styles and secondly as part of a student collective in my final year studying at NMIT a decade later.
■ How did you get into illustrating?
I came across a website dedicated to ‘the best sci-fi and fantasy art’ — Epilogue.net. I learned everything from technique to business etiquette, just by interacting with professionals. The first commission for my illustrations happened to be through mutual friends.
■ Tell me about the books you’ve illustrated?
The premise of Carter and Friends was to tell a story of the importance of looking after nature throughout the native forests of Lake Rotoiti, from the eyes of a child being guided by and his wee friend Carter, a Maltese terrier, a very knowing young pup. The Little Raindrop is an educational story of the process of weather, and the journey of a wee raindrop as it goes through the cycle of evaporation, precipitation and snow. The one I am working on currently is under a non disclosure agreement, but perhaps I can say it involves the rescuing of a species of New Zealand bird, but awesomely it has a good blend of science fiction. It just happens to be the subjects that are gravitating toward me.
■ What is the process you go through when illustrating a book?
There is a process of reading the script and scribbling thumbnails to generate a visual momentum or world build. At this moment the current project I am working is to a list of illustrations required by the author, which actually makes the journey quite easy, rather than leaving everything to me. I then have a three tier process of improving upon the thumbnail with a compositional study which is sent to the author. If this gets the okay, I’ll finalise the line work and add colour and then it is just a matter of presenting the work and hoping it meets requirements.
■ Do you collaborate with the author much?
Yes very much so. Feedback is important. I’ve learned the hard way about being too involved with an artwork and trying to remedy something that isn’t working for the author. Try as I might, I can miss the briefing, but with the best of intentions of course.
■ How does this compare to past work?
Structure versus non structure. Just a bit more expectation to tell a story with the artwork.
■ Goals for your future?
I’d love to work for Weta Workshop. I’ve come to meet various people who work there. I entered their concept art competition last year and finished fourth overall, and I believe entrants had their art displayed in South Korea — one of the greatest honours.
■ How’s the art scene in Nelson?
Not as flamboyant as it used to be — I wonder if it is an economic reality? It’s been a while since I lived in Napier but I thought the diversity in subject matter was more interesting. It’s mostly just landscapes in galleries here. A friend of mine does a wonderful job of trying to network local creatives to meet each other, there is certainly a ‘want’ to produce art in the region.
■ For more information or to check out Marley’s artwork visit him on Facebook The Art Of Marley Mcleay, email @theartofmarleymcleay or on Instagram @theartofmarleymcleay
Marley Mcleay has finished illustrating his latest books Carter and Friends The Little Raindrop.