The Simple Things - - LIVING - Words: RE­BECCA FRANK

You might not ex­pect in­ner city Manch­ester to pro­vide much in­spi­ra­tion for an artist pas­sion­ate about wildlife, but Mandy Cleve­land is keen to cap­ture images of na­ture and wildlife in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. “I’m fas­ci­nated by how the nat­u­ral world and city life co-ex­ist,” she says. “I like spot­ting plants peep­ing through con­crete or birds sit­ting on py­lons. After all, it’s us in­vad­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment rather than the other way around.”

Just as she feels drawn to­wards darker and more fore­bod­ing en­vi­ron­ments, the sub­jects of Mandy’s strik­ing draw­ings tend to be the grit­tier ur­ban crea­tures as op­posed to the more gen­tri­fied coun­try set. “I like crows, black­birds, mag­pies, ravens and the like,” she says. Sketched mainly in black ink, her draw­ings are “fran­tic, but also con­trolled, like the birds them­selves” and, rather than us­ing a sketch­pad, Mandy chooses to draw on used en­velopes. “After I had my daugh­ter, I started

sav­ing en­velopes, and then I started doo­dling on them, and I’ve been do­ing it ever since.”

Mandy was al­ways draw­ing as a child and went on to do an art de­gree; after be­com­ing a mother she de­cided to give up her job and fo­cus on her draw­ing. En­velopes seemed the ideal platform for her sketches be­cause they also had a story to tell and brought a hu­man touch to her work. “I’ve al­ways col­lected things and I like re­pur­pos­ing stuff. I’m par­tic­u­larly drawn to en­velopes be­cause they’re a piece of his­tory and rep­re­sent the pass­ing of time, as my draw­ings do, too. I like how they might have been used to de­liver im­por­tant news or in­for­ma­tion. They’re fleet­ing, some­how, like a bird.”

At first Mandy used to hold on to any she liked the look of that dropped through her let­ter­box; now she hunts for vin­tage en­velopes at an­tiques shops and through on­line re­search. Peo­ple who know her work kindly do­nate them, too. “I have en­velopes go­ing right back to 1846,” she says. “Some are harder to draw on than oth­ers be­cause of their age. I have to think hard about what I’m go­ing to draw and then ob­vi­ously there’s the pres­sure not to make a mis­take and ruin it!”

Much of the in­spi­ra­tion for Mandy’s draw­ings comes from her im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings, such as the mag­pie, above, cur­rently nest­ing in the gar­den she shares with the other res­i­dents of the high-rise where

“I’m par­tic­u­larly drawn to en­velopes be­cause they rep­re­sent the pass­ing of time… They’re fleet­ing, like a bird”

she lives with her seven-year-old daugh­ter, Hebe. She also en­joys head­ing out to Sale Wa­ter Park, “a wildlife oa­sis framed by tow­er­ing py­lons and high-rise flats – a place where the city meets the coun­try”. Her ma­jes­tic black cor­morant was cap­tured here, and can of­ten be spot­ted along with swal­lows, jack­daws and drag­on­flies. She some­times draws from mem­ory or from pho­tos, ad­ding back­grounds for con­trasts in tex­ture and shape.

It was a friend of Mandy’s who first sug­gested she ex­hibit her draw­ings, but it took a while for Mandy to be­lieve peo­ple would come to look at them in a gallery. “When I was of­fered the first ex­hi­bi­tion, my im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was that I needed to come up with some new work, but in the end I thought I just have to be brave and honest and show the work that I do. I set about fram­ing my en­ve­lope doo­dles and it turned out to be the right thing to do, as every­body re­ally liked them.”

Now she moves from reg­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tions to art and craft shows and spends as much time as she can in her stu­dio, where she has sev­eral draw­ings on the go at once. Bring­ing art into the com­mu­nity is an­other pas­sion for Mandy and she runs work­shops and works on projects for or­gan­i­sa­tions, from schools to lo­cal com­mu­nity groups. “I’m keen to show peo­ple how much art can en­rich their lives,” she says. mandy­cleve­

A Prickly Sit­u­a­tion “These this­tles were drawn on a used buff en­ve­lope. Here the this­tles are ac­com­pa­nied by del­i­cate-look­ing longhorn bee­tles, whose an­ten­nae are of­ten as long as their bod­ies”

Mag­pie Lead the Way “The en­ve­lope is an old TreeSaver en­ve­lope from the 1960s; I bought sev­eral un­used but posted stuff in them, so they’ve been through the postal sys­tem. I love the mag­pies’ beautiful iri­des­cent wings. I try to cap­ture some of their won­der­ful au­dac­ity, too” “This is a project made up of three sep­a­rate bill en­velopes, one from 1979. The swal­lows, seen at Sale Wa­ter Park, are head­ing home at the end of sum­mer, so there’s a cer­tain sad­ness to the col­lec­tion, as it sig­ni­fies the pass­ing of time”

Skele­tons “The draw­ing is taken from a pic­ture in Na­tional Ge­o­graphic in 1973, show­ing mi­cro­scopic sea or­gan­isms on the sea floor, mag­ni­fied 320 times by elec­tron mi­cro­scope. It was part of a se­ries called ‘Life Finds a Foothold’, il­lus­trat­ing the tenac­ity of life”

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