Jon MacNair – IPMM Exclusive Interview

November 11th, 2009 Posted by Art, Featured No Comment yet

Jon MacNair‘s art has the dynamic of being accessible, yet uneasy; approachable, yet dubious as far as scope. When he’s not creating extra-world’s with unknown half-creatures and eyeballs, he’s accessing a part of the illustration market that needs a singular mind to convey the realities of a system inspired by color and applique. His flexibility when moving from freelance illustration work to fine art, is seamless and impressive – I feel drawn in by his stuff, yet compelled to think a bit more….and isn’t that what art is for in the first place?

My basic rule of thumb is – if the artist seems to have a cohesive vision, it’s probably worth getting inside their head. Visions of parallel worlds with similar dilemma’s, shows me a curiosity and intensity of mind that almost always yields great work. In this case, it definitely has. I am happy to have been able to talk to Jon about his work, the ideas that inform his artistic lens, and the possibilities for a dude who’s not afraid to let his suspicion inform his practice.

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IPMM: You create environments that I’d never want to be a part of, but I am glad they exist. Your fine art feels like surreal folktales……how would you characterize these otherworlds?

JM: Recently I was talking to someone about how I sometimes have a hard time describing my work. In the past when I have had to do this, I’ve used words like mystical, mythological and dreamlike. The worlds I draw are really in some ways mirrors of our own world. The characters that inhabit these landscapes deal with the same basic issues of humanity we do, but everything is cloaked in a rather strange and alien looking visual exterior.

IPMM: Is there a starkness of b&w that you like more for the gallery setting?

JM: I think a lot of my fine art is black and white because when I decided to start working on my own projects, I was using ink at the time. My illustration work was done primarily in ink (with digital color added later) and so when I made this transition to fine art, I stayed with the same medium. That’s been about a year and a half now. At this point I feel very comfortable with pen and ink and so I am trying to add additional mediums to my repertoire (watercolor, acrylic, graphite, gouache). When I began to build up my fine art portfolio, I didn’t know the black and white palette would lend itself to my style so well. I think it’s something that people associate with my work at this point, but as I said before, I want to continue to experiment with other mediums too. Gotta keep the work fresh. Don’t worry, I’m not thinking fluorescent colors anytime soon. So I guess to answer your question, the black and white palette wasn’t initially chosen because I thought it would look good in galleries (I wasn’t even thinking of exhibiting the work in the beginning). It was more about me staying within my comfort zone at that time.

IPMM: “Under Skin” (just above) is a piece of yours i love…..can you tell me a bit about the thought process behind it?

JM: The different scenes within the large cat figure represent various worlds within our own. There’s the human world and the animal world, as well as one scene representative of the creation of life. The top scene depicts man trying to decipher the mysteries of life through scientific experimentation, something I find extremely interesting but also somewhat futile and meaningless. The rabbit in the center scene is symbolic of the natural world, from which we have separated ourselves from to a good degree. As an animal he is content to search out the basic necessities of life without excess. The bottom panel is the creation scene; an idea purely from my imagination. I’ve always thought the notion of the world beginning with water is a really interesting and striking image and wanted to illustrate that here, but with my own twist.

IPMM: Do you have a name for that heart-shaped-face, cat-eared character?

JM: That’s another topic that has come up in conversation lately. No, I actually don’t have real names for any of the characters I draw. I usually refer to them as just that. “Characters.” I’ll say “the cat character” or “the hill with the face character” or “the eye plant.” Very technical I know. I guess it just never seemed that important, though I guess it would be a little convenient when referring to specific characters. I draw variations of characters that eventually evolve into new characters, so I’m reluctant to give names to things if I foresee them changing anyway. It’s easier for me to come up with titles to works than names for characters think.

IPMM: As far as works with color, despite the soft 1st impression of the pieces, you don’t seem to be afraid to ask some hard questions, as in “Child Obesity” (ju
st below) for example….

JM: That illustration was done as a promotional piece for my website. So far most of my clients have been editorial ones, and I periodically make example work to show what themes I am capable of illustrating. Some of the themes are more serious in nature, although it can be fun and challenging to interpret these issues with a lighter approach visually. I try to show a range of subjects I can illustrate.

IPMM: Do you prefer color or b&w, or is it more about ‘a place for everything?’

JM: Yes, I think everything has it’s place. For illustration, digital coloring is obviously quick and convenient and lends itself to the inevitable changes the client will ask you to do. For fine art, I love both black and white and color. The black and white has a certain mood it sets for the piece. I’m still in the process of experimenting with color to achieve this effect as well.

IPMM: Describe the perfect client for freelance work.

JM: The short answer here would be one that pays well and on time, is professional in their communication with you, and respects your vision as an artist. I think it’s just important that you and your client are a good match for each other. I’ve had freelance jobs where it was not the best match and I felt like I couldn’t quite be myself artistically. Unfortunately the work can turn out a bit lackluster if this is the case.

IPMM: Have you ever done album art? I can definitely see your work on a lp cover….

JM: I’ve never done album art but have always wanted to. The simple answer is I’ve just never been approached to do any. The closest thing I’ve done is a t-shirt design for a band. That was one instance where I think my style was a good match with the client.

IPMM: I’ve always liked drawing eyes, it seems you do too. Any idea why?

JM: Well, I like drawing faces in general, and eyes are definitely one of the most enjoyable features to draw in my opinion. Mouths and hair are pretty fun too. I just love how eyes can bring a life and self-awareness to non-living objects. It can instantly humanize them in a strange an often amusing way I think.

IPMM: Name one artist our readers and I should check out.

JM: A really talented illustrator by the name of Donald Ely who has some wonderfully eye-catching illustration and design work!

Dive into Jon MacNair’s cerebellum at and at his Flickr page ….

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