Another artist from my hometown of Olympia, Nikki McClure's works have a Zen simplicity that is both thought provoking and soothing. She is known for her intricate paper cuts painstakingly crafted with a knife as opposed to a brush or pencil. Community, motherhood, work, and nature play a prominent role in her work.
Her latest book 'Collect Raindrops' is a calming celebration of the little and important things in life and along with her other work is available at BuyOlympia.com.
What would you say is the influence of your environment and Olympia in general on your work?
It is the influence. Everything that I make is informed by the air I breathe and the trees and birds and soil. The physical environment is most important to me. And the human/built/cultural environment- this is important too, though less so now than in the past. Too many people I care about have moved away and I am so busy making my family strong and healthy that I have become a bit of a hermit.
And what reasons would you say lie behind the number of artists who are either from or who have settled in the area?
The foggy mornings and tidal smell and the feeling of co-operation and altruism.
"I like that I can't erase, that I have to find a solution that works with the mistake, rather than erasing it."
I sketch ideas- from memories and photographs and staged photos of poses remembered by my muscles. Then I make a larger- to-size sketch, transfer this to black paper with pencil, and then start cutting. Make a mistake, fix it somehow, and keep cutting. The mistake part is very important. I like that I can't erase, that I have to find a solution that works with the mistake, rather than erasing it.
Also the flow of the blade, cutting is different than drawing. You can't draw a line over and over till you get it "right"- you just have to go for it with the knife in hand. There is a necessary confidence in the line.
Would you choose a color and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you?
Color? I mostly work in black and white.
I am looking at color differently now. "Every thing has colors!", Finn, my 2 year old keeps exclaiming. Every color is made up of so many colors- it really is astounding.
Crows and motherhood appear quite a lot in your work. Is there a particular reason that these are manifest in your work?
I am a mother. We all are/were children.
I like crows because they are so smart and I want one to adopt me someday.
And in regards to the crow in particular, would you tell us about your interest in these birds both from a personal and artistic standpoint?
Hmmm...I want one to adopt me?
Sometimes it is easier to be a bird than a person in a picture.
What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages in being self-taught?
See above. It is just a crow! no bigger meaning!! The advantage is not knowing better and the disadvantage is not knowing better. Another advantage is that I could spend my college time studying the natural world: ornithology, botany, entomology.
And would you tell us about your journey as an artist?
Art was always there in my mind. I would dress up in fantastic outfits from my Grandmother's closet and draw all day. But I thought I would be a marine biologist as one couldn't really be an Artist. So I took natural history classes or made them up at The Evergreen State College. I made a book for my last quarter- a book of linocuts called "Wetlands" (still in print from the Washington State Dept. Of Ecology).
I graduated with a BS/BA and immediately went to work a one year internship at the Dept. of Ecology and didn't seek out state employment beyond that. I realized that I couldn't do 8-5 for 10, 20? 30 years? I did get really good at drawing ducks and cattails. I did this and that, small commercial jobs, for small amounts of money, then got a studio and started making paper cuts and really began a new journey: making the pictures and books that I wanted to make.
I just started one day and haven't stopped. I like the way it makes me feel.
What artists inspire you and why?
I am immersed in children's book illustrations now: Sendak and McCloskey. Sendak's ears and noses. McCloskey's watercolors in "Time of Wonder" sweep me away!
And do you practice any other arts outside imagery?
I wrote in college and then I moved on to singing-playing music or my body in front of other people around the country. I tried animation, but got 15 seconds after too many days in a windowless room= not me! For now I express myself visually.
Are there any skills which you would like to learn in future and why?
Knitting and more fabric printing techniques- for fashion ideas/personal wardrobe dreams. I will be making fabric designs for patagonia soon.
I would like to have a writing period again, perhaps when my hand and eyes give out.
"Art that moves people is what is important to me. I have no feelings on the categories."
Hmmm... another art question! inclusive/exclusive. exclusive/inclusive. Art that moves people is what is important to me. I have no feelings on the categories.
And what are your thoughts on digital art?
Digital art? go for it. I use computer to make the printed versions of my pictures...but I also use handcut text in a font that we made. I want it to be handmade without computer text as much as possible. Just like in nature how nothing is perfect. There are always holes in leaves, torn edges, no solid color. It is getting harder to see these things.
Do you feel that technology is incompatible with nature or is it possible for the two to exist in harmony?
I started to drift towards the answer to this above. Harmony is possible with caution, respect and humility.
How did Collect Raindrops develop?
I was asked by my editor, Eva Prinz , to make a book- we came upon the idea of a collection from the calendar series. I had been making paper cuts for 10 years. It is an important mark in time.
And what would you say is the central theme in the book and does it differ from your work in general?
Theme? the theme is: Things to Make and Do for the Next 1000 Years and How Humanity Must Focus on it's Postitive Attributes in Order to SURVIVE." It is the work that I have been doing for the past 10 years. I have done other projects, but the calendars are really my attempt to call out to the world.
Do you have any more books in development?
Yes!!! Very small beginnings and I am excited about them.
I am also finishing the 2008 calendar pictures right now (one more to go!)
What advice would you give parents to nurture their children’s artistic voice?
Observe, step back, follow, BE QUIET!
Have frequent contact with nature and dirt (parent and child- be a dirty example)
Finn is just starting to draw "things"- London Bridge to shooting stars. I'm just watching in awe.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?
To be able to watch in awe.
Thank you, Nikki. You are a diamond.
Buy Olympia - Nikki McClure
Fecal Face - Interview
WA State Dept. of Ecology - Wetlands
Nikki McClure Factsheet - Kill Rock Stars
Rice Polak Gallery