“It’s a bit like playing god in your own universe, creating worlds which otherwise would not exist” Claire Scully talks about her new book Desolation Wilderness

For Desolation Wilderness, the follow up to the beautiful Internal Wilderness, illustrator Claire Scully is again looking a how we interact with the world around us. We caught up with Claire to find out more about the meaning behind her intricate and inspiring worlds.

For those who might be new to your work, how would you describe Desolation Wilderness (and it’s predecessor Internal Wilderness)

Claire Scully: Desolation Wilderness is part of a continued project looking at ‘landscape and memory’ – our relationship with the environment, effects we have on the world and space around us and in turn it’s profound affect on our own memory and emotions. Desolation Wilderness is a real place, it does exist. This collection of drawings is based on the notion of the ‘idea’ of a place, assumptions that are made about the nature of its existence and where its boundaries lay. In some ways this book explores the memory of a journey through a new and unfamiliar environment, the convergence between physical experience and memory.

Both books feature landscape images which you are described as the starting point of a story. How do you choose what the landscape will be? Do you work back from a narrative point or are the images based on real locations and you extrapolate a story from that view?

CS: In the first book, Internal Wilderness, all the scenes were from imagination, like taking my mind for a walk. This can be a bit like playing god in your own universe, creating worlds which otherwise would not exist. The new book is based on places I had experienced, so this was about creating a sense of the place. Some are places I spent some time in and others were flashes of views from a car window, a glimpse of a trail or fallen tree on a hillside.

I guess part of what I’m trying to show is, even though we all live our own narratives we don’t live moment to moment consciously aware of that storyline, so in between the rich dialog of life there are lots of stand alone moments of quiet observation and contemplation, that’s what I am trying to offer people, a place to spend some time within a moment.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you work from reference material or is it mostly imagination?

CS: I work a little from reference, a little from imagination and a little from memory. Memory is an important aspect of my work, when you overly rely on using reference images you might be able to get an accurate view of a place but it can feel more diagrammatical in nature. Using memory, spending time remembering the details of a place feeds into the image generation with a different set of reference material, for example the gentle aroma of sage brush hanging in the air or how the light changes when smoke from a not so far away wildfire reaches the atmosphere or even just the intense heat of high noon desert sun.

You use a much warmer orange colour palette for Desolation – is that intended to make the locations feel hotter and more desolate? Or a reflection of seasons which you are creating?

CS: Yeah, exactly that. Though I found it quite difficult getting the right balance of colour at first (there are a few dodgy colour combos that didn’t see the light of day). There is a bleached out dryness inherent in the desert but there’s also an intensity to the colour too, could be partly down to the clear brightness of the light but possibly also the altitude of where I was a lot of the time. I’d tried to create a sense of atmosphere, I think ‘mood’ is important when you are communicating without words.

Is there a grand plan for the series to work through different colours and even go from a rural landscape to a more urban setting?

CS: I really love this format and seeing the two together does throw out a challenge to the compulsive bit of my brain. I would like to do more but they need to develop organically, I need to go on a more thought based journey to arrive at the next ‘mood’ or colour way. There are certainly other types of wilderness waiting to be explored, I guess it’ll be where my mind wants to go next, what kind of escape do I want to create. I live in London, so my everyday is the big city urban environment. My work has always been about seeing the connection to haute within this space, showing the intersection between the two.

When you start drawing one of those complex pictures full of trees, do you ever regret your choice of subject matter and wish you had just told a story of two people sat in a room chatting?! Or is it the challenge and the complexity of a landscape that you enjoy?

CS: It’s all about the complexity for me, there is an almost meditative process when working on my larger scale drawings. There is a bit of a relationship thing that happens during the creation process, I’m almost disappointed when the drawing is done cos I don’t get to spend so much time in that space anymore, but then they become like old friends which is nice and possibly sounds a bit weird. I do love simple communication, it’s like magic for me, others that work that way can do it so beautifully, quite a powerful way to work…

And finally, your work has a very calming and tranquil feel to it, and feels like a real celebration of the countryside. Do you love being outdoors? Or is it something you aspire to do more of?

CS: I do love being outdoors, it feeds the soul. And I don’t don’t get to do it nearly enough but the very nature of being an illustrator means you spend quite a lot of time inside at your desk. Though drawing the type of subject matter I do means my thought process spends more time outside than I physically do. I am about to go back to an area near Desolation Wilderness during the summer so that should sort my outdoor quota for a little while.

You can purchase Desolation Wilderness for £7 from the Avery Hill online store and you find out more about Claire’s work at www.clairescully.com