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The Artist's Canvas

 

Steve Hutton

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Amazon.UK Link for
Raven's Wand

 

All images copyright © by Steve Hutton and unauthorized duplication or display is unlawful.

Wildwood Witches:
TWPT talks to Steve Hutton


TWPT: When did art become an important part of your life and was there something that acted as a catalyst or motivator that pushed you towards art?

SH:  Drawing has been important to me for as long as I can remember. As a boy we (thankfully) had no computers/games and only three TV channels to choose from, so paper and pencils was an exciting way to escape. At the time I thought all kids loved to draw as much as I did, but only as I got older did I realise the truth was more complex, and that neglect of creative topics in schools can lead children away from drawing as they get older. 

TWPT: What do you like the most about being an artist? What is your least favorite part of being an artist?

SH:  The highlights of creating artwork includes the tactile feeling of just pushing paint around a surface, seeing the drama and storytelling emerge as the piece grows, and hearing different people read their own meanings and narratives into an image, giving it extra layers of life. These are to name just a few highlights. The downside can be the prolonged isolation of sitting at the drawing board for hours, which during the cold winter months can be pretty testing if you can't afford the luxury of cranking the heating up to full!

TWPT: What drawing materials do you use and why did you choose to create your images in that way?

SH:  These days I work exclusively in coloured pencils. I've always felt more comfortable with a pencil than a paintbrush, and I love the simplicity of pencils and the direct contact they give you with the surface. For a more detailed account of my drawing technique, people can read my blog: www.wildwoodwitches.co.uk/pencils  

TWPT: When you are in the midst of creating a new image or series of images what is your work day like? Do you have a schedule for when you draw?

SH:  If there's a deadline for a piece then my workday can be pretty rigid. Up early to the drawing board and starting by sketching out the whole image, which can take a full day. I draw and complete faces first as they carry the final piece and make or break it. If they go wrong or don't have the right feel, I've got the option to start again and haven't lost too much time. Later in the day I'll take a walk or a bike ride to get the muscles moving, and work as late as I feel or I’m able, all of it fuelled by tea and either music or audio books. 

TWPT: When did you first start creating the Wildwood Witches and what was it that prompted you to begin?

SH:  Wildwood's origins began as a personal project in 2007 to sharpen my figure drawing skills. But I still wanted a fictional element, so I opted to 'draw a few witches'.


Grace Valiant
©Steve Hutton

That snowballed into dozens of characters all of whom I wrote a few lines of back-story for. As the drawings became better and more lifelike their potted histories became grittier and more in-depth. It was a steep learning curve but a highly creative and energetic time of my life. I often found myself drawing into the early hours. 

TWPT: What was it that drew you to the subject matter of witches in your artwork? Is your interest in witches strictly an artistic pursuit or is there more of a real world motivation for your efforts?

SH:  I'd opted to draw witches just for the fictional context, but after a little background reading about witchcraft (a rich but sometimes murky topic as I'm sure many readers of this magazine will appreciate) I wanted to incorporate more of witchcraft’s spiritual aspects into the characters and their world – not just the cliched pointy hats and broomsticks. I freely admit to a lot of reinvention, adding my own elements, but one thing remained key – to represent witches (men and women) as ordinary people who just happen to follow a certain faith system, one that I depicted as benign and nurturing, as I believe it always was and is.


Earth Rise
©Steve Hutton

TWPT: When you are working on a particular piece how do you know when it's done? What are you looking for in the piece that tells you as the artist that it is as complete as you can make it?

SH:  Oddly, I know a piece is finished early on, when I've got the character's face completed. If it captures the mood I'm after then I can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with 'filling in' the rest, knowing the heart and soul of the piece is safely in place. During this 'filling in' phase (which can be 80% of the total draw time) I'm more relaxed and at liberty to add extra detail for the fun of it if time permits.  

TWPT: Are the images of Wildwood Witches part of a larger story? If so which came first the story or the image?

SH:  The images sparked the story fragments, which then gravitated into a wider, single story, and Raven's Wand was born, my first novel. By the end of it, writing and drawing no longer seemed like separate creative pathways, but instead just different sides of the same tool. I always felt I was unearthing Raven’s Wand rather than creating it, because strange as it sounds I sensed the characters and world were always there. I just had to dig them out.  

TWPT: Do you see your novels as an extension of the visual artwork that you create for Wildwood Witches? Is it just as satisfying to write as it is to draw?

SH:  People say a picture paints a thousand words, but at the risk of sounding heretical I know that to write a scene, in which for example a few characters are sitting, chatting around a camp fire, might take an hour at most. To draw that scene would take days! I sum it up thus – writing's quick to create but needs the reader's patience, while drawing takes ages but the viewer can read it in a heartbeat.  

TWPT: What is it that inspires the images that you create? Is your artwork like a finely drawn storyboard as to where your characters are going?

SH:  I write and draw the things I know best, and as I love being out in nature, that easily finds its way into my words and images. Same goes for writing – I create locations that mirror real places I've been (again, because I love them) so I can write about them with authority and make them feel more believable. Sometimes I'll take doodles I've sketched while on a train journey or half-absorbed in a film and work them up into large, finished pieces. I like the almost unconscious quality doodling captures, and the results sometimes even surprise me.  

TWPT: Are there messages that your pieces communicate about your view of the world?

SH:  I mentioned my view of witchcraft as being benign and nurturing, and in the world of Raven's Wand the witches’ beliefs include a duty to safeguard nature. I set the story in late Victorian Britain, which I've always viewed as a historical crossroads, when the industrialised way of life we live now had been firmly established and the domination of steel over greenery was not just widespread but celebrated. If the characters of Raven's Wand were alive in this day and age they'd be labeled 'eco-activists' at best, and at worst 'terrorists', but then again witchcraft has frequently been misunderstood (sometimes wilfully) in my view.

TWPT: Are you able to make a living from your artwork or do you still have to keep a day job? How's that working out?

SH:  I live a pretty frugal lifestyle (which I think is typical of many artists) and so my craft just about covers my outgoings. In the past (and who can say – perhaps in the future too?) I've done all sorts of different jobs to fill the wage gap, including classroom assistant, paint-shop joinery work, house removals and gardening. The list is varied and long, but in short I'm prepared to do what I must to avoid the 9-5 job trap, because I've seen many artists set out freelance only to vanish into 'temporary' jobs and never pick up a pencil again.

TWPT:  Has covid19 changed your attitude towards the world in general, your artwork or your working habits over the past year? In what ways?

SH:  Art fairs and comic book conventions were a large part of promoting my art and books, and yes, covid has destroyed all that. What I find most aggravating is the media's attitude of ignoring all the broken livelihoods, wrecked marriages, suicides, and lost dreams, as if these hardships are of little consequence.

TWPT: Thanks a lot Steve for taking time out to talk to me about your artwork. I've always enjoyed your work which is why I've always kept a link to it on the front page of TWPT. Wishing you much success in the future with your art and your words.


Night Watch
©Steve Hutton