Olivia Kemp interview: Building worlds and imaginary places

I am delighted to host an interview with Olivia Kemp – an artist who creates mesmerising, intricate worlds in pen and ink.

Olivia Kemp’s artwork is nothing short of stunning. She produces intensely detailed pen and ink images of imagined landscapes and real-world creatures and things. For all their intricacy, her pictures are often physically vast. They create beautiful spaces for the mind to wander. You can lose yourself in Olivia’s art for hours.

Olivia’s website includes the following statement about her art:

“I draw in order to make sense of landscape but also to construct and re model it. I build worlds and imaginary places that grow out of a need to interpret the sites that I have known, expanding and developing them across a page. This encompasses everything, from the visions of a grand landscape right down to the details of the land, the plants and creatures that may inhabit it.”

It is my honour to be able to share this interview with Olivia, in which she discusses in detail her art and how she goes about creating it. My thanks to Olivia for taking the time to provide such thoughtful answers to my questions, and for her kind permission to include examples of her work here.

To see more of Olivia’s artwork:

Olivia Kemp interview

MC: This is a question I always like to ask artists: What is the earliest thing that you can remember drawing?

OK: I don’t think I can remember my earliest drawing! My sister and I used to embark on grand drawing projects together, like drawing out all the places we had been on holiday or designing palaces for mice on pieces of paper stuck together.

(2) Only Then, We'll Leave The Woods 2017 221x117

MC: I find it inspiring that you launch directly into each picture without even preliminary pencil lines. When you first put pen to paper, do you have a mental image of the finished piece? Do the results ever surprise you?

OK: I never really know what the work will look like, I think they are too big and too detailed to be able to foresee it all before making it. I have a vague idea – like “a forest of treehouses” – then I just run with it taking each day as it comes.

MC: You “build worlds and imaginary places” with your pen. How would you describe the world(s) you are building?

OK: I’m not sure how to describe them!! I suppose they are places devoid of people, sprawling and illogical. The longer you look at them the less and less sense they make. The detail makes it all hang together, believable only for a moment.

MC: What other artists’ worlds and imaginary places inspire you?

OK: I love the work of Andrew Wyeth, Caspar David Friedrich, Samuel Palmer. I think I’m a bit of an old soul when it comes to influences, but then I suppose that gives me space to make what I want without serious comparison. Not that I don’t love the work of contemporary artists, I do very much, but I can’t think of one that rivals those three for me.

MC: Often in your artwork, the spirit of the place, creature or object that you are depicting shines through most clearly in its surface textures. What are some of your favourite textures to draw?

I don’t have a favourite surface to draw but it’s incredibly important to me that the drawing I make has a variety of textures to tackle, that’s one of the things that makes it interesting to do.


MC: Koi carp are among the most beautiful things in this world. So I was particularly fascinated by the Twitter and Instagram updates as you worked on your April 2019 picture Koi in the Sunken Garden (St Petersburg, Florida). Could you please talk me through the story of this picture (what inspired it, how you approached it, how long it took, the types of pen and paper you used, etc)?

OK: My drawing of koi carp, was inspired by a pond I saw at the “Sunken Gardens” in St Petersburg, Florida. I didn’t have the drawing in mind at the time but a few days later I woke up early and began work on it. I think it took a couple of days, I dipped in and out of it as I was travelling at the time. As I usually do, I used unipin pens on Arches paper. I loved trying to capture the texture of water, it’s something I keep coming back to and tying out in different ways.

MC: There is so much life, character and feeling in your work. But there seem to be two great absences, too: colour and humans. Do you consciously keep these out of your work? Or might you ever introduce humans into the worlds and imaginary places that you create?

OK: I keep humans out of the drawings to allow the viewer to place themselves there, instead of thinking about the people they see depicted. I think it’s unwise for artists to say “never” about anything, but I can’t see humans being included any time soon.

MC: Do you have any advice for anyone who might be thinking of taking up drawing regularly?

OK: Draw something you’re truly interested in, but don’t spend too long wondering about that or things never get made, just crack on.

(128) Ascending The High Pass 2018 215 x 115

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s