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Mai is an artist and textile designer based in Melbourne with a wonderfully ornate and unique illustration style. Working large-scale with Copic Multi-liner pens as fine as .05, her style is distinctive and consistent, usually taking form as either a repeating pattern-like design or subject-focused illustration. Mai's decorative patterns and motifs are inspired by European, Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, and cleverly married with illustrations of flora, fauna and wildlife found in her garden, outside her front door and throughout Australia.
We've had the pleasure of reproducing and printing Mai's work for over a year now, and always enjoy seeing the new piece she's spent months working on when she drops in.
Read on to find out more about Mai and her practice.
When did you first start developing your practice and what was the initial source of inspiration for your unique and intricate illustration style?
I guess the kind of illustration I produce now really started when I worked as a textile designer for a fashion company; when I realized how much I loved drawing for prints on fabric. In general, I was brought up in a household that loved fashion and textiles, so a love of patterns and motifs is something I have always known. The styles I use are influenced by countries I have lived and worked in; primarily Japan and India, where such patterns are in abundance. So, when I immigrated to Australia, I thought it would be interesting to translate Australian flowers and bird species into similar decorative and highly stylized drawings.
I was fascinated to learn that you are also a textile designer. Have you printed your artworks on fabrics or other materials before, or considered it?
No, I have never printed any of my artworks on fabric, despite having spent most of my twenties printing fabric as a textile designer. I would absolutely love to do so some day. I hope the universe is listening...
I’d love to know a bit about the process you go through when creating a new piece of work. How much planning goes into each of your pieces? Do you ever find that the outcome of your artwork differs from the original idea you had for the piece?
Without going into too much detail, as the minutiae of the process could be quite boring, I first pick a plant species I would like to draw. Generally speaking, I make this decision based on their colours and what the colours remind me of. For instance, the maroons and deep reds of the New South Wales Waratah reminded me of colours in old Japanese kimonos. So I did a lot of initial sketches of the flower and then drew some traditional Japanese fabric patterns on the flower to see if they kept the essence of the flower. The two kind of worked, so I proceeded to design the layout of the illustration and picked a bird (the Crimson Rosella) that suited the piece. Again, there is a lot of trialing here, as birds can be drawn in several positions. That is the general description of the planning, however, each piece has its own unique issues, and some require a longer process than others. Also, I usually don’t have a fixed idea for a piece to begin with, I just start with something that inspires me and try different things. I suppose the more experience I gain, the more predictable the end result will be.
Which pens and paints are in your toolkit?
I use Copic Multi-liner pens, which are between .05 and .3 in thickness, and I have also just added Faber Castell’s Polychromos to my toolkit.
Your artworks are very detailed and fine, so I imagine it takes you several hours to complete each piece. How do you structure the timeline for completing an artwork and how long does the process usually take?
Creating a piece is a long and complicated process for me, so the short answer would be two months, if I am lucky. I don’t really have a structure as such, I’m afraid it would restrict the possibility of the work. I just do my best, as quickly as I can, and hope it turns out okay.
What is your primary platform for print sales and how do you find the process of selling limited edition prints of your original artworks?
Most of my prints are sold on Etsy and through a gallery. While selling limited edition prints is absolutely great; I’ve met some awesome people at Image Science, such as Cam, who painstakingly develops a print as close to the original as possible (which is an art in itself). Personally, I prefer the feeling of selling originals, it’s far more personal and meaningful.
How have you found the process of having your artwork reproduced and printed through Image Science? Was this your first experience of having your work reproduced?
Yes, it was my first and only experience of having prints produced, and I was blown away by how close the original and print were to each other. In fact, when I put the two alongside each other, and asked my husband to pick out the original, he picked the print.
What are your plans in 2019? Do you have any interesting projects, commissions or exhibitions on the horizon?
At this stage, my aim is to have 2 shows in a year. I’ve met some wonderful people at the Old Auction House in Kyneton, who have shown a lot of support and have helped me to develop my illustrations. My next show will be with another Melbournian artist, Mia Freeman, and our love for Australian flora and fauna will be on display for the months of February and March in Kyneton.