The photo illustrator constructing her own offbeat visual worlds5 min read
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Creator Stories is a series in support of the Adobe Creator Collective, a new collaborative hub intended to inspire others. Here, artist Vanessa McKeown shines a light on her unique creative process – which sees her creating images and scenes that feel completely new.
As an artist, Vanessa McKeown revels in subverting expectations. Working with everyday objects – balloons, cigarette packets, food – she’s less interested in images you’ve seen before. Instead, it’s about blending different ideas and materials, in order to create something entirely new. Take, for instance, her project Fruloons & Vegaloons, in which she constructs a series of inflatable fruits and vegetables from items collected in and around her house and garden.
It’s an approach that has proved popular: today, she boasts an impressive archive of work, and almost 120,000 followers on Instagram. The uniqueness of her process marks her out as a key member of the Adobe Creator Collective, an online creative community seeking to unite artists from across Europe. The platform exists to champion authenticity, and inspire others to create: the collective offer tips and advice to Adobe users, with Adobe providing free assets for up-and-coming creators to get started themselves.
Below, McKeown reflects on her journey up to now, and explains how her distinctive process ensures she remains unshackled as a creator.
Tell us about your creative process. How do you tackle a new project or idea? Do you sketch or mock up your ideas before moving into execution?
I usually try to think of 100 ideas – not that it ever happens. Normally I’ll end up with around 30 terrible ones, and maybe five decent ones to choose from. Often, I’ll think one idea is not good enough and then in a weeks’ time I’ll look back and think, “This is all right, what was I thinking?!” With client work, I try to make a rough mockup or a sketch, which really helps when taking the photo. However, when it comes to my personal work, I’m much freer with how it’s going to look. I like to experiment and try new things out.
Any tips on beating creative blocks?
This happens to me all the time! Here are a few things that help me out. One: the first thing is to chill out. Two: keep in the back of your mind that something will come eventually. Mindset is important. Three: look at anything visual… blogs, internet library archives of old books – even things unrelated to what you’re doing. I feel like your mind connects things without you knowing, and in a few hours you will be out of your creative block! Four: If none of that works, take a walk to clear your head.
How did you first get into photography? Did you experiment with other areas before landing on still life?
I started photography on the weekends in my kitchen – I had a full-time job doing something else at the time. I began taking photos of simple objects on a colourful background with natural light. I liked the idea of doing still life, as I had a lot of control over it and only had to rely on myself. I also didn’t have to go anywhere to create. The best experiment I did was [taking] tomatoes [and turning them into] my Fruloon picture. I had some balloons and tomatoes lying around and BAM, I combined them!
I remember thinking, ‘This is what I should be doing’. It felt more fun to combine things and create a new image no one had seen before – for me anyway. I sometimes try taking nice, simple photos of things, or even landscape photos. I see so many talented photographers making beautiful work and I’m in awe. However, when I do it, it doesn’t feel very me. My brain is like, ‘No! Make it stranger, do something else’.
Any tips for those starting out in the world of still-life photography?
When starting out, don’t worry too much about equipment and crazy setups. All you need is natural light. A cloudy day is great for soft lighting, and a sunny day is perfect for harsh shadows. Adobe Photoshop has always been a lifesaver for helping improve the pictures afterwards. I think it’s best to learn and improve as you go, and I love this quote by Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
What’s your dream project? Something you’d love to do but haven’t had the chance yet.
I’d love to make giant sculptures of my work.
Do you retouch your own work?
Yes, I retouch of all my work. I’m still learning but I find using online tutorials the best way to pick up new things, as well as trial and error.
Do you collaborate often? How do you tackle that process?
I haven’t collaborated [with anyone] yet. I’d love to, though. Maybe I need to find a sculptor. Jeff Koons, you busy?!
Tell us an artwork or photograph by another artist that you have hanging in your room/house, and why?
I actually don’t have many things hanging up. But I do have a collection of souvenir patches I framed. I did a few road trips around America and collected them – I’m pretty obsessed with them, they’re quite graphic and I like that. I don’t know why they seem nostalgic as I never had patches as a kid. Maybe in my previous life I did. But I find the places I went to inspiring, so it’s nice to look at them now again and remind myself of good times. Some of the patches were quite touristy, but I did find some in Palm Springs by an artist called Meagan Rose Dowling – she has a shop that sells the cutest patches I’ve ever seen.
The Adobe Creator Collective project showcases the best new art, design and illustration talent weekly, connecting artists with the wider Adobe community. Want to be inspired? Visit creativecloud.adobe.com
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