Denise Nestor is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Dublin, Ireland. Her muted pencil illustrations are very soft, impressive and compelling with her skilful detailing and shading. Sometimes she intuitively gives a light wash to her images to create a intriguing feel. Some of her drawings are overlapping sketches (as in double exposure shots) that result in a haunting ghostly effect and also adds to the depth in the image. Besides symbolic and photo-realistic illustrations of birds and animals that often represent ‘circle of life’, Denise has captured the persona of famous actors, models and historical figures giving some twist to their visage. In the interview below, Denise is telling us more about her art and creative approaches:
I grew up in Mayo in the west of Ireland, but I’ve lived in Dublin for the past 14 years. My childhood in Mayo was very important to me as it’s where my love of nature really began. I live in the city now but the countryside where I grew up is still the biggest inspiration for me. I moved to Dublin in 2000 for college and studied Graphic Design in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. I graduated in 2004 and have worked in Dublin ever since. I currently work part time as a Graphic Designer.
Since I was very young I’ve been interested in art. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my interest in it began, it feels like it’s always just been there. I used to draw animals a lot as a child. I remember back then feeling that it was a way of possessing or taming nature, to capture it in a drawing. I liked collecting feathers, bird’s egg shells and pressing dried flowers, so documenting and drawing animals and flowers was for me another way of collecting and preserving them I think. That feeling has always stayed with me when it comes to my work. It’s often about trying to preserve memories and trying to capture a feeling, to pin it down and preserve it like you would with a pressed flower in a book.
It really depends on the drawing, the size and the level of detail etc. It took me a solid 7 days of work to complete ‘Wreath (for dad)’ for example. The Winston Churchill drawing, took me about 1 – 2 days at most as it was smaller and less detailed, relatively speaking. I get really lost in the detail of a drawing and hours just fly by when I’m working. It can be a really relaxing process.
I think that being an artist is always challenging. It constantly feels that I’m being challenged by what I do and that’s a good thing. Thinking through and refining your thoughts to the point that you have a solid idea to start with, often feels like the most challenging part for me. The actual drawing feels easy in comparison. Of course creative block can be very challenging as you can’t force ideas to materialize and it’s almost like you have to surrender to that. It’s only ever temporary though, I feel I always get back on track somehow and remind myself that the challenging aspects are what make the outcome all the more rewarding in the end.
My style has been something that’s gradually developed, so much so that I haven’t really noticed it develop. I always feel that with every drawing I do there’s some progression, however subtle. I’m never completely satisfied with a drawing, I always see room for improvement and that’s how my work develops and evolves slightly over time. Whether it be refining textures or practicing a different shading technique, each little improvement sends me in a new direction. I think that’s how style develops, when you adapt and evolve your process with the aim of improving it.
I mostly use pencils, so the amount of equipment I use is very basic really when it comes to the actual drawing. I often add background colour to my work at the final stage using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.
Tell us about your achievements and clients:
I think that for me, in terms of my career, my first illustration for The New York Times was significant. I was commissioned to do a portrait of Winston Churchill in collaboration with another illustrator, Shout. It really felt like a turning point and, of course, it opened up a lot of doors for me. A lot of people who get in touch with me tell me that they first saw my work in The New York Times so that really speaks volumes about how significant it was as a launch pad. It was such an honour to have my work published in The New York Times that first time, it definitely felt like an achievement for me.
Contemporary art is now such a broad subject that it’s difficult to say exactly what my thoughts are on it. I do worry sometimes that, in some cases, the technically skilled side of art is being replaced by conceptual art that doesn’t really give much importance to the traditional ‘craft’ and techniques. I still much prefer to go to a gallery and study paintings by the old masters than I would a modern art exhibition. As much as I love modern art, I rarely feel that sense of awe as I do with Renaissance art, for example, but that can sometimes depend on the piece in question. As a whole I tend to be more inspired by art that is both conceptual and skilled. I think my work could be seen to be quite old fashioned compared to some conceptual art out there, but I’m okay with that!
I would like to spend more time this year developing my own ideas for my personal work and hopefully working towards an exhibition early next year. As much as I love my illustration work I do think it’s important for me to work on my own ideas too and at the moment I feel that I’ve got a good balance of that.