Happy Friday, friends! I have another Creative Conversations interview for you today with the amazing Jenni Colquhoun who has the most brilliantly expressive face. I met Jenni through friends at various networking events in Edinburgh and we discovered we both have a great love for a glass of wine and some decent cheese! Jenni is an amazing illustrator and I wanted to hear more about her thoughts on creativity so we met up, drank coffee at Toast and discussed our thoughts....
Hello, I'm Jennifer Colquhoun and I’m a Scientific Illustrator. I make drawings that study the structure and function of living organisms. My anatomical illustrations are drawn for everyday life - because I think everyday life needs some added science. I think science beautiful and fascinating, and I want to use my drawings to show everyone science the way I see it.
Creativity is so different for everyone. That’s what keeps life interesting. To me, creativity is putting your own stamp on something. My job is all about explaining science in innovative, pretty and totally understandable ways. It has to make sense - and it has to be really accurate - and since I’m a very visual person, it has to be lovely to look at. Being able to put pen to paper and create the images of science the way I see them in my head makes me really happy - and when it helps someone else; I’m over the moon. That’s what I think creativity really is, you being able to make something that someone else can enjoy, benefit or learn from. Whatever it is.
I really, really believe everyone is creative. Sometimes it’s not in the strictest sense - maybe you can’t draw or paint or make sculpture - but you will be creative in some area of your life. I think creativity is basically problem solving; you will always have to get creative with something, whether it’s dinner, or an equation or a massive mural, everyone is creative.
I have totally sandwiched my way into the most incredible support network here in Edinburgh, and I am so happy about it. I have a wee gang of super skilled friends, and whenever I get to see them I always leave feeling at my most creative, and really inspired to make my coolest work. I’m also a terrible nerd - when I see horrible scientific pictures and diagrams (and there are quite a few out there) - I get really itchy to make my own version. There’s no reason for visual explanations to be ugly to look at, not when the thing they’re explaining is generally stunning in reality. It just takes that tiny bit of extra time, and it’s so worth it.
I really struggle when I’ve got a creative block. I’ve read a lot of advice about it, like ‘go for a walk’ and ‘take a break’, but I’m also pretty bad for leaving things till the last minute. Because of that terrible combination, I regularly panic about the idea of leaving my work to go for a walk, because that’s time I won’t be making. But I have recently been forcing myself to calm down, and take the break, because it really does help. Sometimes just coming back to something after a good night’s sleep, or a wee wander round the corner just puts everything in perspective, and suddenly the blank page doesn’t seem so daunting. So I guess my advice here would be; don’t leave things till the last minute, you idiot. And maybe I’ll learn to take my own advice one day.
I won’t lie, I spend a lot of my life on Pinterest. The world is big and old and people have made some cracking shit. It sounds like a cliche, but I’m genuinely inspired by traditional scientific illustration: the drawings in Gray’s Anatomy, Leonardo Da Vinci’s anatomical studies and traditional natural history illustrators like John James Audubon, Albrecht Durer and Edward Lear. And I love Ernst Haeckel’s layouts - his drawings are stunning, but I particularly like the way he presents his drawings. The idea that the work I’m making now might be floating around on whatever iteration of Pinterest people have in the future, inspiring someone else - that makes me want to create.
I highly recommend studying how other people work. When I first started out in my creative endeavours, I was really afraid of being inspired by other people, because I didn’t want to be derivative. I wanted to make work that was completely original. But the chances are somebody’s had your idea before. I read Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist and I really liked the way he explained finding inspiration. It’s important to take from other people’s work; to learn how they did something, or why they did it. The conclusions you reach in your work will be your interpretation - and you will likely find yourself a better creative for that process. I dislike derivative work and there’s never an excuse for blatant copying, but taking up your own space and borrowing techniques and tips might just lead you to find your own voice.