I have always loved all forms of art and design. I grew up in West Sussex, England, and was fortunate in having very artistic parents – my mother is a retired illustrator and art teacher, and my father is a garden designer, water-garden specialist Anthony Archer-Wills (also known as Animal Planet’s ‘The Pool Master’). His vision, enthusiasm and sense of wonder have played a large part in making me the person I am today. Both of them instilled in me a love and respect for the natural world and for living things, of every kind.
I formed the ambition of becoming an artist very early on, and still feel the same thrill and excitement in my work that fired my imagination when I was a child.
In 1999 I went to Cornwall and took an honours degree in Illustration, then moved to Devon after I graduated. I spent the next 20 years living either in Devon or Somerset, working as a freelance designer, doing everything from painting pub signs to designing album covers, and from illustrating children’s books to creating video game concept art. More recently, my illustration work has been focused on book covers for IFWG publishing. I also make silver jewellery and sculpt miniatures when I have the time!
In 2001, I had an epiphany. Following a period of growing self-doubt and uncertainty about my artistic direction, I took a break from commissioned work and went right back to the roots of why I became an artist. I emerged with a new approach. My new work is impressionistic rather than realistic. It is more free and expressive, using the mixed media which I have always loved, and it incorporates a wealth of techniques and layers of meaning. Beginning to work in this new way felt like coming home.
Five years ago I was fortunate enough to meet the love of my life, my now-fiancé, Rune, and I currently divide my time between my little house in Devon and Rune’s apartment in Oslo, Norway, where I have a small studio. I love Norway, its land, history, culture and people. It has many of the qualities I have always loved about England, the two countries share close links, and it still retains its wild beauty and mystery. I am currently in the process of jumping through paperwork hoops with a view to getting married and moving there in the coming months. I am also learning the Norwegian language in my spare time, but I still have a long way to go!
“The grandest and simplest of things contain worlds within worlds. Seeing them is a matter of the right point of view…”
If you have belief and passion in your work, and put love and energy into it, then it shows in the pieces you create. My work is rooted in many things that are at the core of how I see the world.
I have always had a strong connection with nature, the countryside and wild places, and with the ancient history, folklore and mythology which add richness and mystery to our world.
I also spent much of my childhood around ponds and water, lying on the banks and staring down into a parallel world of rich greens, teeming with preoccupied life. I spent untold hours playing with newts and tadpoles, watching bubbles form on the oxygenating plants and break for the surface, befriending the koi carp, vibrant as flowers, or diving below the surface and looking up to see our bright world of air from their perspective.
I love texture and the patterns we see around us, the beauty of small and overlooked things, and the gentle way in which nature softens mankind’s constructions and eventually returns them to the earth. However vital and climactic something appears at a given time, sooner or later it all becomes another layer of strata in history.
An ocean seething with life becomes a layer of chalk in a hillside. A wildfire becomes a thin dark line. A factory brick, forged in fire, all hard-edged sterility, gradually crumbles and softens, small plants take root, it breaks down into pieces which find their way into rivers and the sea, it is tumbled and worn and becomes a smooth pebble which lies among the myriad others on a beach, each with their history. You pick it up and it lies in the palm of your hand, full of stories but with no voice to tell them. You live and die, the land shifts, the pebbles are covered by silt, and eventually they settle and become a composite rock, which, in its turn, is tumbled by rivers or smoothed by wind and rain.
We are surrounded by wonders at every step, if we have the eyes to see them.
This lifelong wonder is a recurring theme in my work. I use recycled and found papers, and a wide variety of materials and techniques, to represent this boundless richness of stories which run through everything around us.
The message in my art…
I have been told, ‘If you want to make it as an artist, be honest, speak your truth, make it real, make it gritty, it doesn’t have to be pretty’.
Well, I do have a truth to express, but not all truths are dark and ugly. I feel that there are so many people pointing out all that is wrong with the world, it is time to accept that, move past it and instead look for solutions. Art has a quiet power, and can be used for more than hand-wringing over the troubles of the world. I believe that modern society has allowed many people to feel detached from what is truly real – the ground under our feet, the systems and connections of the natural world, and our place as a part of this living network. I feel that opening people’s eyes to the richness and complexity in every leaf and stone is a step towards rekindling this connection. I believe that this is a positive message, every bit as important as all the tales of doom which we hear every day, and if we are going to heal the harm which we as a species have caused, we need morale and incentive, not just criticism, blame and dire prognostications. We also need a real, ingrained understanding that we are not isolated at the top of a hierarchy, we are one among many, all different, but all important, and each with its role to play. Just because something has no voice it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a story, or isn’t important. I hope that, through my paintings, I will help people become aware of the details, that nothing is just background, everything counts, and is worth questioning and exploring, and that, however important society’s demands seem today – for wealth, fashion, technology – all these things are transient, we are all part of a much bigger picture.
One of the greatest joys to me is when people who have never considered themselves particularly creative look at my paintings and it sparks their imagination, and sometimes their interpretation is quite different from mine or anyone else’s. Even better is when they then come back to me later, talking with genuine, innocent enthusiasm about the beautiful pebble they found on the ground, the unusual coloured leaf that caught their eye in the hedgerow, or asking about the small wildflower they spotted growing in a crack in the pavement, or sending me a snapshot they took of an interesting pattern of cracks in some old peeling paint, which they never noticed before. It means that I made the world a richer and more intriguing place for one person at least, and the ripples spread. It’s a little step, but a step nonetheless.