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Behind the Cover: Mike Winnard

Meet Mike Winnard, the Leeds-based illustrator and artist behind this Issue’s cover. Meg Firth asks him about his creative processes, how he takes inspiration from surroundings and how to deal with creative block.

Mike Winnard has a mesmerising ability to capture the special nuances of people and places within the lines of his artwork. Merging realistic portraits with abstract yet beautifully balanced colours, Winnard has a sharp and observant flair for detail.

Growing up on the outskirts of Hastings on the South Coast, Winnard has always had an affinity with making things. During a childhood filled with building Lego worlds, playing with Plasticine and crafting Warhammer models, Winnard muses how he often used drawing as a distraction: “ I always remember drawing being more fun that whatever was being said at school, and got really into it initially through comic books and watching Dragonball Z”.

Today, you can find Winnard blissfully hunched over a sketch pad as he works on his next magnum opus. Frequenting venues and bars like Hyde Park Book Club and Brudenell Social Club on rainy evenings, Winnard feeds off the energy in the room when tending to his creative works: “I love working late at night with music on while everything’s still outside. Bigger works are great to do at gigs and in clubs where there’s loads of energy flying around to feed off”.

Evidently from this Issue’s cover, which features some of Leeds’ finest musicians, Winnard has a fantastic eye for capturing an individual’s subtle character traits within a sketch. With clever brush strokes and precise colouring, Winnard’s work spans from dystopian landscapes, fantastical utopias and colour-splashed realism. Winnard mentions that his creative process, which starts off with “Waking up, doing some yoga, reading for a bit and drinking my bodyweight in coffee”, involves reading before starting the day: “I’m really into novels by people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alejo Carpentier and Mikhail Bulgakov. ones that sometimes get categorised as ‘magical realism’. I just read Omeros by Derek Walcott too; that blending of myth, magic and everyday reality is definitely something that influences my work”.

Living in Leeds and working as the Co-director at Assembly House Artist Studios and Project Space, Winnard is certainly a resident of Leeds’ rich creative scene. Alongside working at the artist-led gallery and studios, Winnard has also created artwork for independent bands and events across Yorkshire. Having designed the album artwork for collectives and bands such as Tight Lines, Cattle and Sifaka, Winnard is well immersed in the city’s multi-faceted and vibrant DIY creative scene: “There’s a massive history of DIY creativity in Leeds and I think that attitude seeps into loads of what’s going on now; people are starting their own labels, nights, galleries, venues…” Winnard reflects. “Unlike in maybe London, where a lot of people are focussed on their career moves, here there isn’t that same commercial market for a lot of creatives. The ethos here is more about honing your craft and pushing what you do to be the best it can. It’s great seeing collaborations across creative fields too”. 

It’s no secret that being able to work full time as an artist is often hard to achieve. With high competition and companies typically not valuing artists’ time, making a living as a freelance artist can be challenging. This, hand in hand with the millennial pressure to be constantly busy, is intimidating for many aspiring creatives. “Everyone says working really hard and putting the hours in is crucial, but I see being constantly busy as the enemy not the end-goal,” advises Winnard. “Find a contemplative practice that works for you and use it as an anchor. Whether it’s running, yoga, meditation, swimming, keeping a journal or whatever; if you can find something you love to do that helps build focus and attention, it’ll serve you much more than trying to work yourself ragged for the sake of it”.

Another hurdle is creative block, which is something Winnard reckons everyone experiences: “If your creative practice forms your income, it’s easy to slip into seeing it as a switch you can flick on and off. I don’t think there’s one particular fix as sometimes what’s needed is discipline to work through bad results until you get something good - and other times its better to just go sit in a field! It helps me to think of ideas as something that’s external, which can find you when the time and conditions are right, not as a bottomless supply that you can mine without replenishing”. 

With this year coming to an end, Winnard is exploring other paths of his craft: “I’m really fascinated by the potential of moving image work at the moment. I’ve been learning some animation software and I’m hoping to do a few collaborative projects with dancers and poets this winter”.

Meg Firth

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