Inspired by illuminated manuscripts, Flemish still life paintings and a love affair with Venice that stemmed from a young age, British illustrator Fee Greening creates ethereal pen and ink drawings that perfectly straddle the old with the new.
Covering a broad range of topics, her body of work includes private commissions, advertorial illustrations for fashion brands and a range of personal stationery for Papier. Often drawing on medieval and renaissance iconography, antique flora and fauna encylopaedic illustrations or even Victorian tarot cards, Fee masterfully translates her ideas into a picture perfect artwork that feels as contemporary as it does “old”. In the spirit of looking back to look forwards we caught up with Fee to learn more about her processes, her stellar client list and what the future holds for the young artist.
Let’s start from the beginning…. Have you always shown an interest in art? Did you grow up surrounded by creative endeavours?
I was lucky to go a liberal school which focused on the arts. So I was encouraged to draw from a young age. An early drawing memory is trying to draw Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews from memory unsuccessfully with my wax crayons and seething that mine didn’t look the same. My family are also really fond of Venice which we often visit. This started a complete obsession with the Renaissance, religious iconography and tales of theatrical romance such as Giaccamo Casanova; I’d be given a sketchbook and crayons and hide under peach tablecloths drawing while the grown ups ate lunch.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I draw my illustrations using a traditional dip pen and ink pen which I have used since I was a child. The first one I got was a beautiful marbled glass one from Murano, I gradually taught myself to use it. It was a fiddly technique to get used to, the ink can be hard to run off the pen or it would suddenly drip all over my drawings. But after a while some sort of muscle memory kicked in and it never happened again. I then add colour to my work with watercolours and occasionally digitally. My colour palette is based on my favourite colours, all very Renaissance. I love pairing murky olive greens and murky ochres with a bold coral red or a delicate cornflower blue.
You say your work is inspired by Medieval, Gothic and Flemish art – what drew you to this?
When I was studying for my Masters at the Royal College I became very interested in medieval illuminated manuscripts and would pore over the Library’s archive. This really influenced my work and my drawings became more elaborate with jewelled details and intricate swirls. I liked that despite how elaborate the manuscripts were they felt balanced and ordered, so I started using the same traditional golden section compositions when planing out my work. Alongside this I was also writing my dissertation on Nightmares and Lilith the supposed first woman preceding Eve who was cast out of Eden for failing to submit. For that I was looking at gothic art, the sublime and the uncanny. This all ended up being a big melting pot for what my aesthetic is and the work I am interested in making.
You have a stellar client list ranging from Alex Eagle and Faber & Faber to Alexa Chung and Gucci; where do you draw your inspiration from for each client?
Thank you. I am lucky that when brands approach me they are usually coming to me for my style so leave me to my own devices. I’m told a lot that is because they are looking for something feminine but with a darker edge. A brand like Gucci was a absolute dream because my love of all things dark and mystical is very much up their street so I was allowed to really go for it. Sometimes it’s important to ever so slightly tweak my look to pair well with the brands existing identity. If I am doing a job for Alex Eagle for example I use a lot more contemporary art palette, eg Yves Klein blue with more white space then I would usually to reference her stores beautifully curated architectural space. Alternatively a client like Alexa Chung uses a lot of humour in her branding so the drawings so I made for her should have the same fun lighthearted tone. I try to make my work with brands recognisably mine but with a slightly different hat on.
MBDS recently commissioned you to produce three drawings for Linnaean in London. How did you find this experience and can you tell us more about the creative process?
Working with MBDS was such perfect timing. At the time I had just started to look at the work of Abraham Munting, Giovanni Battista Ferrari and Joris Hoefnagel and making pieces which explored traditional Floral and Fauna imagery. So it was beyond ideal when MBDS approached me as they also had the exact same reference images in mind. We discussed how to portray the themes of Carl Linnaeus work within the panels and also planned how to make the three pieces flow together and draw in the eye whilst complimenting the space. I created various mock ups of the three pieces laid out as a triptych before I began the drawings.
Which artists do you look up to, both living and dead?
The majority of my artistic icons are long since dead. But they are very eclectic, Hieronymus Bosch, Sandro Botticelli, John Everett Millais. I have an undying love for William Blake and Patti Smith. I always return to their work when I am looking for something more soulful to bring into my work.
How do you ensure you’re always feeling inspired and brimming
I try and get to as many exhibitions in London as I can or pop into a permanent collection if I’m walking past even if its for 2 minutes. I am lucky to have hours of free ear time when I’m drawing. I listen to a lot of history podcasts like In Our Time and audio books like Peter Ackroyd’s London or Angela Carters The Bloody Chambers. They always lead me to something new or remind me of something I had forgotten I loved.
Can you tell us about some future projects you’re currently working on?
My collaboration with cashmere designers Saved NY just launched and is currently showing at Maison Et Object. It was such a fun project to work on and seeing my illustrations woven into the softest cashmere throws and cushions.