Today we want to introduce Merlin Strangeway, an award-winning Illustrator and Educator
Her passion lies in drawing emotional states. Pushing the boundaries between matter and imagination. “The mix of the visceral anatomy of our bodies, and the stuff of thinking. How and where do they meet? What makes the 'I' of the self, the 'I' we come to know?“
Read on to learn how her daily practice of drawing kept her from being lost and at the same time created her success path to an award winning Medical Illustrator & Educator
Who: Merlin Strangeway
Your Creative Business: Drawn to Medicine
Where We Can Learn More About Your Business:
How did you get started onto your creative journey?
From a very young age I drew daily. It was a source of much comfort and joy. Everything around me became a possible drawing (shoes, oranges, broken plates, my nose, pigeon with missing leg etc), and my parents collected these images, bound them, and published them from the age of 4.... They were both doing their PhDs at the time, and I think they probably enjoyed the research element of tracking a child's drawing progress - the leaps I made in things like understanding perspective, or shading, or colour. It's odd to have that all documented, looking back at it now in my 30s. I took another 15 years or so from that point for me to launch my illustration business - there were other paths I needed to go down and take before I was fully ready. My creative journey I suppose really kick started when one of my illustrations won an International drawing award in 2011 judged by Shaun Tan, a hero of mine, which then lead to client work and other interesting opportunities. I kept drawing, no matter if I didn't have a desk, or the right materials, or a clue what I was doing. I just drew each and every day. I still do this now and I think I would be quite lost if I didn't have that tool of communication in my fingertips.
What are the themes and subjects that you love to represent? What stories do you tell? I love to draw states of emotion - the boundary line of matter and imagination. The mix of the visceral anatomy of our bodies, and the stuff of thinking. How and where do they meet? What makes the 'I' of the self, the 'I' we come to know? I am drawn to literature, philosophy, history, anatomy, music, poetry, powerful women across time - I am drawn to many things. Stories are the fabric of our lives - so I am always thinking of new ways to illustrate these fables.
Has creativity always been part of your life? Have you always been dreaming about being a creative entrepreneur?
I can't remember a time where my hands and my mind were not in some way occupied with the desire to create something from nothing. My daughter seems to be similar that way... So was my mother, as was her mother come to think of it. It probably runs as a seam all the way down our family for generations.
How do you define success for your creative business? How do you define success for yourself?
I suppose allowing your authentic voice out into the world strikes me as a real mark of success. For myself, I am always looking for the next thing, the next drawing, the next idea so perhaps success will look like the ability to make peace with that headlong rush, calming it down a bit, and going a little slower, knowing there is sufficient time to say what I have to say.What’s been your most important skill in building your creative business?Empathy - an understanding of the vulnerability of others - be they clients, patients, doctors, other artists, or indeed my self.
Tell us about one challenge you faced as a creative entrepreneur. What was or is the hardest part?
Shifting styles - I used to only work in b/w ink work (2009-2013), and now my style has entirely involved, partly through a shift in training doing my postgraduate in medical illustration. The hardest part was knowing that I could draw in multiple styles, mediums and that was an acceptable thing to do - it was still my voice and that voice had different tones and pitches. I now embrace that side of my practice, but it certainly used to be a significant source of fear for me.
How do you react today to negative moments, to insecurity, to criticism, to rejection?
I find my cat. And make a cup of tea. If he's not around I find my daughter. And make us both a cup of tea.
What’s been your greatest reward in the work that you do?
Connecting with other incredible artists and supporting those in times of difficulty - especially in relation to their health. Being a presence, through the medium of drawing, at these difficult (sometimes joyful and transformative) moments in peoples' lives.
What's one thing that's really working right now to grow your creative business?
Saying yes before I'm ready! (Andrea to thank for this one) Be that sending drawings out to new clients before they are perfect, direct messaging another artist I am inspired by online without working out the message word for word before hand, leaning in to meeting new people from other practices, such as design/journalism/sculpture, and not being afraid to talk to them about how their practice might link to mine.
What are your future projects? Do you have any new ideas that you can share with us? Lot's of exciting projects in the pipeline now so I feel very blessed; including an Obstetrics Anatomical Atlas for East Africa with Cambridge University Press, an illustrated poetry anthology on birth and birth trauma, and possible second Anatomical Atlas on innovative approaches to tackling brain tumours. I have just started a 10 week Foundation in Puppetry course so I can learn to bring this magical art form into my medical art practice, so I think that will bring a dose of new ideas and approaches.
What else would you like us to know about you & your creative business? I am increasingly interested in fusing writing more directly into and onto my illustrations. The year ahead will see me working more in collaboration with poets, writers and designers to produce printed materials for public consumption/large scale political installations. Watch this space...
What do you want to learn from the Illustrated.Community? How to support other illustrators in their journeys, and have a sense of teamwork and loving connection.
❤️ Thank you so much Merlin, for sharing your story as a creative, a medical illustrator and educator 💪🏾