Artist Interview - Olivia MacDonald

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Olivia, a 23-year-old artist from Boston, MA and I create one ink drawing every day to post to my Instagram @inkbyolivia. After starting in the winter of 2018 to provide daily positivity and hope to others, as well as practice my skills, I now have a collection of over 800 drawings that continues growing.


Why do you do what you do?

Because I would be nothing without it. Creating helps me make sense of thoughts and feelings deep inside of me. I am able to focus for some time on whatever I’m drawing and gain a greater appreciation for that thing. For instance, the simple beauty in the way the veins of a flower petal branch out or the way a silhouette is reflected and distorted in water. I escape time and reality and become fully immersed in a space where creation becomes like breathing.  

In addition, my best memories on my art journey are when people tell me how my art impacted their lives. People have said they were going through very difficult times mentally and emotionally and seeing a new drawing every day gives them strength and hope. It’s incredible that people from all over the world relate to my art and display it in their homes or on their bodies as tattoos.


Is there a reason why you use only black and white in your work?

There’s just something about black and white that color can’t achieve. The light versus shadow becomes clear and there is just a real rawness to it. I think about how just after birth, babies see in only black, white, and shades of gray and as months go by, only then do they develop their color vision. Drawing in only ink is like this foundation, this newness, a freedom, something still in development yet fully whole.


What inspires your art?

The things I see or hear every day give me some spark of inspiration that I can use in that day’s drawing, as well as my mood that I sometimes interpret metaphorically. For instance, a sloth riding a scooter can represent pushing through tiredness, a person with a Rubik Cube head can represent confusion, or a sea turtle skateboarding can represent playfulness.


In general, though, being in nature inspires me greatly, as well as listening to music, other people’s stories, reading scripture, watching movies, or even a blank page inspires me to create something out of nothing.


How and when did you get into art?

I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. My mom tells me I was happier with something to draw than with a toy. I loved to paint, draw, and craft and she gave me a bunch of different art projects to do when I was little like molding Fimo Clay, crafting with things from nature I collected, and making a paper shoebox dollhouse. I think this all helped my creativity and as I got older, I got more into drawing. One summer, I drew all my family members’ portraits in pencil and another summer I sketched with ink pens in my free time as I worked abroad. It wasn’t until college that I discovered micron pens and that’s when I started daily drawing.


How has your practice changed over time?

In the beginning, I would spend hours and hours trying to get everything perfect but as I did more drawings, it became much easier to “see” and visualize my ideas on the page. When looking at reference pictures, my eye became more trained to distinguish the lights from the darks and map out the proportions. I realized that aiming for perfection can halt the process. I gained a rhythm and flow to drawing that I never knew before and it has made my work cleaner, more cohesive, and whimsical.


What’s your favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Why?

That’s a tough question because each one has a different significance to me but I’d have to say “Pizza Light the Way” because of the circumstances. I was in the middle of college finals, had like 3 papers to write, was burnt out, and exhausted. It was about 2 am, it was dark, I was hungry, and I still had to draw for the day. Then I came up with this idea. I like to call it a self-portrait of the time.


What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?

My poetry professor in college always said that when you come to a point that hurts, that’s where you need to stay for a while and walk deeper into writing the details. Don’t run from the fear of it or glaze over it because that’s where the truth speaks. That’s where the heart of the writing is.

These words have stayed with me and transferred to my drawings. Sometimes drawing becomes emotional because of the subject and its meaning to me. A catharsis. I could finish up the drawing quickly but I choose to stay in those scribbly etched lines for a while, untangling them and working out the details. Also, there have been days in my daily drawing practice where I’ve wanted to give up entirely but persistence is everything.  


What’s one art tip/technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?

When using micron pens that have different tip sizes of .005 to .08, it’s always helpful for me to use a range of sizes to achieve the greatest contrast and depth to the piece. I generally use a range like .01, .05, and .08. I also use the brush pen to attain the darkest black and shade larger solid areas.


Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?

Sketching a design in pencil before inking very much helps cut down on mistakes but sometimes I make a crooked line in ink. From there, I can go over the line and make it scratchier or add a darker shadow in that area. Other times, I think I made a mistake with shading but it ends up being unnoticeable in the final piece. It’s so important to keep going despite any negative thoughts that arise in the process. Too many people give up before they’ve even given themselves a chance and this doesn’t just go for drawing.


What is your favorite Strathmore paper? Why?

I always use the Strathmore 300 Series medium surface paper and I wouldn’t use anything else! The pen just glides so effortlessly across its smooth surface and never bleeds to the other side.


What art materials could you not live without?

Microns and Strathmore drawing paper!


Who are your biggest influences (or who were when you started doing art)?

When I saw the early ink drawings of @samlarson, that’s when I was first inspired to try out the medium for myself! I also very much admire the large-scale ink work of @livvykemp, wildlife watercolorist @v.steiner, graffiti artist @banksy, and surrealist painters like Salvador Dalí and Frida Kahlo.


What’s the most common art-related question you get from your followers?

My followers always ask me how I do what I do and to that, I say lots of patience, love, determination, failures, and practice.


See more of Olivia's work by visiting the links below!

Website: https://inkbyolivia.com

Instagram: @inkbyolivia

TikTok: @inkbyolivia

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