Black + White: An Exhibition By David Mahoney

Edinburgh-based illustrator David Mahoney specializes in monochromatic images created using squid ink and Photoshop. Currently studying Product Design at the University of Edinburgh, David is also a Community Professional for Adobe.

He recently held his first solo exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery in London. The animations accompanying David’s illustrations are eye-catching and mesmerizing, so we picked his brain a bit to gain insight into the process behind his creations. Without further ado:

You call your foray into the fusion of traditional and digital mediums ‘tradigital’ – are there other artists working in the same space whose work you particularly admire?

I am really inspired by the work of Si Scott and Alexis Marcou, two illustrators who are incredibly talented and both work in black and white. Alexis does mix lots of his pencil work with photoshop to create amazing compositions and to blend photographed elements with his insane drawing talent. Si works predominately with pen and stays away from digital illustrations. Both of their work heavily influences my style and the level at which they perform is certainly an inspiration itself!

The calibre of their artwork is definitely inspiring! A range of materials have had cameos in your work, from squid ink to Chinese ink brushes – what has been your favourite less-common tool to date?

Squid ink by far has been the best less common material to use so far. It’s an oily material and behaves like watercolour crossed with oil paint, which means that in water it can separate and create amazing unique textures. It’s something that always brings me back to traditional mediums over digital as each texture I create is so unique. When the squid ink dries out it acts like a watercolour block furthermore and can be painted directly to paper for rich black tones.

 Lana Del Rey

Very versatile. Let’s talk about your recent show. Why ‘Black + White’? What was the inspiration for the theme of the exhibition?

The inspiration for the exhibition was an idea between myself and my agent. We came up with the idea as most of my work is black and white, therefore we wanted to create a series of illustrations that depicted different people, most of whom work in contrasting ways. I have always enjoyed drawing famous characters as I enjoy how they reflect back onto society and I find music to be a big inspiration. Furthermore, I fell into the black and white work as I tend to be shy of using colour. I focus on capturing tone and expression then colour. I save colour as a method of distinguishing a piece or to communicate a person’s personality. I found in my exhibition that each person was so unique that trying to unify them would be a challenge. Using the same tone and similar background styles helped unify them as a collection.

What’s your artistic process like? How do you go about incorporating both traditional and digital elements?

I start by creating a detailed stylized sketch of my subject, then I use a light box to overlay layers of watercolour and ink on different sheets of paper. As I add more layers of paper, the level of detail increases. These layers are then scanned into the computer and inside of Photoshop I composite them on top of each other. This gives me the freedom to experiment with layers, change colours and play with composition without worrying about commitment like traditional watercolour painting.


Kanye West

The ability to experiment without worrying about commitment does sound very freeing. It seems that animation was a complementary aspect of your exhibition. Was this always something you envisioned as being part of the project, or was it conceived of later on? How has that developed?

Only recently have I been finding my feet with animation. It was a natural transition and something I had always wanted to experiment with and learn. As my work is in layers inside of the computer, they are easy to manipulate and to animate. I wanted to use this technique to show my process when creating each illustration. I also found that by animating my work it can be used in digital spaces such as digital magazines advertisements or as gifs. I am now exploring new techniques to not just show the process but to tell a story.


The rest of the animations from this series can be found on David’s site. David has also recently joined the Nuvango community - swing by his portfolio.

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