'In The Stacks' is a recurring series showcasing makers, artists, and creative people, their work, their spaces, and their thoughts on creativity. It's time to make a cup of tea, and enjoy the read.
Join us for a studio visit with artist and poet Mel Macklin, and the fantastical world of Moss Forest.
Who is Maud and where is Moss Forest?
Maud of Moss Forest is both a nom de plume and a way of being for artist Mel Macklin. Maud is the adventurer, the intermediary between this world and a magical one between the pages. She is everything Mel hopes to be: daring, wise, passionate and endlessly curious. Assuming this fantastical lens as Maud, Mel creates paintings and poetry to tell stories soaked in folklore and symbolism.
With original prose poetry to accompany Mel’s paintings, Moss Forest becomes a destination, a universe and an experience. It is where we escape to, where anything is possible, when we channel our inner Maud.
Tell us a bit about your creative practice. What does a day of making look like for you?
I am a slow creator! I like to muse on things for a long while before I commit them to paper (or a screen, as I work mostly digitally). It's taken me a long time to train myself to recognise and filter out distractions, so I keep things really quiet and simple.
Most days I'm fully immersed in one major task (usually a painting) and everything else surrounding it I choose to do at a time when I need a mental break, a snack or some exercise!
What does that look like, specifically? I'm a snuggly sock and sweatpants goblin, usually hunched over my desk in a darkened room (a backlit iPad screen makes it hard to recognise some hues in daylight, I am waiting for the day my poor eyes finally fail me!).
My doggies are asleep on the floor beside my feet, where I have a heater on 24/7 (like lizards and vampires, I'm always freezing, but as the saying goes, cold hands, warm heart!).
I love fantasy audiobooks, and learn a lot about writing just by listening and absorbing.
The day is punctuated with sticky chai and mountains of toast, which I'm sure everyone will agree, is the best food there is.
Alongside your beautiful artwork, there is also poetry. Would you share a glimpse into your writing process?
My Muse finds me when I'm hard at work. When I'm inspired, this often means I work at a feverish, frenetic pace, fairly organically flowing between writing and painting.
Once I've tapped into that flow state, phrases will often just appear. I have to stop whatever I'm doing to write them down *immediately*- on a dog walk, or at 3am! I keep a Google Doc open at all times to furiously write things down.
I’m aware this is a hyper-vigilant state to be in, but things get lost so quickly otherwise! It’s also my way of honouring my Muse, because Art Block is awful and we want him to stay in the bin where he belongs! I see these words and ideas appearing as a signpost, if I keep following them at a steady pace, leaving a little gas in the tank, a little bit of energy leftover at the end of the day, all remains well.
I don't force my writing, it just sort of sits there, in a pocket of my brain, evolving over the following hours or days. As with painting, once I have momentum up and find a rhythm, my brain subconsciously chews over better word choices and tightens the rhythm of each poem.
I’ve been making art professionally for over ten years and I feel like I’m only just becoming the creator I was meant to be. It's been a longtime goal to have my words and art speak more directly to each other. It took me 4 different book attempts to realise I wanted to tell epic stories but I have no desire to *write* epic stories! The poetry format gives me the ability to do that; it's like a succinct window into an alternate universe. I love words and pictures equally; to me they're overlapping layers on the same narrative onion. It’s an exciting time to feel them aligning.
What fills the pages of your notebook or sketchbook?
I keep something of a digital diary, scattered over various Google Docs, and endless Messenger message threads to myself. I always have my phone nearby to capture potential ideas for future collections or to tease out my poems and stories. Everything starts as words.
Writing has guided my illustration practice and creative headspace in so many ways. In the past I often persisted with weak ideas for too long, being too precious to let go of the sunk cost of the time. Great design is often about a relinquishing, a letting go of what's extra to better spotlight the best of an idea. Writing lets me kill my darlings with much less emotional attachment than I do when painting; I just accept the selvedge will one day be something else.
Thumb-nailing potential painting ideas has most recently been one way I've elevated my painting skillset. I also use the notan technique as I’m fleshing out paintings to push myself to build stronger compositions and more dynamic silhouettes.
Inspiration can strike anywhere! What is something that recently inspired you and your art?
I am endlessly distracted by the evening sky. One of my most cherished memories as a child was gazing out of the car window at night, convinced the moon was following me. There's a special kind of magic when we stop and notice the world around us I think. That feeling of smallness, of awe, the ultimate futility of us little humans trying to make things half as impressive or lovely as what already exists in nature: I find these things immensely grounding and comforting.
When the moon goes to bed, it will be tomorrow, another day to notice all these moments and somehow harness them into making something new.
What is your favourite item in your kit?
I love my iPad; the Procreate interface and Apple pencil feels really intuitive and accessible. Up until recently, I was happily painting with copic alcohol markers and colour pencils. I feel guilty when I’m not using them, so I sit them by me to keep me company. These traditional tools serve as an anchor to remind me that digital is just another medium, but it is how I create best; the closest intermediary between what’s in my head, and how it looks on paper, ready to share with others.
Mirka Mora wrote a book called ‘Love and Clutter’, and my takeaway from it was that those two things for some of us, are the same thing. I’ll often curate little arrangements or towers of treasured items around my room. Sometimes I group them according to colour or mood. It mostly serves the same purpose as lo-fi music, it’s like a sentient, ambient ecosystem, and I’m an adventurer wandering through it. It’s interesting how my influences show up in my work. As a child of the 80’s, my studio decor is riotously colourful, kitsch and sometimes of questionable taste!
Would you share a piece of advice with us and our readers?
Just make stuff.
Once you’ve made it, try to make better stuff. The rest is either learnable or fluff. If you can learn a thing to make your art resonate more, learn it. If you don’t want to learn it, don’t expect to get better. The stuff you can't learn ever, with no amount of time, money or energy, is fluff. Learn as soon as possible how to tell the fluff to fluff off, because that's harder to unlearn if you've formed a habit listening to it.
Also, in these days where we’re constantly bombarded by advertising and social media, don’t measure your worth or ability to grow by constantly comparing. Don’t worry about someone else being better than you: there will always be someone better. You won’t be thinking about them when you’re hopefully very old, counting your regrets (of which I also hope there are few): you’ll regret not trying to make stuff and now you're too old and less able to make stuff.
Dandelions don’t stop growing because roses are more commonly accepted to be beautiful or more elaborate. Roses don’t blow apart like a good dandy clock either: there is room for, and poetry in both.
So, make stuff.
And lastly, a prompt, challenge, or creative activity from you to our readers.
One of my favourite things to do, equally for my creativity and my mental space, is to deliberately notice things.
I like to do this on my daily dog walks, but it could also be done on a commute to work, on public transport, or while waiting at the dentist- you can make a game of being super resourceful!
Pretend you're a magnifying glass: get in really close to things you see (as much as public decency will allow!). Examine interesting cracks in the pavement, the shadows cast by a plant, the way that person's sweater changes colour when they move under direct light.
Unfocus your eyes on things. What shapes are those things made up of? Do any colours particularly strike you? Close your eyes: what season or time of day does the air smell like? Why? What do those smells awaken in you? If you're not somewhere that's comfortable, what would an opposite smell be?
Notice the way things grow: berries in clusters, the way petals on a bud overlap, how the stalks of some plants are very tall. In buildings, look at shape language: is that apartment made up of only straights, or are there some curves? If you only had a black piece of paper to cut a silhouette from, what would the simplest version of that tree look like?
Break things apart as much as possible. It's all about being curious.
What did this experience conjure for you? Did the things you saw remind you of other things? How are those things alike? Trace them in your mind like a family tree.
You could make something from this experience if you're feeling stuck and need an external prompt: it could be something as literal as drawing things you saw from memory. Or you could do something really transformative, like turn your commute into a fantastical treasure map! Or- enjoy some fresh air and make nothing at all!
I often find getting away from my desk and looking at green stuff to be an excellent circuit breaker. Even if it doesn’t directly inspire your art, it might just carve a little extra space in your brain for creativity to prosper.
Where can we find you and Maud of Moss Forest?
I’m very excited to say I just relaunched my web shoppe this month! For the first time under the Moss Forest label, I'm offering affordable original paintings, and my very first collection of poetry prints. You can browse my shoppe at www.melmacklin.com
I’m looking forward to spending more time on my filmmaking. Poetry especially is a thing to be experienced; it’s most powerful when read aloud. I love the opportunities video has offered me to better bring my stories to life and share them with others. You can find my short films and future readings on YouTube and TikTok.
I’m also working on a collection of paintings and poetry to turn into an art book within the next year; you can see these evolve on my Instagram.