Known for her detailed pencil drawings, Denise Nestor always adds a little something extra to her art.
Whether it’s bunny ears atop a human bean, an unexpected splash of colour, or a girl tugging on a thread of her jumper to reveal a hidden tattoo, Denise uses hyper-real pencil illustrations sprinkled with the surreal and peppered with the fantastical to create magical illustrations for the modern age. With a dollop of the natural world in there too, Denise has also got a knack for making forest creatures look cute-as-can-be.
We spoke to Dublin-based Denise about what she’d do if she was invisible for the day, and how she seesaws between artist and illustrator:
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m from Mayo in the west of Ireland originally, but I live in Dublin now. I grew up on a farm and spent my childhood surrounded by nature, which I think is evident in my work and it’s still the greatest source of inspiration for me. I studied Graphic Design in college and I currently work part-time as a designer. I suppose that means I’m a self-taught artist and illustrator. Drawing was always something I did for myself from as far back as I can remember, it’s only in the last few years that it has become a career path for me, which is really exciting and something I try not to take for granted.
What appeals to you about illustration?
I like the challenge of visualising an idea or working with someone else to visualise their idea. I find it’s really satisfying work. I can be quite methodical in my approach so working to a brief somehow suits me even though in my own personal work I like to have the freedom to work outside that too. I like the balance of being both an illustrator and an artist.
There’s a realism to your art, how do you go about capturing things with your drawings?
My drawing style wasn’t always so detailed, it just gradually developed over time. I’m always trying to improve with every drawing and to refine and perfect things as I go. Some of my ideas have a certain fantastical element, a subtle strangeness, so making it as real as possible feels important to me. It’s my way of making something impossible feel as real as possible, bringing it to life.
What’s the creative scene like in Ireland?
There’s a really great creative scene in Ireland. In the last few years especially it feels like it’s been thriving. Events like ‘Offset’ here in Dublin have been a great catalyst for artists and designers and you can feel the positive impact it’s having on the creative scene.
What kind of projects have you been working on lately?
I recently completed two portraits of Joaquin Phoenix for ‘The New Review’ magazine. It was my first front cover for a magazine so that was quite exciting. I’ve also just completed a series of drawings for the covers of some limited edition books for an arts organisation here in Dublin.
How do you get an idea for a piece?
For me it feels like it’s about filtering out the ideas that don’t work and building on what’s left, it’s more a process of simplifying and editing my thoughts. I don’t think there’s really a rational way of describing where my ideas come from, they just seem to have been there in my subconscious the whole time. For my own personal work, the work that doesn’t follow a brief, I think it’s easier to trace the ideas back to significant moments that inspired the idea, I suppose because there’s more freedom to personalise it. With my illustration work it’s more about addressing the theme and answering the brief and that makes it a slightly different process.
Why does your work often focus on faces?
I’ve always liked studying faces and reading into expressions. I remember when I was younger being fascinated by Annie Leibovitz’s photographs in Vanity Fair. Those were the first portraits I used to draw from and practiced with. I like the challenge of trying to convey a certain emotion or mood in a drawing. Faces have such subtle expressions that you can so easily miss, I’ve often spent hours on a drawing but then scrapped it and started again because the eyes looked lifeless or there was something missing. To me a portrait works when you capture a look in the eye or a subtle emotion that conveys more than just a flat representation of a face.
What would you do if you were invisible for the day?
I think I’d just sit next to people and listen in on their conversations… while trying not to feel creepy.