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A conversation with artist John Devolle

Isabel Williams
Written By
Isabel Williams
A conversation with artist John Devolle
Artwork by John Devolle

Much of your work is focused on microscopic imagery. Why do you gravitate towards these types of concepts? 

I think I gravitate to sciencey stuff in general, so a lot of this is about the very small, or the very big… or internal organs! My interest in science was sparked by reading lots of science books as an adult, I was never particularly interested in, or very good at science at school, in fact I was a hopeless student! I only realised how exciting science and learning could be later on as an adult. So now a lot of my work is about trying to get across some of these exciting ideas / discoveries to people or kids who don't have a science background.

You tend to apply a fun and colourful design to scientific concepts. What effect do you want to achieve with this? 

I hope to draw the viewer in to learning more about complex things that they might have overlooked by sucking them in with bright colours and bold shapes:) Sometimes its about explaining an abstract concept or idea in the most simple way, or finding some kind of metaphor. But sometimes it is more about giving just a taste or a hint at the subject matter, so it does depend on the project, different projects call for different approaches. Illustration can be a great way to explain very abstract ideas. A lot of my work over the years has been for clients with very dry subject matter, sometimes these can be the most rewarding jobs as they can often be the most open for exciting imagery to offset the dry subject matter. 

What benefits do you think art can bring to people’s understanding and experience with science? 

I think the playfulness of art is really helpful for everyone, particularly in science.

I think playing around with stuff, whether its shape and colour, or abstract concepts and thought experiments is how new discoveries happen whether that’s in art or science, in this way I think art and science have a lot in common.

Starting a project and not knowing where it will go, then when things go in an unexpected direction, asking yourself ‘what does this tell me?’ and letting it take you where it takes you. Obviously there are big differences between Art and science but I think both start with an attitude of playful discovery.

What do you like to do in your free time and how does this influence your work? 

I like to draw & paint, make things, read, I skateboard, I make music, I like to do DIY and I like fixing things. I think it all feeds into my illustration work somehow. I also have a dog so I'm walking him a lot, I find that most ideas come to me when walking or sitting on a bus, or when I'm supposed to be working on one thing but I have an idea for another project. Its a bit of a jumble, sometimes I think I could be more organised about my work and there is always a lot of procrastination and jumping around. But the one thing i have learned is to just make a start, even when your* not sure what to do, just make a start. Even if what you're doing turns out to be completely wrong, it helps you focus on what might be the solution and you get there quicker than if you just sat there procrastinating. Well that’s what works for me anyway.  

See more of John's work on his website.