Write On! interviews artist Alicia Hayden
Alicia is a self-trained wildlife artist, photographer, writer and filmmaker from North Yorkshire. With a degree in Biological Sciences from Oxford University, she is currently studying for a Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking at UWE, in partnership with the BBC. She aims to celebrate the beauty of the natural world in her work, as well as communicating the threats it faces.
Alicia won the ‘Human Impact’ category of David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year 2021 for her piece When The Whale Sang, and was awarded the inaugural Ingrid Beazley Award. Her piece was also displayed in UNESCO’s ‘Creative Resilience Art By Women In Science’ exhibition in 2021.
In 2020, Alicia self-published her debut illustrated wildlife poetry book, Rain Before Rainbows, with the aim of increasing awareness of the natural world, and raising money for the wildlife hospital Tiggywinkles. She is currently working on a series of illustrated nature poetry mini collections.
WO: What type of art do you specialise in?
AH: I love experimenting with a variety of different media and art styles, but in general I specialise in fine art – focusing on inks, biro, and lino. I started using ink pens and biro when working for my Art GCSE, and I love the depth and texture you can achieve with these media. More recently, I’ve been experimenting with acrylic and Indian inks, watercolours, and lino printing – exploring new, more colourful styles.
I focus on wildlife and nature for most of my artwork, and I like to convey both celebratory pieces and more powerful works of wildlife artivism. My artivism always has a message and requires significantly more planning than some of my more celebratory pieces, but I find these pieces so satisfying to put together – especially when people understand the message I’m trying to convey!
WO: Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on at the moment?
AH: I’m working on a mixture of different projects. As well as my artwork, I write poetry, so I’ve been developing a series of mini collections, exploring the beauty and mystery of local places – I’m currently working on the illustrations for my next collection.
I’ve recently been producing a series of wildlife artivism pieces exploring light pollution, using a variety of different styles and media to explore how light affects different species and ecosystems.
I’m also continuing to create pieces showcasing the beauty of birds in my ‘Plumage’ series: I’m trying to include a mixture of the conventionally considered splendour of birds of paradise with fantastic feathers, as well as birds which are often overlooked, such as the long-tailed tit, which is just as impressive in its own way!
AH: That’s a really tricky question! I’ve always been drawn to art (no pun intended), and I really enjoyed creating pieces depicting nature and wildlife at school. My family have always encouraged my love of nature and of artwork and, growing up in North Yorkshire, I loved to explore our local patches with my camera. Wildlife photography encouraged me to look more closely at the world around me, particularly at invertebrates, and I think these skills improved my art and fostered a curiosity in looking closely at the finer details of species.
As I started to draw more during studying for my Biology degree, I realised I wanted to create pieces that showcased species people often overlook, to bring attention to environmental issues. I’ve only really started to consider myself to be an artist in the last year or so, through the encouragement of my family and partner, inspired by other wildlife artists I look up to, and because of the wildlife I hope to bring attention to, and hopefully conserve, through my work.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme ‘Nature, Inspiring Creativity: Past, Present And Future.’ With that in mind, how has nature had a direct impact on your inspiration? Are there any particular art or creative works based in nature that spark ideas for you whenever you experience them?
AH: Nature is my main source of inspiration! Living in rural North Yorkshire, I’ve been lucky to grow up surrounded by wildlife, from moorland species to garden birds, so I see inspiration everywhere I go. Daily walks are underscored by birdsong, and I find just being in nature hugely inspiring. Spending time outside on a walk and letting my mind wander enables me to come up with ideas for wildlife artivism and poetry.
The most profound way nature influences my work is through my poetry. The majority of my poems are written out in the field, inspired by what I see and feel when out in nature. This is especially true of all of the poems in my mini collection series, as well as several of the poems in my debut poetry book Rain Before Rainbows – such as You And I, which was written in a glade on one of my local walks during the 2020 lockdown.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring artist?
AH: Don’t worry about not having a ‘style’. This is something that used to really bother me, as the media and styles I work in vary hugely, and for a long time, I felt as though I didn’t have a style that identified my work.
I’ve realised now that having a style is not necessary – all artists are experimenting all of the time, and your style will change and evolve over time. When I stopped focusing on what made my artwork different and unique, and started enjoying experimenting, I began to create pieces that felt more authentically mine, and my style developed organically from there.
WO: What are the biggest issues (if any) you have to navigate as an artist?
AH: I’m still very new to the art industry, so one of the biggest issues I’ve found so far is getting my name out there, and being taken seriously. Additionally, wildlife art is sometimes considered inferior to other, more mainstream, art subjects – such as portraits and landscapes – which can mean it is less favourably acknowledged; an issue faced by many wildlife artists.
I also think it’s quite easy to suffer from burnout as an artist. I love working on projects – be they art, poetry, photography, or film – but it does mean I spend the majority of my time working. Last summer, I found myself unmotivated to create, which is really unusual for me, and I realised it was because I’d been working non-stop without giving myself a break – a bit like when Kiki can no longer fly, as it’s what she does all the time in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Since then, I’ve been trying to recognise the warning signs of burnout, and have a more sustainable approach to creative working.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
AH: I like working on lots of projects at once! Most I’m keeping under wraps for the moment… but I’ve been creating several pieces recently for my partner’s music compositions on beetles, as well as working on an animation as part of the 2021-2022 Creature Conserve mentorship programme.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
AH: This is such a difficult question! I think probably Pan (Pantalaimon), who is Lyra’s daemon from His Dark Materials. He’s very level-headed, but also adventurous and a lot of fun, so I feel we’d get on well! Alternatively, Jiji – Kiki’s magical talking cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service – has some very amusing dialogue; I think it would be highly entertaining to have a sassy cat critiquing my art from the sidelines!
You can find out more about Alicia and her work via her website https://aliciahaydenwildlifephotography.zenfolio.com and connect with her through Instagram @aliciahaydenwildlife, Facebook, or YouTube.
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Don’t worry about not having a ‘style’. This is something that used to really bother me, as the media and styles I work in vary hugely, and for a long time, I felt as though I didn’t have a style that identified my work.