Interview with Ashley Mackenzie3 min read

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APEX MAGAZINE: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as an illustrator?

ASHLEY MACKENZIE: I’m a Canadian illustrator based out of Toronto, Ontario. I graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design last year and I’ve been freelancing ever since. Some of my clients include Scientific American, The New York Times and Tor and my work has been recognized by 3×3, Creative Quarterly and Spectrum.

APEX: Your piece chosen for the magazine cover has a great epic–fantasy feel to it. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind the piece?

ASHLEY: I did the piece for a group show at Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. They do a lot of really fun themed shows and this one was to make a kind of D&D roleplaying character for ourselves. I settled on a mage that uses thread to cast and create things since I often think of my creative thought process as unravelling ideas. Also I really like scarves and couldn’t help but have that play into the character.

APEX: Looking through your website I saw you had a collection of thesis artwork that seems to tie in a lot of neurological subject matter with surrealistic imagery. I feel it’s a subject that many people can relate to, even though it’s not often discussed in social circles. What is your concept behind this evocative collection?


ASHLEY: It was my thesis project for my final year at OCADU. The theme was “Dangerous Ideas” and it explored controversial concepts proposed by various scientists and intellectuals. I came across some of the ideas in a non–fiction anthology and found the rest of them online at where I went through to find common themes and ideas that I found interesting. I wanted to see if I could make images out of these concepts that are often difficult to discuss or even comprehend.

APEX: Many pieces in your portfolio have very gentle colour palettes, patterns and soft, organic linework. How did you come upon this style? Do you have any particular process that you use to create your artwork?

ASHLEY: I’ve always been really drawn to organic shapes and line–work, I think that’s the main basis for my style. I’m more of a drawer than a painter so I tend to put a lot of work into my drawings and am more reserved with the colours which leads to those softer palettes. For most of my illustrations I draw them traditionally and then colour them digitally.

APEX: I read in your profile that you enjoy conceptual illustration as well as concept art and decorative illustration. I love that you made this distinction! What sorts of similarities and differences do you find between the two subsets of illustration genres? Do you have any sort of preference towards one or the other?


ASHLEY: I find the main difference is in the initial thought process since each genre calls for a different approach since they’re used for different purposes. In general illustration appeals to me because it’s a form of visual problem–solving and in that sense each genre has a different set of problems. I really enjoy conceptual illustration but being able to work in multiple genres is really refreshing.

APEX: What do you love about creating artwork in the genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction? Any advice for aspiring artists, both painters and illustrators alike?

ASHLEY: I love the freedom of it, being able to visualize things that we could otherwise only imagine. As for advice I’d say always try to stay curious and discover new ideas that you find engaging and see if you can bring it into your work, even if it’s just in some small way. It makes the work much more satisfying and it really shows.

APEX: Thank you for this interview, Ashley! It’s always great to meet a fellow Canadian in the art world — good luck on all of your future ventures!

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