Zoë Mae Hughes is a 19 year old illustrator and photographer based in Eugene, OR. Her pen-and-ink illustrations explore her interest in botanical drawings and the anatomy of plants while portraying created or personal narratives. She currently attends the University of Oregon.
When did you first become seriously interested in the arts?
I went to a Montessori-influenced elementary school, and a big part of the curriculum was arts-based. We worked in small groups and were able to explore our interests a little more than other school environments while still sticking to the Oregon requirements for public schools. The first time I realized I had a passion for making art was in fourth grade. We recreated Starry Night by Van Gogh with oil pastels. The colors and textures interested me so much; I just dove in from there.
Your illustrations seem to largely focus on plants and animals. What drives this interest in nature?
Growing up in Oregon has a lot to do with it; being surrounded by such beautiful landscapes all the time is endlessly inspiring. My mom also has always had an enormous flower garden, and whenever I would complain about not knowing what to draw she would bring me a few flowers to sketch. I believe it's important to notice the smaller and unnoticed things in life. I think that over time people forget how important and breathtaking nature is, so I try to remind people of that.
Would you say part of your practice is experiencing the outdoors?
Absolutely, yes! I like to watch the way things react in nature, like the way leaves dance when the wind runs through them, or the way animals move their bodies to walk. It's not simply being in nature that is part of my practice, but observing the way nature works, which is obviously way easier to do while in nature.
Do you have a preferred medium in illustration? What are some go-to tools you use?
I like to use thick paper, like un-textured watercolor paper or multimedia paper, because of how sturdy they are. I also love using my Micron 005 pen. The tip is super small, so the lines are very thin and dainty. In terms of color, which I rarely use, I've been experimenting with Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor paints.
There’s a lot of fluidity between your illustration and photography; is that intentional, or do you find more value in one over the other?
There is definitely a connection between my illustration and photography, but it wasn't an intentional connection––at least, not at first. I like when my art is clean and simple, and that aesthetic has started to transfer to my photography. I wouldn't say I value one more than the other, but I never intentionally pursued photography as a medium until recently. Instagram and social media brought photography to my attention and created an outlet I can use to explore it.
How do you view social media like Instagram? Has it become somewhat intertwined with your practice?
I view Instagram sort of like a movie trailer; you can get an idea of what my art is like, what I am like, and what my surroundings are like. I try to restrain from sharing too much of my practice on Instagram, because I am hoping for a better way to share my work with people. However, I do like to portray my overall artistic ideas and aesthetic through my Instagram, so they are very intertwined in that way.
Can you explain the concepts behind your short photo series, In Motion?
In Motion is this idea that I've been toying with for a while. It started with a video I took of a mango. The mango was just sitting on the counter––as mangoes do––and I filmed it from all possible angles. Life is going on around this mango, but the mango is just a thing that is there. Those photos are all cropped and edited, so you can't see everything that was happening. Life was going on all around them, and all you see is what is in the frame, so the motion is happening outside the actual picture.
What does motion mean to you?
In this context, it means movement. In every photo, there is movement happening all around the outside of the frame that is important to the narrative of the entire scene.
What is important for people to understand about you or your work?
Every piece I make represents something else. They all come in pairs…like how green means “go”, a magnolia means "I miss you" to me. My work is a series of associations.
Any upcoming projects planned for the near future?
I have a journal full of ideas, but I can't pick one to focus on. I've been planning about six at the same time––we’ll see which one comes together first!