Elly MacKay makes magical, atmospheric worlds – enchanting images that tell stories, and portray quiet moments in nature and childhood. Creating tiny drawings, she positions them in layers, skillfully lights and photographs them, producing scenes with captivating depth and emotion.
After university (she has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) Elly worked at a gallery, but following the birth of her daughter she began to create again, and sells prints through her web site and Etsy shop. She has also written and illustrated her first children’s book, If You Hold a Seed. The publisher’s description reads “Something magical happens when you plant a dream with a seed. With plenty of love and patience, they can blossom into an extraordinary gift. To be shared with those you love and those with big dreams, this book encourages us to never give up.”
Elly lives in Owen Sound, Ontario with her husband Simon and her children Lily and Koen.
I am excited to feature Elly’s work… and a giveaway! Read on to learn more about Elly and her beautiful creations, and then enter to win your own copy of her magical new book, If You Hold a Seed.
Thank you Kate! I grew up in an old church in the woods. I liked collecting seeds when I went on walks with my Dad. He would talk about the potential of a tiny seed and point out some of his favourite old trees. I suppose the story began there.
What has the journey been like that led to this accomplishment?
Well, it was an interesting year. I was pregnant with my son when I wrote the story and signed the contract with Running Press. Then, I did the illustrations for the book during my son’s nap times. It is all quite a blur now.
Where do your ideas come from?
I am always trying to imagine how my 4 year old daughter and 1 year old son see the world. Childhood is a time when the world seems quite magical… stories and dreams blend with reality. It is fun seeing the kids walking through the same forests and playing on the same beaches… it brings back my own memories. I love the landscape here and do my best thinking on walks (and in the bath once the kids are asleep).
What do you think have been the main influencers of your style?
I love Victorian toys and optical inventions. I was introduced to them on a trip to meet members of The Movable Book Society as a teen. I started playing with zoetropes, tunnel books, and creating three dimensional scenes with moving cams and motors. What I am doing now, is really the same sort of thing with the addition of photography.
I also really love the classic illustrators, Sir John Tenniel, E. H. Shepard, Beatrix Potter, and so many others.
Your process is so interesting (read more about it here), is there a particular part of it that you enjoy or look forward to the most?
Oh yes… once I have all of the characters inked up and the landscape layers ready I love playing with the lighting and photography, trying to find the right atmosphere and intimacy for the scene.
What is your studio like?
Very tiny. Really more of a walk in closet. With luck we will be moving soon and I will have a bit more space. My husband has made me a second theater and an animation table that I am hoping to find room for.
What other creative outlets do you have?
I am always looking for ways of having fun making things. I am not a great driver so my husband does the driving on long trips and I take blurry shots out of the window. I am getting a knack for it. My father is a potter so we sometimes make things out at his place… in general there is always something being made. The kitchen table is rarely clear enough for us to just sit down and have dinner.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? In six months? In the next ten minutes?
In five years I hope I will have a shelf with several books I’ve illustrated, happy children, some fruit trees, a neat tree fort for the kids and continue to run my Etsy shop, Theater Clouds. It has given me a really wonderful way of making a living.
In six months I would like to have a new studio, and feel I have done a really wonderful job on the books I am working on. I am working on my own story for Running Press called Shadow Chasers and a book for HMH called Fall Leaves.
In the next ten minutes I am hoping to have some prospective home buyers through our house. Fingers crossed.
Describe yourself in five words.
Mother, Dreamer, Maker, Traveller (though it has been too long), Friend.
Thank you, Elly, for this backstage tour of your Theater Clouds!
One lucky winner will receive a copy of Elly’s book, If You Hold a Seed. This story will delight any young child in your life, but you just might want to keep it yourself for the charming illustrations!
To enter, just leave a comment and let me know who you want to win the book for. For an extra entry, “like” the Pennello Lane Facebook page (if you already do, let me know in your comment!)
The winner will be chosen by random draw on March 15.
Update: The winner is Gael. Congratulations!
All images courtesy of Elly MacKay and used with permission.