Gina Nelson interview: art & the maternal instinct

Nudity Warning!

Gina Nelson

Lead Artist

Illustrator and new parent Gina Nelson talks about the influences of motherhood and Extinction Rebellion on her artwork. Find out more…

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Hi Gina! Thanks for chatting with us – we know how busy you have been! “Mother” has certainly been a keyword in your life recently, both in the literal sense and the “Mother Earth” sense; how have these changes been reflected in your art?


Becoming a mum has certainly had a major impact on every aspect of my life, including my art.  My personal work has always been quite sensual and I do spend a lot of time portraying the female form, this is definitely something that’s increased during my pregnancy and now after birth even more so. At the start of my pregnancy I remember being quite afraid of the changes my body would go through, I was so nervous about my body changing from what I’d become so comfortable with, into being a mother.

But as my pregnancy progressed, the changes that happened were wonderful and incredible, and to me, birth was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. Growing a new life inside you and birthing that has really made me feel a lot more connected to the world and to the whole circle of life. I am more amazed by the female form now than I ever have been and portraying that connection is something that I will be doing a great deal of going forward.

2d illustration motherhood
I did this drawing about three weeks after my son was born and really I wanted to show how I was feeling shortly after giving birth. Having been so afraid of what birth and pregnancy might do to me physically, I actually found that after birth, much to my surprise, I felt empowered and beautiful. I had created life with this body and now I was feeding and nurturing from it. I know this image is maybe a bit sexual too, but I guess that’s how we ended up with a boy in the first place and despite how many feel, you don’t suddenly lose your appeal because you’ve become a mum. I wanted to portray a symbol of femininity, a goddess, a giver of life and most importantly, a mother.


Has your personal work taken on a different meaning, or perhaps more importance, since giving birth, and with your support for Extinction Rebellion? Do you find yourself approaching it differently?


Yes, definitely. I’m finding now that pretty much everything I do has a lot more importance to it. Having a newborn means that I spend most of my time doing things like feeding, nurturing, and so on, and when he’s asleep and I do have some time to myself, I need to be very selective about how I spend it. If I can have just one or two hours for myself today, what will I do with that time? What this means to me is that when I’m drawing I’m really drawing the things that are important to me. I’ve spent time reflecting in my drawings, thinking about birth, motherhood, and also about the things that are important going forward and for my boy’s future.

One of the biggest things that’s slightly taken over my everyday thoughts is that I’d like my son to grow up in a world which is still filled with life. I find it really hard to be living in a country whose most prominent politicians are rejecting issues such as climate change and especially now around the upcoming election where I’m an EU citizen and can’t vote, it feels very much like my son’s generation’s future is in the hands of everyone around me.

This is certainly something I’m struggling with a lot internally, and it’s part of the reason why I’m so supportive of Extinction Rebellion.  Around the world thousands upon thousands of young people and children have joined marches and protests against world leaders who refuse to tackle these issues because they are too young to occupy the seats of power that can actually initiate change.

The children of today as fighting as best as they can for the world they will grow up in, and I hope beyond anything that we will all wake up and fix this mess so that our children can inherit a world that’s not beyond saving.  We might all feel that there’s not much we can do as individuals, but every voice is important! If my art can reach out to just one person and make them think about their choices, and what they can be doing for this world, then I feel that’s at least a small victory.

I was inspired by the Red Rebels who have recently flooded our media with powerful imagery, and I hope that my piece portraying them will entice some curiosity in those who don’t know what they stand for or what Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future are all about.


Do you have a preference for digital over traditional approaches? Has your mindset changed?


Absolutely not! They both have their place and their appeal. I love working in Photoshop and have become really used to it over the years, as a break from the digital world I started working in inks a few years ago and fell in love with those too. Sometimes I’ll even do a mix where I create something in ink and then work on it digitally afterwards. More recently though, I’ve started working in Procreate. Any new mum will know that you spend a lot of time glued to a chair or sofa in those early weeks and months. Procreate has been really wonderful in that i can draw while I’m breastfeeding and I don’t need to worry about being at my PC with a massive drawing tablet, or about working with tiny bottles of ink that could go everywhere.  To all the art mums out there, get yourself onto Procreate!

2d illustration red rebels extinction rebellion
I am so in awe of the Red Rebels and the powerful imagery they evoke. I hope they will become a true symbol of the fight that needs to happen and that they will inspire more people to join in this cause because, as the science keeps saying, the time to do something is running out..


Can you give us a little sneak into the book you have begun storyboarding, or more information about it?


Ah the secrets out! Now I’ll have to finish it! I can do better than the storyboard, I'll show you the first double page spread in the book, minus the text of course. I’ve started working on a small book for my son which really embodies a lot of the things, I feel are most important in this world: being kind to each other, acceptance, looking after our planet, cleaning up the mess previous generations have created and most importantly, doing it together, for the good of all life on earth.

It’s an interesting challenge because I’m neither a writer, nor a children's illustrator, so finding a style that’s not too far away from my personal style while still appealing to children is something I’m finding quite difficult. Either way, this is a really important project to me, for all the reasons I've mentioned in your previous questions,  and I'll be hoping  to finish it over the next few months.

2d illustration mother and son motherhood
This is the first double page spread of the book I’m working on showing me and my boy as I tell him about our wonderful and beautiful world, and what we must do to keep it safe. As with all the new pieces I’m working on this is being done entirely in Procreate. It’s been surprisingly challenging getting my head around Procreate! The software is so easy in comparison to Photoshop but the feeling of it is very different. I’ve found that I’m treating my Procreate drawings a lot more like I do my inkwork, focusing more on lines than on painting. I guess this might change as I become more comfortable with drawing on the iPad, but for now I’m just enjoying drawing, even if the style is a bit simpler than what I've previously done.


What’s next? Any projects beyond the book that you can share?


Apart from getting back into a routine and going back to my full-time job in videogames in a few months, I have nothing else planned right now! This book is probably quite ambitious with such a little one to look after, so we’ll just take things one step at a time.

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