“I always had a flair for the dramatic as a child, and loved storytelling,” says illustrator Fee Greening. “I think that’s where my interest in Renaissance and Gothic art came from.”
These creative influences have formed the basis of Fee’s signature, and very successful, style. Wielding a wand-like wooden dip pen, she has become a favourite of the fashion industry for her traditional ink illustrations cast with an aura of mystery and magic.
With her debut stationery collection with Papier now available, we visited Fee at the green-walled and artistically cluttered studio she shares with fellow Papier collaborator Luke Edward Hall, to find out more about her inspirations and bear witness to her illustrative alchemy.
When Fee was a teenager she would collect postcards and books of Medieval art and stories, enraptured by not just the aesthetic but also the operatic tales. “There are so many great heroines and doomed love affairs depicted in those artistic eras that I was really drawn to,” she says. “I think, even though I didn’t know it then, I was very interested in fate and divine will. Characters fated to unavoidable doomed love like Tristan and Iseult, characters answering a calling like Joan of Arc or characters whose decisions had so many repercussions like Pandora and Eve. Maybe it was something to do with coming of age.”
It was at the Royal College of Art, while Fee was studying her masters in illustration, where she went on to develop her interest in Renaissance paintings and particularly, the raw aesthetic and often macabre themes of alchemical drawings from the Middle Ages.
“There was such an extensive section [on them] in the library. I was already drawing similar themes and using dip pens, so the more research I did on the era the more it reinforced my style. I tend to use the same straight on perspective, heavily detailed borders, handwritten text, natural colour palette, botanical specimens and symbology. Alchemical drawings are detailed but laid out in very simple, ordered compositions which is something I try to emulate in my own work.”
"A detailed drawing is not only precious because of its beauty but also because of the time dedicated to making it."
It only takes a brief scroll through Fee’s Instagram feed to see that there’s one particular visual element which she finds herself irresistibly pulled towards: hands. Whether holding quills, shells or enlaced with religious jewellery, they are a recurring theme in her work.
“I love the dramatic gestures of hands in Renaissance paintings and how you can decode the narrative by reading them,” she says. “I am really interested in symbolism as well, I love an evil snake or an apple of temptation and I draw a lot of curiosities – corals, shells, jewels, etc. I have always been interested in magic and Medieval illuminated manuscripts.” These magical curiosities can all be discovered in Fee’s Papier collection, adding some theatre to notecards, notebooks and invitations.
Beyond the Renaissance inspiration, Fee’s hand illustrations are reflective of the traditional, dip pen and ink technique that she uses to create all her artwork. A method that’s unusual in our fast-paced digital culture. “It is a very slow process, the pen can only draw 1/2cm before you need to re-dip it,” explains Fee. "I also have to wait for it to dry for couple of minutes so I don’t smudge or drag my long hair across the wet ink.”
“Although there are many wonderful aspect of living in a digital age, it has given us very short attention spans,” Fee continues. “I think we crave traditional analogue outlets to balance out our scrolling culture. A detailed drawing is not only precious because of its beauty but also because of the time dedicated to making it.”
If she ever struggles during this lengthy process, she can turn to her good friend and studio-mate, designer Luke Edward Hall. “I am very lucky to share a studio with Luke. Studio life is very cosy, we both have quite geeky tastes and a shared love of Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings and history podcasts. So there’s usually something soothing on in the background – and we drink a lot of tea.”
“I think we both really appreciate having each other there. Firstly as a creative sounding board, to ask what the background colour should be in a painting if you are stuck for example, but also to talk through any woes of freelance life. It’s very fortunate as despite us being inspired by a lot of the same things, our outcomes have a really different feel.”
When Fee was working on her Papier collection she wanted to create something that would make people feel swept away on the drama imbued in her illustrations. “I thought a lot about what I actually want from stationery and I concluded that with technology dominating our lives now, putting a pen to paper should feel like a real treat. So I wanted to create something quite OTT and dramatic to hopefully put some theatrics into every day life. So even if you are just writing a shopping list you can channel a bit of Elizabeth I.”
Whether you feel the blue blood of a monarch pulsing through your writing hand, the magic of a wizard’s wand in your pen, or just think that the good luck charm illustrations are really lovely, Fee’s collection is sure to leave you spellbound.