Going ‘dotty’: With Elspeth McLean
Raised in Australia, and now settled in Canada, Elspeth McLean is a tremendously gifted artist who creates intense and intricate artworks entirely out of colourful dots! So, there are big dots and small dots, and very tiny dots – but dots are all they are. Created with acrylic paint and a paintbrush, she has evolved a technique of creating vibrant and magical ‘dotty’ artworks, displaying a high level of skill and precision.
Since 2006 Elspeth has been working as a free-lance artist selling her products online as well as at markets, designing logos, painting murals, exhibiting in local cafés and galleries and creating an extensive internet presence. She has exhibited her artwork throughout Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Anyone familiar with Australia, and even remotely interested in art - knows of its traditional aboriginal dot paintings. The fact that Canadian artist Elspeth McLean has in fact been raised in Australia, makes her art seem even more obviously inspired by the country’s indigenous art tradition; however, the artist firmly denies the influence. “Although I am Australian and feel the spirit of Australia run through me and have a great respect for the Aboriginal culture, my artwork is not traditional Australian Aboriginal Art. I do not use their traditional colours, themes, stories or use of pattern to tell a story,” says Mclean. “I have a great respect for their art and in no way want to exploit their sacred ways. For my artwork, the use of dots is purely decoration and for visual effect. I use dots instead of brush strokes. Dots evolved into my artwork from using dots and circles as shading in my pencil and ink drawings. Dots used in art can be found in many other cultures in Mexico, Indonesia, Africa and in the European Pointillist Movement which began in 1880,” she adds – bypassing any further aspersions on her inspiration!
Of course nothing can take away from the fact that her art – inspired or otherwise, and her artistic style which she now calls “Dottilism” – is mind-blowing! For Elspeth, painting dots is a meditative, grounding and highly enjoyable experience. Having dedicated her life to her Dottilism, she hopes to “connect people with their inner child and to bring some vibrancy and joy to their lives.”
The Australian artist now living in Canada, however, does not claim to have invented this style of ‘dotty’ painting, but just feels blessed to “be part of a world-wide community that uses dots in their artwork.” And she also explains how the term “Dottilism” got coined. “For years when people asked what sort of artwork I created, I struggled to answer them. One day at an art event someone suggested the word “Dotillism”. It was an “aha!” moment. My artwork does not fall under the category of Pointillism (paint is applied to canvas in a way that the viewer eye mixes the colour). My artwork is not Aboriginal Art either. What we all have in common is that we use dots and we all use them in different ways. I use them as a decorative patterning and filling in instead of using brush strokes. So I began using the word “Dotillism” to describe my way of using dots.”
McLean is certainly inspired by nature; her paintings depict nature – in all its glory. The sublime beauty of a moonlit night, the meditative bliss of a rising sun, the expansive generosity of a massive tree, the meandering rivers, the majestic mountains – all find place in her paintings. Besides these, animals and birds, fish and reptiles too get ‘dotted’ in McLean’s dot paintings. Seen most often, and repeatedly, however is the whale – a magnificent creature she admits being very fond of, and often seeing even in her dreams!
“I draw inspiration from my life around me - from nature, animals and the glorious changing seasons to my travels, which with a musician husband, take me all over the world. I also love mythology and storytelling so these themes and symbols inspire me. My dreams also provide me with inspiration - I often have beautiful, colourful dreams which I am lucky to remember and then recreate,” she informs.
"Looking at my art from over the years it is very evident that my art becomes like a storybook into my life - where I was, what I was doing, what inspired and interested me at that time. I find this a very beautiful way of documenting my life journey," says McLean. And what a journey, indeed! With each creation so vibrant, colourful, joyous – exuding an aura of meditative celebration that leaves the viewer spellbound in the sheer glory of its exquisite detailing. Elspeth’s love for colour and intricate detail are how she “expresses and celebrates the colours of her soul”.
On being asked the secret behind the vibrancy of her ‘dots’ Elspeth reveals that she uses acrylic paints and “many, many layers of paint!” On every part of her painting “there is a minimum of two layers of paint, sometimes four, even six! This creates the vibrancy… I also apply the dots very thick so they retain their shape and create a 3D effect.” However, she admits it takes a bit of practice to know how to get the consistency right.
Through her artwork she explores the world she experiences around her. A lover of travelling, it is the new and beautiful landscapes she explores that become subjects of her art. Elspeth also has a great reverence for the universe, the seasons, mythology and ancient and traditional art that also influence her creations.
It is this reverence that basically reflects in Espleth’s art; manifesting as a higher connect, with deeply spiritual undertones. Besides indigenous Australian art, which has sacred, mystic connotations, Elspeth has been touched deeply by Hindu/Buddhist traditions too. The popular deities Ganesha and Buddha have also woven their way into Elspeth’s consciousness. In her Facebook post where she has shared the image with the Ganesha, she writes: “As I'm creating plans and dreams for 2017 my old fears, anxieties and insecurities are surfacing. I always learn so much from facing them- but oh my- growing pains hurt! My little Ganesha statue has been a source of grounding and comfort for me. As the Hindu patron of the arts he is best known as a remover of obstacles. And there are sometimes no greater obstacles than the ones found within ourselves. So to anyone out there facing their inner shadows right now I hope this image can bring you some peace and comfort- you're not alone.”
But besides paying obeisance to Ganesha and the Buddha, a large body of Elspeth’s work consists of Mandalas. Creating Mandalas everywhere – on canvases, on stones, on pendants and cushions – Elspeth is one of the few modern artists who have so fully explored the artistic and spiritual potential of this ancient Indian symbol representing the cosmos!
Over time, Elspeth has started recreating the Mandalas on various objects and thus her Mandalas can be seen printed on a wonderful range of affordable, fun, funky and functional items such as mugs, cushion covers, bags, phone cases, stickers and more.
One also assumes she must be getting very attached to the beautiful paintings she so painstakingly renders, the Mandala stones, the pendants - and it all must be pretty hard to part with. “The answer is mostly yes,” admits Elspeth. “When I first started selling my art 12 years ago it was really hard to let things go. Then I would see the joy and appreciation in my customers’ eyes and remember - this is why I do what I do - to share colour, joy and happiness. Not to keep it all to myself. Some pieces are harder to let go of than others, of course. The harmony in these colours lifts me up so much but my art becomes even more special when someone else and their loved ones enjoy it.”
It is therefore good that she now has all this stuff in printed versions. “This way everyone can enjoy the beauty and magic of the Mandala Stones,” muses the artist, who incidentally, is not taking up any commissioned work at the moment.