Quiet Nature—An Interview with Nikki McClure

A peregrine falcon flies by, she pauses and writes down the moment. It was the first time this season she’s seen this particular bird. This is how our conversation begins, and something I suspect happens throughout her day. You see, Nikki is a collector of moments. She captures them as inspiration to be used in her work, many of which are personal. Through these moments we get a glimpse of her story, a little piece of her life… quiet, thoughtful, surrounded by nature and and rooted in family.

It was as a child McClure discovered that she was enamored with the natural world. She recalls her first trip on a boat in the Puget Sound and how it opened her eyes to environmental education and biology. 

“All the trees, plants, insects, and birds I have grown up around. I was consuming the names and stories of my neighbors,  it became that I wanted to learn everything about this location. I only uncovered a few stories because there are so many things that live here, but that occupied me for a long time. I drew pictures while I was learning, my sketchbooks were very intricate and detailed.”

Nikki went on to receive B.S. and a B. A. Degree from Evergreen State College.  It wasn’t long after she graduated that she knew she wasn’t meant to be a scientist. She was meant to react with and capture the stories of nature in another way.

“When I was done with college I got a job at the Department of Ecology for one year. People knew I could draw so they were asking me to draw things for them. I thought if I could draw a good duck maybe I could just stop working and draw ducks, so I did.”

The last project she did at Evergreen was her first book, entitled Washington’s Wetlands (1991)— it was a series of linocuts. Since then Nikki has published 26 books and 17 calendars, as well as several journals covering topics from new babies to the planting seasons

I remember the first time I encountered one of her calendars. I was excited to see the art of papercutting being explored in such a graphic way. The use of stark black and white combined sparingly with color mixed digitally is restrained, and purposeful. It tricks the viewer and looks as if it’s all created on screen, but that is far from the truth. 

“ I need to keep my structure intact. If I was creating the art solely on the computer I wouldn't have the same choices that I have by doing things by hand with paper. I intentionally limit my use of the computer.  I cut during the day and have someone else working on the color part at night. There’s people who love the computer and I don't, I would much rather be outside.”

Nikki McClure of Olympia, Washington is known for her painstakingly intricate and beautiful paper cuts. Armed with an X-acto knife, she cuts out her images from a single sheet of paper and creates a bold language that translates the complex poetry of motherhood, nature, and activism into a simple and endearing picture.

We are excited to host Nikki in and get up-close with her art for sketchXchange on Friday, February 5th. She’ll be sharing her process she uses to create, as well as some of her finished pieces. Special guest Carson Ellis will also join us as the moderator.

The studio. Photo's courtesy of Nikki