Interview by Mia Kingsley
This week Scottish born Jen McColl is the focus of ongoing interview project ‘Mia Meets…’. An artist of many mediums, McColl can quite literally put her paintbrush to anything her heart desires. Currently changing nail art as we know it, with the steady hand of a ninja, humour to match and an exceptional eye for detail, McColl’s mini masterpieces are becoming hugely popular. From creating fandom inspired sets loved by the tumblr generation to slicking the nails for Claire Barrows s/s15 show, McColl’s adaptability is her true weapon, allowing her to fulfil the dreams of all the nail junkies out there. I think its safe to say McColl has the nail art industry right where she wants it; under her beautifully manicured thumb…
Hey Jen, tell us a bit about yourself.. How long have you been living in London now?
I came to London when I was 18, I had already done a foundation year in Leeds and it was a big new start, as I only knew my brother here.
How would you say the city differs to Edinburgh, creatively which inspires you more?
For me I find that Edinburgh signifies my family, most of my friends from there have moved away or on the whole we’ve completely lost touch. I am not the person I was in school and as such I’m not strong friends with many of the people I met there, apart from about two or three girls. When I’m home its generally about spending time with my family, which actually lets me be more creative in ways. Whenever I go home I always take art materials with me so I can work on something in the evenings.
London is completely different; theres friends and always something going on. Which is why I really try and push myself during the day at home to focus on new work.
You originally studied graphic design at St Martins, specialising in illustration, tell us about it..
It was an experience but I think being in London during those years and the people I met had more of an effect on me than the course. With a lot of taught Artistic subjects things have be thought out, reasoned and have a strong message or meaning behind it. To me that’s not how things work all the time, and the thought of something just being aesthetically pleasing is just as valid as something with a message behind it. I developed a lot in those years, but that was down to my own personal progression and one particular first year tutor that I’m not sure would even remember me now. Shout out to Rachel Cattle, you were an amazing tutor!
From painting on house hold items to canvas, decorating phone cases to illustrating on nails, you are incredibly creative, has it always been that way?
Since I was a young child I think I’ve always drawn and painted, I’d always get art materials as presents but I’m not sure how good I was. I’m so glad my parents were happy for me to pursue a more creative side, and encourage it in me.
When you were younger what did you aspire to be?
Oh God, I think when I was super young I told someone I wanted to be Barbie when I was older. Living the dream.
A theme that flows strongly throughout your work is animal portraiture, what is about painting your fluffy friends that attracts you so much?
I just bloody love animals, anything fluffy and I’m there in an instant. I was never allowed pets when I was a kid so it may have something to do with that. Two and a bit decades of longing that turned me insane for cats and now I finally have a fluffball of my own!
Do you have a favourite animal?
Cats. But I love loads of dogs (particularly the Chow Chow), walruses and sharks.
Would you ever consider painting people?
I would love to, I started a small painting to try and get back into it of Brian Cranston from Breaking Bad a long time ago and never finished it though, it’s something I need to work on. Painting people is so difficult, faces are so specific that if you get one thing slightly off the whole thing looks odd, its definitely something I want to work on.
What inspired you to explore the miniature painting world of nail art?
Detail, I think. I started painting quite small for a bit in university and then bought some nail art pens to try and do my nails more. My first attempts at things are ludicrous, which really shows practice makes perfect.
How do you do it!? Would you say size is the biggest struggle? How long does it take to complete a set?
It completely depends what it is, somethings take so long to do! I normally use polish with fine brushes or nail art pens but sometimes use acrylic paint too. Size is definitely difficult but you get used to it quickly, I’m quite a perfectionist with it so its tricky sometimes, and one line out of place can really stand out. It can take several hours to do a set to most of the day if its something really intricate. And with anything artistic, if you’re just not feeling it or your hand isn’t steady enough, you should give up for the day or try something different.
As well as pets you also like to paint fandom related nails, what would be your dream fandom nail set?
Probably Buffy, but I don’t think it will ever happen. Painting Sarah Michelle Gellar realistically is one thing, doing it on a nail is completely different. If anyone has managed to successfully, well done! I might settle for some Harry Potter nails someday.
With the internet allowing everyone to share their creative flares, how do you ensure your nail art is unique?
I’m not sure how long anything stays unique for, sometimes I do sets and I see people a few weeks later recreating them. Sometimes they give credit, sometimes not, you can’t let it bother you too much. Everyone borrows from each other and gets inspiration from each other. I’m inspired by other artists all the time, you should either credit the person or try and do your own spin on it and develop the idea so its not like theirs anymore.
Nails are a form of beauty accessory, people can sometimes go to extreme lengths to ensure their look is unique, whats the craziest nail art you’ve ever seen? Where do you cross the line, or are you curious as to how far you can push your nail techniques?
I’m not sure what the craziest is (maybe the shape work by Kayleigh O Connor), but I love Japanese kawaii nails. Its impossible if you want to wash your hair but otherwise it looks awesome!
As for crossing the line or pushing nail art, as Cady Heron said in Mean Girls: “the limit does not exist”. As long as its not destroying your hands then go as crazy as you like, its your nails.
Out of all the sets you have created which is your favourite?
Probably the skull nail I did on my thumb once, it was actually super simple to do but looked amazing.
Who or what inspires you?
Other nail artists or creative people, fashion designs, t.v shows and scrolling through tumblr. Sophie Harris Greenslade, who does the Illustrated Nail is an incredible artist too, her and Nancy Mc are two people that I really think made an impact in the nail art scene. If you do anything today it should be to check out their work.
Which has been your proudest moment yet as a nail artist?
Probably having my photo in Elle magazine and answering some questions, its such a big publication that it really has made me feel like things are progressing for me. I also was signed to an awesome agency that I’m loving at the moment, they actually care about what I do and looking after me on jobs so that really helps. Also I’ve been featured by Superdrug, MSN lifestyle websites, MTV district and my work has been featured in a nail art book which has all been amazing.
Whats next for you Jen, any exciting projects we should look out for?
My work in the December Elle issue is out now, and I have some more Editorial, fashion and beauty work coming up, all will be up on my site and instagram.
Thanks so much Jen! If you would like to see more of Jen McColl’s amazing fandom sets (the ‘Up!’ one is a personal fav) and editorial work then check out her site & Instagram:
As for interviews, you can read all previous ‘Mia Meets…’ here and for more Mia check out the links below…
Until next time have a wonderful week! xxx