This week we talk to Jane McCracken, who constructs intricate multi-layered Biro drawings, sculptures, installations and also designs products.  Her work explores loss generated by human destruction. Along with her continuing interest in war and the environment, her artwork is representational of both life’s beauty and brutal reality. You can take part in a biro drawing workshop with Jane this Saturday, 24 November in Sunderland at Beacon of Light as part of her I LOVE THIS CITY COLLECTION project.


‘The Wolf’s House’ 2012 mixed media including Biro drawings ‘The Woodcutter’s Cottage’ installation The Customs House Gallery


Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?

My practice explores loss generated by human destruction. Drawing in Biro whether on paper or other surfaces such as sculptures, is the basis for all my work. Drawings are also used as the foundation for installation pieces as well as product designs. I have been interested in war and destruction of the environment for as long as I can remember, in particular the magnetism of loss experienced by individuals. Many of my pieces are memorials to humans as well as animals and the lives they lived, created in opposition to statistical representations of loss, garnered from the fallout of war or destruction.

A fascination for layers means my drawings are layered with images as if projected through one another. It can take weeks to research subject matter, including viewing thousands of images to find just the right inspiration for weaving crucial symbolism into the drawing layers.

References to historical events such as the Russian Revolution, other artists including Durer, Goya, Kath Kollwitz and Anselm Kiefer as well as literature are often included in the drawing layers. For example, ‘Mummy Bear and Baby Bear’ drawing is woven with references to Anselm Kiefer’s ‘Parsifal III’, Jung’s ‘Amfortas Wound’ and a Soviet WWII propaganda poster by Viktor Koretsky as well as ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. The piece highlights the practice of den hunting in Russia where hibernating brown bears are woken by hunter’s dogs and shot as they immerge from their den, often leaving cubs orphaned.

The drawings themselves take weeks and months to make due to the inerasable quality of Biro and the complexity of working out patterns within the layers as I draw, which is a bit like solving a puzzle!

The aim of my practice is to make work that is representational of life’s beauty and brutal reality.

‘Mummy Bear and Baby Bear’ 2013 Biro drawing


‘The Woodcutter’s Cottage’ installation 2013 The Mercer Art Gallery, Room 1


What are you exploring at the moment?

I am working on a couple of projects. I LOVE THIS CITY COLLECTION is a commercial project inspired by cities. I create a layered Biro drawing for each city in the collection and the drawing is used as a design featured on eco-friendly T-shirts and posters.  So far I have launched collections for the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland. The ethos behind the project is to celebrate civilisation and community but also symbolise that no matter where we live humanity is entwined with and needs the animal kingdom.

The second is an on going project called ‘War’ for which I am making a series of ‘pinup’ Biro drawings about women in war, sculptures and objects and planning installation pieces. Again, exploring individual lives affected by war but also the meaning of the word war in different contexts, such mental health and battles within the mind.


‘Sunderland’ 2018 red Biro drawing I LOVE THIS CITY COLLECTION


Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?

As mentioned, war, loss, wildlife and environmental issues have been a huge influence over the years, alongside my passions for drawing, books, travel, films and documentaries.

Drawings often contain references to any amount of films including ‘Come and See’, 1985 Elem Klimov, ‘Blade Runner’, 1982 Ridley Scott and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. My working method entails photographing my TV screen while films play, in order to capture poignant moments as well as movement. This creates inspirational images to work from with the aim of giving my drawings a cinematic quality. I draw what I see, which includes the pixel patterns created when photographing the screen.

Objects I collect including ceramics, WWII memorabilia, art and artefacts also inspire my work, as well as the people and animals in my life. My dog Lily is my muse!

Venturing into product design came about through the creation of a fine English china dinner plate set I designed for my installation ‘The Woodcutter’s Cottage’ first exhibited at The Customs House Gallery, curated by the inspirational Esen Kaya, followed by The Mercer Art Gallery. I was inspired by my love of ceramics. ‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’ series explores the beauty of magnificent Eurasian carnivores and the historic reasons for their demise. Post exhibition, I decided to have the plates manufactured in the UK and released as limited edition pieces, designing a set of china mugs last year, to add to the collection. The aim of this collection was to also create little pieces of art in functional form.


‘In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia’ 2017 fine English china dinner plate and mug collection


Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?

I work at home on any available surface from kitchen, to bathroom, to living room! It’s a bit of a bijoux environment, surrounded by objects I love and my dog by my side.

Drawing on a sculpture for ‘War’ project, in my living room next to ‘The Woodcutter’s Quilt’ and ‘Mummy Bear and Baby Bear’ drawing


What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?

Documentaries are usually rolling on TV while I’m working, as I find this transporting and a way of picking up new inspiration by listening to the narrator. My bookshelves are full of art books, literature, travel writing, memoirs, books about wildlife and war. I particularly like reading translations of European literature from the 19th – to late 20th century. I am currently reading several books including ‘My Apprenticeship’ Maxim Gorky, ‘Caucasian Journey’ Negley Farson and ‘The War in the West’ James Holland.


Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice? (e.g. Dark. Light. Blue. Unicorn. Table.)

War, life, death, loss, animals, humanity, landscape, nature, film, destruction, tragedy, beauty, brutality, history, childhood, memoirs, environment, empathy


Where can people see your work?

At present there is a display of I LOVE THIS CITY Sunderland collection at the National Glass Centre and my products are also on my designer page at Wolf & Badger.

So far I have launched collections for the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland and are now available from retailers including the National Glass Centre, Thought Foundation Shop, Souvenirs upon Tyne and Beacon of Light.


We have two questions for you from our last featured artists, Juliet Fleming and Sarah-Joy Ford. Juliet asks “If you could have two liquids that could come out of each index finger, what would they be?”, and Sarah-Joy asks “What or who is your spirit animal?” Could you answer their question please and think of a new one for our next artist?

I love these two questions Sarah-Joy and Juliet, thanks for asking! Definitely Biro ink from my right index finger and wine from my left! Haha, I jest of course (about the wine!) If it could be invented, liquid films from my left index – I’m imagining a cascade of colour and flowing images, on tap everywhere I go! I guess like a sort of liquid hologram. Now you’ve got me thinking!

​A wolf; my dog is more closely related to wolves than other breeds so it feels a bit ‘Golden Compass’ living with her! I love the freedom wild wolves have, roaming for miles. I admire their intelligence and the strong family bonds they make.

My question: What do you love most about making your art?