Darren Gilbert of Monkey Tail Design is a man of many talents. While he’s adept in art media ranging from sculpting to painting, it’s his exquisite pen and ink drawings that captured the attention of the Heatherly team. Recognise this little birdy? We receive so many questions about this beautiful piece that we decided it was time for you to meet the man behind the magic.
Who is Darren Gilbert?
Darren Gilbert studied fine art in his teenage years. With a part scholarship in sculpting he learnt from heavyweights like Ian Fairweather, John Rigby and Denise Allen who were big in the art industry at the time. The 48 year-old declines to call himself an artist, though, preferring the broader term ‘designer’.
“One of the reasons I call myself a designer is because if I have an idea, I’ll pursue it, no matter what medium it is. I learnt a lot at college but when an idea forms and it requires a different discipline, I pursue it,” he says. “I spent 10 years on a computer too, so I’m quite proficient on that but I’m throwing that away for the old ways, the pen and ink and sculpting by hand.”
A few years ago Darren relocated his family to Highlands, a regional area of Victoria, to pursue a country lifestyle. “We like to live on a small footprint. Our house is self-sufficient and we try to use local materials and recycle things,” he says. “Even when I design something I try to design it so it’s energy efficient. That’s what Australia is about—like with water—it’s about being resourceful, don’t waste it.”
The move has been a boon to his artwork, from the sculptures he creates from found objects to the birdlife he observes and brings to life on paper in his pen and ink drawings.
The art of Darren Gilbert
“I like to use found objects in my artwork,” says Darren. In particular he looks for colour, like different shades of rust. “I find that paints and digital colours can’t quite match what’s actually out there.”
His sculpture hearts represent that rustic feel. Made of corrugated iron from different sources and in different shades of rust, the hearts are created by flattening corrugated iron and riveting the pieces together over three days.
By contrast, a pen and ink drawing of a bird takes 50-60 hours. “Birds are fascinating creatures. We live in the mountains and there’s a lot of birdlife. I’ll sketch them until I get the composition right. With the drawings, pen and ink ones, the more accurate you make it the better the outcome, even down to the feather count on their wings or on their head or how big their beaks are or their eyes,” he says.
After some observational sketching, Darren then fills in the details by doing some research, which often involves going to a bird observer club or asking birdwatching friends.
“I’ll basically draw the full body and scan it into the computer and start trying to match the thumbnails with the pencil drawing. Once the composition is done I’ll start inking and the inking can take up to 50 hours. Each feather strand is done individually by pen stroke and that’s really fun because you keep building and building and you get that shape. It’s meditative too but I can only do about 10-15 pieces of those a year.”
Darren is a strong advocate for representing Australia through art. In addition to naming Brett Whiteley as his favourite artist, Darren clearly shows a love of Australian nature in his work. “Everything in Australia has a harsh, unique flavour about it, the shapes and way it all functions. I’m interested in shapes and textures, especially Australian shapes and textures. It’s really hard to draw a gumleaf and get the shape right. You have to be an Australian to draw an Australian gumleaf.”
The next series of birds will probably be crows, because that’s the birdlife he’s noticed from his window for some time, but bowerbirds may feature in the future too. “I would love to do bowerbirds. There are so many different variations of them and their behaviour is quite unique too.” See Darren Gilbert’s art at Monkey Tail Design