Interview with Molly McHenry

The members of the Athenæum Azostos have carefully collaborated on a series of 13 interview questions in which to ask the talented, magickal artist Molly McHenry. McHenry provided illustrations throughout Robin Artisson’s The Clovenstone Workings: A Manual of Early Modern Witchcraft, the most recent Review by the Athenæum. We were so impressed by not only Clovenstone, but the beautiful, haunting art that made the magickal manual come alive, that we just had to learn more about the wonderful artist behind the illustrations.

Molly McHenry, or Artharpy, has provided an honest and insightful glimpse into her creative world, her processes, her projects on the horizon… and how she was able to combine visionary worlds with Robin Artisson whilst collaborating for The Clovenstone Workings.

The Athenæum has chosen to present this and future Interviews in written form so that we may honor, if not return, the power of and to the written word. Moreover, the questions and answers in written form allow translatability in all its forms for our readers – and for you.

We are the Library of the Ungirt, we have to ask: which books, either historical or occultic, have inspired your art? Which have inspired your craft/practice?

McHenry: I'm a lifelong book lover so there are many that have been an inspiration. I all but completely stopped reading fiction by the time I was a teenager, but the spark was not diminished with non-fiction. When I discovered witchcraft and herbals, it was clearly a lively new road I had to explore.

Grimm's fairy tales have been an obsession since early childhood. Even editions without illustration still painted pictures. I was one of those kids with an "overactive imagination," so I got used to dreaming up scenes everywhere, not just in text but also music and random patterns in nature. It was a game that stuck.

As an adult, I see dramatic scenes in the classic grimoires. I have a sizeable collection of spellbooks old and new that stir artistic and magical inspiration any time I need it. 

I'm a big fan of Agrippa but also Anna Riva and Judika Illes. I respect that no-nonsense, "no way but through" kind of approach to the occult.

It is nearly impossible to embody the power of the occult – let alone the Current in The Clovenstone Workings without a working knowledge of witchcraft. We must know: are you a magical practitioner as well as an artist?

McHenry: Yes I've been practicing and studying folk magic and traditional witchcraft for the past 24 years. 

I've spent time leading a local coven, teaching classes on successful spellcasting, and also selling my services to the public as a spellcaster and tarot reader. It's been a busy time lol.

The things I've experienced in magic seem to me both deeply mystical and also quite plain and obvious. I like to try to express that in my art. Magic has been a daily part of life for me; only sometimes do I realize how odd that might appear to others.
Feeding the Familiar by Molly McHenry

Do you have a Patron of Art? How do you divine the pieces that you create?

McHenry: I have no Patron specific to my art but what I do have is dreams. 

In late 2019, I got terribly sick suddenly and my life came to a halt. I lost months of my life to a few surreal hours of consciousness a day and then 15+ hours of sleep at a time. 

I painted as a way to have some value in those strange hours and my long deep sleep gave me lots of inspiration. My dreams became vivid and detailed, full of lifelike characters and places full of backstory and lore. I've painted many of my dreams since then. 

Other paintings of mine are based on the complex emotions that come along with my somewhat complex life. It's a comfort to put a face to a name, as it were.

It is mentioned on your website that you are a self-taught artist. Which artists – alive or not, well-known or not, either historical or contemporary – have inspired you?

McHenry: I have a soft spot for decorative, stylized art like that of Alphonse Mucha, but also the fantasy of Boris Vallejo, James Gurney, Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, and Maxfield Parrish.

I've also been a huge fan of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, especially Van Gogh. I've been trying to recreate anything as perfect as The Potato Eaters for a very long time.
The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

Is this your first time collaborating with an occult author? How was the overall experience creating the art for Clovenstone?

McHenry: It was my first occult collaboration but not my first time illustrating an occult work. I have a few as yet unpublished manuscripts of my own and have been adding the needed artwork to them in between other projects. I'd say my first love is illustration so it's a delight for me to work this way.

This collaboration was very pleasant. Mr. Artisson and I quickly fell into a good rhythm with his vivid ideas feeding my sketches. Each of the images seem to come together effortlessly.  

How did you and Robin Artisson come to work together?

McHenry: We met a few years ago with me as a huge fan of his work. The level of conversation that ensued has been a deep expression of our different yet connected practices and beliefs. 

Especially as art became a greater and greater part of my life it started to reflect that conversation. Of course Robin's always in the midst of a project as well. Working together was a natural fit. 

Please divulge the creative processes that went into creating the art for Clovenstone. We know it was a collaborative effort in some form, but we would love to know if these images were based solely on your experiences with “The Workings” or if you were asked to create specific images by Robin Artisson?

McHenry: I was kept in suspense about much of the workings inside the book as the rest of you! We would talk at length about the focus of each image and he would give me cues and bits of information so that I could match the tone of the text as much as possible. However, I didn't get to read the text until much later. I think that helped me not to become cluttered with possibilities.

The process was a back and forth exchange with me sending sketches until I'd landed on the right angle, the right expression, etc. That's where all the excitement is, when you're first putting form to an idea, so I never rush it. 

Some of my own ideas ended up woven within, naturally, but I did my best to do justice to a style and focus that Robin created.

It was quite an honor, of course, that the 10th illustration--the one found only in the hardback edition--was based on an original painting of mine.

What medium did you choose to create the work in Clovenstone, and why? Is this your typical medium? If not, why did it differ?

McHenry: The medium I used was sepia ink on toned paper. I love traditional art and use it as much as possible, though I do a fair amount of commissioned work digitally. 

Toned paper is easy to work with, inspiring deep shadows and drama, so I used it for my own pleasure. I wasn't sure how the images would appear in the book--if the look would still fit--but that element was easily adjusted as the book grew, and I would say the two sort of merged organically. 

I love working with ink so I do quite a lot of it, especially in the month of October, of course. My main affection is for oils, but this book was asking for some old-world pen and ink crosshatching, and I was happy to oblige. 

If you have done any of the work in Clovenstone, which of “The Workings” were most potent for you? For your practice? Do you continue to refer back to this book?

McHenry: I think I was most captivated by the use of "The Great and Terrible Names" and also "Dream Incubation." 

As I've said, dreams are a flowing and constant part of my life so incubation has been a fascinating and rewarding experiment. The use of Great and Terrible Names is a fresh, dark take on my beloved practical magic. I'm thoroughly enjoying testing myself with these works.

Dreams are a flowing and constant part of my life…

Pertaining to the above question: How has Clovenstone inspired your artwork outside of what you created for the book? How has it or continued to impact your art, your creative processes?

McHenry: Illustrating Clovenstone brought out more of a desire to create scenes of the occult world in action. I’ve grown an even greater appreciation for images that tell partial stories to whet the viewer’s curiosity and not completely satiate it. Indeed, I believe that magic already does that to us.

Would you say Clovenstone introduced you to something new or did you find yourself comfortable in the current before creating the artwork for it?

McHenry: I’ve read several of Mr. Artisson’s other works so I was familiar with his practice and style. This book is its own creature, as readers well know, so I was content to be led and let it unfold in time.

Can we look forward to any future occult projects/books featuring your artwork?

McHenry: Yes indeed! There is a large project on the horizon which isn’t quite ready to be discussed, but will contain more of my pen and ink work. 

Also, soon I will be releasing my first book, “The Thousand Fruit Tree and Other Pagan Fairy Tales,” a modern set of fairy tales told in the Grimm style specifically for the magical community. It will contain many, many full-page color illustrations carefully crafted by me. 

Each time we express that little-seen side of ourselves, others get to view our distinctive fingerprint. Those imprints are something special, uniquely human, and they will last longer than our lives.

If you could recommend one book to neophytes or potential artists, what would it be and why?

McHenry: Oh my. That’s a tough one. 

I think the most important book any newcomer could have is the one that inspires them to begin today. Magic is in the action so I encourage everyone to find a place and step in immediately. Spellbooks were my place but it might be elsewhere for others.

Older spellbooks like Valerie Worth’s “Crone’s Books” and Kathryn Paulsen’s Complete Book of Magic and Witchcraft we’re greatly inspiring to me since I first picked them up in the 90s. Mastering Witchcraft by Paul Huson is another that has a spirit of its own. 

Art is a similar beast. I find anatomy and reference books inspiring but that might be a little dull for others. The Spectrum series, however, is an annual collection of the best in contemporary fantasy art and is always a good bet for feeling the creative flow. 

In the end, though, creativity and magic are both tied to something deep within. Each time we express that little-seen side of ourselves, others get to view our distinctive fingerprint. Those imprints are something special, uniquely human, and they will last longer than our lives.

Check out the artist’s social media links below to learn more.

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