Creativity and Mental Health: An Interview with Ian Fennelly

Ian Fennelly

Ian Fennelly's urban sketch London Bridge

By Brenda Murray

Studio 56 artist and urban sketcher Ian FennellyAfter attending the Wimbledon School of Art where Ian Fennelly gained a 1st Class Honours degree., he worked as an artist, selling his work and participating in exhibitions. Then he became a primary school teacher for ages 4-11 for ten years. While teaching he was still exhibiting. More recently he became an Advisory Teacher, that is, someone who trains the teachers. Now he is working as an art consultant. Ian sells his work internationally, teaches workshops around the world, is represented by three agents, and does demos and workshops online. Ian is married and has two grown children.

urban sketcher Ian Fennelly

“I want to address mental health and feeling good through creativity when I teach,” Ian explains, “because it’s so important. Wherever we are, whether we’re in a piazza, near a bridge or in a square, I teach people to look closely and carefully and to see and feel what’s around them.”

It’s important to Ian that his students feel good, welcome and comfortable in his workshops. Through this process of really looking and becoming aware of their environment, students begin to feel more comfortable and relaxed. He tells them to live in the moment because that moment will never happen again.

urban sketch by Ian Fennelly

“I help people realize that they occupy the same space—that they are existing in the same space--as the thing that they are sketching. You are standing in the same space as that thing. People should draw what they see including a part of themselves--like their foot for example—they should include that in the sketch.”

Taking an art workshop helps foster a sense of connectedness with the world around us. Students realize that they are part of something bigger than themselves—that they are living in a connected world and that they are connected to that world, and that the world is a beautiful and interesting place when we really start to look at it.

Some things take a while to be seen. We all see differently. We bring to a sketch our memory and our history and that’s why all sketches are different.

“I want people to feel good about themselves after they have sketched in one of my workshops. Making people feel good, comfortable and happy--that’s a real privilege.”

Typically, Ian leads his students through three stages when he teaches. In stage one, he encourages his students to really look at the big shapes and how the shapes interact with each other. In stage two, students draw the medium shapes, colour, tone and values. In stage three, students draw in the details, texture, and surface quality such as the chewing gum and cracks in the pavement.

urban sketch by Ian Fennelly Amsterdam Amble

The final stage is adding the colour—or not.

Ian explains that there are two ways of looking at colour. First, externally—we look and see the local colour of objects and we may choose to paint our sketch using those colours.

Or we could look internally and think about how we are feeling at the moment. Are we cold, happy, full, nervous? What colour best describes how we feel at that moment? Those are the colours that we should use. At the same time, we draw on our memory and experience to choose our colour palette.

Or you could use a combination of the two.

“But colours leave you behind when you allow them to interact with each other,” he explained. “What if we are just facilitators of colour, tone and depth? What if we allow the colours to go off in their own direction? That’s when the art happens.”

Get to know Ian by following him on Instagram and Facebook.

Upcoming Workshops with Ian Fennelly

 Ian has several upcoming local workshops. Click HERE for more information.

Ian Fennelly products available here

You may also wish to purchase merchandise featuring Ian’s designs:




Amsterdam Amble design






Strolling Porto design

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  • casseus on

    je dirais que l’aquarelle est le seul medium qui existe dans ma vie, je veux etre parmi les grands aquarelistes, j’aime la facon dont vous faites avec le medium vous avez le maitrise de l’eau tres superbe, a partir d’aujourdh’ui vous etes mon Maitre je vais regarder tout vos videos que vous avez mis en ligne. je vous dit merci pour vos secret que vous avez mis pour nous et ainsi les techiques de l’eau. j’espere qu’un jour vous vous m’ecriverez. je suis un haitien j’ai un diplome en art plastique et un diplome a l’huile au chilie, ‘’ casa de la cultura’’. je vous dit deja merci pour tout vos efforts.

  • Kate on

    The link to Ian’s workshops is a 404.

  • Paulo Simões on

    Gostaria de apreender a desenhar como o Sr. Será que me pode ensinar? Através de alguns tutoriais.
    Paulo Simões

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