Painting BA (hons)

Elle Johnston


Stab bound book of pen and ink drawings

What is a hybrid? It is the combination of different genes to create new creatures. My book is a combination of both existing and new hybrids in a pull-tab format.

Inspired by the creatures in Gessner’s Historia Animalium, each pull-tab has a creation of its own, allowing the viewer to imagine a world of fantastical and mystical beasts.


Source material

Conrad Gessner, Icones Animalium Quadrupedum Viviparorum et Oviparorum quæ in Historia Animalium Conradi Gesneri Libro I. et II. Describuntur, (Strasbourg, 1560)
DiscoverEd URL

Shelf mark

Special Collections: JY 95/2

Playfair location: L*.16.42

Elle Johnston

Portrait & interview

1. What was it about this project and brief that originally appealed to you?

I have to admit, I am not a lover of libraries, I struggle to engage with the overall lay out and environment of them, this is what drew me to this. I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone and try create work which is completely different and out of my comfort zone.

2. What was your approach in searching for material that you wanted to work with?

I wanted to find something which I could relate my work to. I started off by searching for George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ but unfortunately this wasn’t part of the Playfair so I had to find a book which was relatable to animals and human forms. A number of books were suggested to me but I found Gessner’s ‘Historia Animalium’ was found to be most suitable due to the unordinary ‘Hybrid’ like creatures which were created. Within my research I was just looking for something which would stand out but still relating to the work I was hoping to achieve.

3. Did you find anything about the project challenging?

I found the overall going to the library difficult due to not spending a lot of time in that environment and trying to find the overall book was also a challenge. Once I was able to find the book I was wishing to work with, it all became much easier to understand and I found it easier to tackle the project.

4. What unexpected discoveries did you manage to make during your research?

Throughout my research, I was amazed by the overall size and condition that the book was in. I didn’t expect that was that old to be in such a good condition. It was a surreal experience. Also, the way that you had to handle the book and the overall process of being able to get a book was also really surreal.

5. How has this project had impact on your art practice?

The way this project has influenced my art practice is that looking at Gessner’s book has allowed me to see someones imagination from such a long period ago. The fact that his work is similar to mine in the way that he is morphing mythical animals together to create a unique ‘hybrid’ like creature.

6. Did your final output end up as you’d envisaged?

Yes, I wanted my book to look as it is, the only thing I would have changed was the cover, firstly, I wanted the cover of the book to be in leather however, I was unable to get a piece of leather big enough in time. However, the use of the black paper has also worked well.

7. What advice would you give to someone doing this project next year?

The advice i’d give to someone is to get to the library as soon as possible and really understand the library as a whole, I found it difficult to understand the process as first. Really lock down your idea as well so that you can work on it a lot more.

Copyright & open licence

Copyright © Elle Johnston, The University of Edinburgh 2020 CC BY-SA

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

CC BY-SA license