Niels Maclellan is a Scottish born American artist that works primarily in the magic realism style and helps high school kids cope with life through creative expression as an art teacher in Arizona.

Maclellan, who moved to the U.S. at nine years of age, after spending much of his formative years in London, has enjoyed drawing since a young age. Although he was set along a different path for awhile when an art teacher criticized his drawing skills and ability to become an artist, Maclellan eventually found art again when he took some art classes in college on a dare. With his newly discovered passion for art and creativity, Maclellan earned a degree in art education and has since completed a master’s degree in educational technology.

Maclellan says his art, which largely captures the struggles that he sees his inner-city students face every day, is influenced by classic surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte, as well as more contemporary artists such as Todd Schorr, Eric Joyner, Vladimir Kush, and Mark Ryden. As with many artists of his style, MacLellan is also influenced by many writers.

The most influential author to my work is China Mieville. His imagery begs to be created in a visual format.

Maclellan has been creating digital art since 2004, where he utilizes traditional art skills combined with software tools such as Adobe Photoshop and various 3D illustration programs to express himself. His digital art has been included in numerous juried shows, published in CGW magazine, and featured in a recently released horror video game called “Red Rum: Time Lies”. Maclellan was selected to have two of his pieces displayed in the digital art gallery at the 2009 Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. At the expo, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer, enjoyed the ”Call Me” piece and now owns a print.

"Call Me"

Niels Maclellan would be best described as a magic realist digital painter that often leans toward dark dreamlike and surreal imagery. The social commentary and obsessively high detailed style of Maclellan’s work reminds me most of the style of the famous American painter, Peter Blume, but the lively color palette is perhaps influenced by some of his more favorite contemporary surrealist artists. The image titled “Call Me” is a masterful piece of art that clearly illustrates the social isolation that one can feel in an overcrowded world.

Some of Maclellan’s artwork, such as his piece titled “Rise up”, has a more whimsical nature, and the wise and inspirational viewpoint almost reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

"Rise up"

Maclellan’s art is wonderfully lit, textured, and the angle is always inspiring. The multiple levels of detail in the background draw you into the pieces almost as much as the subject, and no part of the canvas is spared a well balanced small jab at your consciousness. Because of the high level of detail of all of his images, and the well placed vantage point in each, MWP asked Maclellan how he begins to visualize such a huge project.


Usually I start with a general concept, or idea. This could be a compositional idea, a strange juxtaposition of objects or just notes on something I see that I feel the need to comment on.

I always have a sketchbook, so I’ll ether make notes or draw a sketch of the idea. Usually when I start on an image it ends up being a composite of several of the ideas in the book. Once I start the image, it always seems to take on a life of its own, and I’ll let the image dictate what the end results will be, sometimes even surprising me.

Besides just being aesthetically pleasing to the eye, Maclellan’s artwork primarily focuses on worthwhile messages to inspire personal and social change, while all of them comment on something commonplace in today’s society.

As a teacher, I  see cultural evolution first hand. Over the last ten years, I’ve seen how technology has changed youth culture and how teenagers today are becoming more tuned into technology and less tuned into each other, or the world around them. Most of my images tend to carry this theme of isolation, or a sense of escape. I can’t help but make images symbolizing the challenges these students face every day.

"Phantasma Mortis"

As an artist, Maclellan is clear about what motivates every individual piece, each of which he says takes him anywhere from a week to a month to complete. He says that there’s often a huge gap between his own motivations and the interpretations of those viewing his art, and Maclellan says that’s one of the reasons that he loves art so much. Maclellan’s art likely reminds each individual of struggles in their own personal lives and hopefully inspires something positive.

"Building the future"

It’s always interesting to hear how other people interpret the ideas I try to put forward. On occasion, their insights are even better than my own.

As an art teacher, I’m seeing less and less students coming into my classroom with any sort of art background, not even from elementary school. The students have a hard time expressing themselves, coming up with ideas, or even basic problem solving, let alone finding deeper meaning in images. Something I try to remedy each day.

You can check out more of the art of Niels Maclellan and read more about him and his art at his official Web site. Prints are available of select pieces from online art print retailer RedBubble, and most artwork is available directly from the artist, professionally printed to order on large format printers, if you contact him through his Web site. Maclellan’s imaginative, thought provoking, and inspirational artwork would be great to have in any classroom or office.

MWP would like to thank Niels for contributing his story and artwork and allowing us to interview him, and we wish him all the best in his important role in the future of art.

Please let me know which of Niels’ pieces is your favorite, and be sure to click on the “I heart this” button to show your love.