Olivia Mew is an illustrator and textile designer based in Montreal, Canada. She is also the brains behind the wonderful Stay Home Club website, an illustrated home textiles and print range designed by a heap of amazing artists, including Olivia.
I’m so grateful for the grounding and honesty that Olivia conveys within this interview. Look at what can be achieved with such realism!
Check out all of Olivia’s art projects at the following links – there’s so much to explore!
Hi Olivia, how are you? Could you tell Pikaland a little about yourself, and an insight into what you’re currently working on?
Hi! I’m doing well, thanks. I would describe myself as a sort of creative businessperson. I love to draw and design and sell things. I’m currently spending lots of time developing products for my website Stay Home Club and starting to explore areas of illustration that are new to me.
Has art always had a place in your life?
Yes! I was always the kid at summer camp who bailed on sports and spent every day at the “arts and crafts barn”.
How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art your career? A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to do that.
Etsy and the general idea of selling online were hugely helpful to me – the first sale I made was enough to convince me that my work was good enough that strangers would pay money for it. That’s a huge confidence boost.
You have a BFA in Fibres. Do you think that you could be or would have been doing what you’re doing now, were it not for studying art in this way?
Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist?
My own degree didn’t really contribute to what I’m doing now. My school placed fibres within a fine art context with a real emphasis on concept. There was little technique taught (some teachers were obsessive about one technique: weaving or dyeing, etc but I somehow never wound up with those teachers!) I do love textiles very much, and certainly getting better acquainted with them throughout my university years might have prepared me on some level to work with them in Stay Home Club. Most of the work I do now is on the illustration/design side of things and I leave the messy work to others. I like hanging out at my computer drawing things better.
That said, I sometimes regret never going to school for illustration. I’ve come to this path somewhat by myself and I’m definitely lacking in knowledge. I never took a drawing class or learned about proper composition or colour theory – I credit the internet with most of the techniques and skills I’ve developed. For the past few weeks I’ve been listening to this illustration podcast out of New York and I’ve been totally surprised to hear how much weight professionals in the field place on what art school they went to, what teachers they had, who they graduated with, etc. It’s a whole other world for me. I’ve made most of my illustration contacts and done my networking online. So no, I don’t think it’s imperative, but I’m sure it’s the right way to go for some people.
Since leaving University, you have been working a lot with illustrative and surface design, designing and creating printed textile products; notably illustrated canvas patches and silk scarves, and previously craft work such as hand-stitched stuffed felt dolls (which I adored).
Why did you wish to focus on making and presenting your work in this way, over, say conventional paper-based work? What is it about textiles that you enjoy so much?
So yeah, I do really like textiles even though I’m often not physically printing or sewing them. I love the idea of beautiful things that are also useful rather than solely decorative. I also love the fact that woven cloth (or non-woven cloth – love me some wool felt!) isn’t fragile like paper. You can generally play with it, lie on it, stick it in a washing machine, etc. The durability makes me feel like I’m creating something substantial.
I really loved those felt dolls too and I’ve heard the same from others many times, but in the end they just weren’t able to make money. I would hand stitch them for 6 or 7 hours straight and then sell them for $35. When it came down to it, my biggest goal in life was to support myself without having to work a day job, so I had to go towards something that could be more profitable. I reckon that I could have just significantly upped my prices, like many other makers have done (and rightly so!) but at the time it just didn’t cross my mind.
What print techniques do you use on your textile work, and how did you first learn these print skills?
Do you enjoy the hands-on approach of printing, having a hand in everything you make?
These days nearly everything I sell is digitally printed or screen printed by professionals. I still feel that I have a hand in everything I make, as the design is arguably the most important aspect of the finished product. As far as hands-on printing, if I’m being honest, I don’t like messy work. I have serious admiration for those artisans who create stunning hand printed pieces but that’s not me.
What is the art community, or ‘scene’, like in Montreal, Canada?
Which particular Montreal artists, events, galleries, projects, magazines (etc) excite you right now?
This is always a tough question because I’m not so much a local community kind of person. I’m big on alone time and not so big on going out (hence Stay Home Club). I do have a group of amazing, creative pals in Montreal, most of whom I probably first came across on the internet. Eep! They’re mostly fashion designers, photographers, jewellery makers, vintage shop owners and there are a few illustrators in the mix. So here are a few of their endeavours that I think are extra amazing:
My friend Audrey Cantwell designs the fashion line Ovate (www.ovate.ca) which is seriously badass. She’s been gaining a devoted following and her stuff is incredible.
My friend Elizabeth Hudson designs Ursa Minor (www.ursaminorstudio.com) and her clothing is divine. I bought a dress from her last year that is maybe my favourite garment that I’ve ever owned. Elizabeth’s husband Raymond Biesinger (www.fifteen.ca) is a hugely inspiring illustrator who has actually been a big help to me with advice, etc.
You run Stay Home Club, a wonderful site featuring some really exciting illustrated, printed textiles, from bed linen, to totes, to patches, and beyond.
Where did the idea come from, and why did you wish to make it a collaborative project, featuring, highlighting and working along so many other artists and illustrators in your ranges?
I’d been working on small items like patches and scarves using my own illustrations for some time, so I had the contacts and knew how to get these products made. Even better, I had avenues to do nearly everything locally with the exception of some digital printing in the US. It struck me that I had so many online friendships with people doing fantastic things and I wanted to make something of that. The idea of doing something with a broad audience consisting of the fans of each individual artist was appealing to me. I like how you can be a fan of, say, Rik Lee and come over to the site to check out his pillow cases. But then you might navigate to a patch by a lesser known artist and that’s an awesome discovery. As the collaborative work did well I started bringing more of my own aesthetic into the site, and now most of my design effort goes towards products for Stay Home Club.
Which artists have collaborated with you, so far, on Stay Home Club products?
How have these collaborations come about – were the artist already friends and aquaintences, or were you simply an admirer of their work?
There are too many to name here! Here’s a full list: http://stayhomeclub.com/pages/artist.
Many of the artists were people I knew either because I’d met them here or we were friends online. A few were just people I admired who said “yes” when I approached them, those absolute diamonds! Since starting I’ve also received lots and lots of submissions, some of which have made it onto the site.
Do you have a dream-list of people that you’d like to have involved?
I do, but it’s secret!
A lot of the people you have worked with and featured in Stay Home Club have been women – is this at all purposeful?
It’s not. I don’t believe that women have to be given special treatment. I choose artists whose work I’m aware of and that I love – the fact that many of them have been women is purely coincidence.
What do you enjoy about collaborative working, and getting many different people’s ideas feaured with Stay Home Club?
Definitely the idea that artists with a bigger fan base bring in eyes that then discover the work of others. It’s also just nice to know I’m not in this alone even though sometimes it feels that way when I spend entire days packing orders! It’s so amazing having the support of all these people whose work I respect so much. Knowing that your favourite artists are on board with your pet project is a pretty great feeling.
Do you feel like you are developing a sense of community with Stay Home Club? How important to you is ‘community’ (artisticly or otherwise)?
Maybe Stay Home Club is a bit of a selfish community – like I said, I love the support that I get for this endeavour from all my amazing collaborators. I love sending out dumb tweets and getting replies from SHC pals. I know for sure that some of the artists I work with have become friendly with other Stay Home Club contributors and that’s awesome. Having an online sense of community has always been important to me – strangely, more so than being part of a local one. We probably shouldn’t talk about the Livejournal days…but it probably all began there. I also somewhat credit the fact that I sell anything online to Neopets.com. So yeah..the internet. It’s a crazy place.
Is there particular reason and importantce of the emphasis of the project being a ‘Club’ rather than just a regular website (I know from being a purchasor in the past, that everybody who buys something receives a Club membership card); is it important to you that this project inspires a sense of community?
There’s a dichotomy inherent in the name of Stay Home Club that I think is representative of the way I feel about community. For me, being part of our “club” is more of a personal thing than a group one. It’s about embracing your inner recluse and not having to feel guilty when you don’t want to go out and party. I always felt pressure in my late teens and early twenties from friends who didn’t understand that I wanted to go to bed at 10 PM on Friday night after an evening spent hanging out on the internet. This is a club you can be part of without leaving your house. So I guess the kind of community that’s important to me is the network of people who don’t necessarily have to hang out together, but maybe feel the same way about certain parts of life and who’ll be there to say “don’t worry dude, I like cats more than people too”.
You regularly draw angsty girls, and a recent patch released by Stay Home Club is the ‘Angst Gang’ patch.
Is angst and anxiety something that you personally experience, whether regarding your art, or life in general?
How do you think we can overcome our angst or anxieties in order to live creative lives and do all that we want to do?
My experiences with angst were more of a teenage thing for me, but that’s a part of my life that I’m fascinated with now. The things that seemed devastating to me 10 years ago are hilarious to me now. I guess it’s kind of cathartic being able to laugh at myself and at the problems I used to think would ruin my life. I do really love sarcasm and self deprecating humour, and I think being able to laugh at your flaws and insecurities is really important. Things like angst gang are part of that for me.
Similarly, what are your top tips for others who wish to be creative but feel stuck, don’t know where to start, or feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ to do so?
This is tricky for me, because I’m kind of a pessimist/realist on this topic but I don’t want to bum anyone out or trample on their dreams. I guess I would say that if it doesn’t come naturally, maybe it’s worth thinking about whether it’s worth your time. For me the point of what I do is being able to support myself doing something that I love (most of the time). If you’re having more of an unpleasant and hard time, struggling through it, maybe it’s not for you.
Have you always had people in your corner to support your artistic ventures and to tell you it’ll be ok?
I’ve always had supportive people in my life, but for me that doesn’t mean them telling me “it’ll be ok”. I like brutal honesty. My parents are both lawyers and I knew from day one that choosing to go to art school would leave me in a very different financial position than the one I grew up in. They’ve both been supportive, but realistic. They were the ones who nagged me when I was making dolls and said “how much are you paying yourself hourly?” when I didn’t really know why that should apply to me. Similarly, my boyfriend is supportive and proud but not afraid to tell me when something I’m doing isn’t working. He’s a great second pair of eyes for my work.
What are your tools and materials of choice when illustrating?
Generally my computer, wacom tablet, Photoshop and Illustrator. Lately I’ve been trying to do more non-digital work and experimenting with India ink which I love.
Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?
I can’t really put it into words – I just do it. When I stop for a while it feels bad, so I start again.
Do you have any top tips for overcoming procrastination, or optimising opportunities?
(I ask this as I (as many others are) am a huge sufferer of procrastination, and not always pushing myself to the front, and I’m left with endless ‘still-to-do’ lists, and ‘wish-I’d-done’ regret lists as a result).
In my experience, you need to have a big motivator that keeps you productive. I guess my drive comes from never wanting to go back to a day job – I worked as an assistant at a law firm for 5 years and the day I quit I vowed to do everything in my power to never do something like that again. So for me it’s a matter of needing to make stuff and sell stuff in order to keep living this life that I really like. Having a financial motivator like needing to pay the rent is a pretty solid reason to keep working!
Where do you make your work? What’s your studio or making-space like?
Aesthetically, what sort of things have you filled your studio with in order for it to be as motivating/inspiring/workable/engaging as possible?
I recently moved my studio from a room in my apartment to a second apartment in my building. I finally have the space to keep each task separate – a sewing & drawing table, computer table, packing table. Each one is set up to be used really easily so tasks go as smoothly and quickly as possible. For example, the packing table has my packing materials lined up in the order I use them. Little details like that make all the difference in keeping me sane. I have a cork board that I change up every so often with new stuff that’s inspiring and informing my work and a bunch of books that I use for reference on a regular basis. Other than that the focus has been keeping it uncluttered so there’s not too much on the walls. I save that part of my style for my living space.
How do you manage your time in order to devote as much time as you’d like to your art?
I try to keep consistent work hours. I go down to the studio at 9 AM every weekday and finish by 6 or 7. In the evenings I try to relax, spend time with my boyfriend and sometimes work on non-art tasks (like answering these questions!). Same goes for weekends, I used to work all the time but moving the studio out of my apartment has really helped me establish a regimented work week. As far as each day goes, when I get to the studio I jot down all the tasks for the day in my agenda and tick them off as I complete them. If I didn’t do that I’d get too carried away on tangents and never finish the work at hand!
Which people, projects, or artists have made the biggest impact on your personal life or shaped your artistic vision?
Oh man, I feel like is such a huge question! I lived in England for a few years as a teenager and would just wander around the V&A with my jaw dropped – historical artists and crafts people have had a huge impact on me. I namedrop William Morris a lot just because I can look at his patterns for hours. Then there’s a group of contemporary fine artists whose work I always gravitate towards in a gallery setting – people like David Shrigley and Marcel Dzama whose works are illustrative, clever, a bit dark. Then there are the folks I’ve come across online who have blown my mind and influenced me in one way or another– some whose work I’ve followed for a few years (Fumi Mini Namakura, Ghostpatrol, Sam Weber, Kozyndan…I could go on for ages) and some whose work I’ve been following recently and am obsessed with (Kristina Collantes, Laura Callaghan, Hellen Jo…ad infinitum). I love looking at other peoples’ work so much. It fills me with equal parts jealousy and overwhelming inspiration.
What’s your favorite art project that you’ve worked on so far?
Ahhh I really don’t know! Just recently I’ve started working on a personal project consisting of large letters and numbers made up of lots of different elements in a limited colour palette. It’s fun. I guess that’s just what’s at the front of my brain right now!
What gives you the incentive/confidence/push to continue making your art?
If/when I stop I feel like crap. That, and needing to pay the rent.
You seem to juggle so many ideas, projects and creativities.
What puts you in the best mood for creating, what keeps you motivated, and makes you want to continue being an artist and juggling all your projects, even when it feels overwhelming?
I definitely have some kind of creative ADD! Small successes make everything worth it. When you bust your ass developing a product, working on the designs, orchestrating the making of it, and then it sells well? Yeah. That rules. I’m a self-centred creature in many ways – getting compliments on work and/or happy reactions from customers often makes my day and puts me in a kick-ass mood. I’m also fiercely competitive and when I get a good idea I want to put it into action immediately before someone else does!
Do you believe everyone can be creative in their own life?
Sure. Go for it, dudes.
[box icon="heart"] ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melanie Maddison is a zine writer and former postgraduate Women’s Studies student from Leeds, UK. Her main zine, Colouring Outside The Lines has been going since 2004 and interviews contemporary female artists. She’s our resident chief interview lady, and you can read all the interviews she has conducted for Pikaland here! [/box]