Supergraph 2015

supergraph

Hi folks!

I’m in Melbourne for Supergraph – it’s a 3-day contemporary graphic art fair that’s celebrating design, print and illustration and is chock-full of workshops, games and fun for the entire family! It’s on from 13th to 15th February so if you’re in the vicinity, come on by and maybe we’ll bump into each other! ;)

For updates and pictures, follow me on Instagram!

Probably Nothing: not-your-average comic about cancer

Probably-Nothing

 

Matilda Tristram sent me her book, Probably Nothing: A Diary of not-your-average Nine Months, and it’s one of those books that begs to be finished in one sitting (I did it in two, but only because I had to tear myself away for something urgent – otherwise I could have chugged along without caring about the time!) It’s a graphic memoir that recounts her journey – from finding out she had cancer while she was pregnant at 17 weeks, to giving birth to James, and to the end of her chemotherapy. I loved it. It was honest, open, and incredibly real – I could imagine the things Matilda said in her head (you know, the things you wouldn’t say out loud!) I appreciated her humour and openess in expressing her thoughts, especially when she recounts her experience with people who mean well but could do better.

I had a chance to email her about the book, and I hope you enjoy reading the interview below!

Her book Probably Nothing is available on Amazon, and you can see the rest of her work on her website.

I love your book – your frankness and matter-of-factness of dealing with cancer AND being pregnant for the first time is just wow. Can you tell us why you decided to pen all your experience down, and how did it all begin?

Hello and thanks! I’m glad you liked it. There were several reasons; I’ve been writing stories and comics for years, for my job as a children’s author and for fun, writing about life is what I do and love.

I’d never made a diary comic because my day-to-day existence didn’t seem interesting enough, but suddenly it was. It was peculiar and morbidly fascinating (what my body was doing / the procedures I had to undergo), hilarious (how people reacted to my illness) and terrifying (the possibility that my son and I might not survive). That type of fear made ordinary things seem worth writing about. I wanted to record as much as possible in case I died and had to stop experiencing anything. My memories from the time are very clear, I can ‘see’ the wards and consulting rooms in perfect detail and remember exactly how people spoke and what they said. Scenes play over and over in my mind like frames from a storyboard so it was easy to draw.

1 month oldIt was also good to have something to do to at hospital, I was there three days a week for most of my treatment, which lasted for six months. It took my mind off the situation, while I was thinking about how to draw or word something I wasn’t thinking about how scared I was.

Penguin offered to publish the comic when I was about six months pregnant, almost halfway through the book. Until then I’d been putting it all online as I wrote it, to let friends and family know how we were doing without my having to have the same upsetting conversations again and again. Talking about it was difficult, but writing and drawing wasn’t at all.

Writing also meant I could gently criticise the way people talk about to ill people without having to confront anyone directly. I know people’s intentions are good, no one wants to do or say the wrong thing, but until you’ve had cancer or know someone who has, you might not realise that, for instance, talking about someone else you know who’s had cancer isn’t very helpful.

I found all the language of cancer, the ‘fighting talk’, hard to deal with too, and used the comic to question that. For example, people want to hear that you’re “thinking positive” when really you’re terrified. A popular belief is that if you think positive, you’re more likely to recover, which is complete nonsense and makes cancer patients feel guilty for worrying.

My diagnosis came quite late; the tumour was large and had started to spread. It was very difficult to get any doctors to take my symptoms seriously and my son and I very nearly died as a result. I wanted the comic to raise awareness so that the same mistakes could be avoided with other patients.

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Did you approach a publisher for the book, or did they come to you after you put your webcomics online?

After I put the comic online and then the Guardian newspaper approached me and asked to feature some pages in their magazine. I got a great response from that so approached a few publishers.

How has the response to your book been? Was it what you had expected it to be?

The response has been wonderful. The online comics and cancer communities were so encouraging while I was writing and having treatment, it was great to already have their support when the book came out.

When I read it now, I can’t believe how open I was about some things. I think at the time I felt like if everyone knew about what we were going through I wouldn’t feel so isolated in the experience. I always get emotional when people tell me that reading those really raw bits helped them through treatment or with caring for someone else.

Another response has been relief on finding that there are funny bits in the book. I suppose devastating things can also be very funny. The book is also about the rest of life as well as cancer; friendship, love, family and living in London so it’s not all heavy stuff.

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Now that your book is out and people have identified you as the lady who survived cancer while being pregnant – has this affected you in any way? Do you feel as though you’d like to move on, or are you keen to explore the topic of cancer further in your work?

I’m glad to be back at my old job teaching new students who don’t know anything about it, and working on new things that aren’t related to cancer at all.

Although I’m not making more work about cancer, I am enjoying going to conferences and visiting medical schools, to see how comics could be used to improve diagnostic techniques and communication with patients.

What have you learned from this whole experience? Of having cancer, to beating it, to having James, and then this book?

I should have some righteous platitudes ready for this bit, but I can’t think of any! I loved life before I got ill and didn’t need to get cancer to ‘appreciate the small things’ etc… I’ve had a crash course in oncology and been amazed by what my body has endured, how it has healed, and by it’s ability to produce a healthy and happy son on top of everything else. Bodies are amazing.

19-copy

 

Can you give us a bit of advice on what’s the best thing we can do (or say) to people who have cancer, or are undergoing treatments for it? What’s the best thing someone has said to you or has done for you?

What I loved was when people did things without asking ‘is there anything I can do?’, like bringing dinner, tidying the flat, or dropping off something nice (and non-cancer-related). All the flowers got a bit overwhelming but one friend gave me a rubber peanut and a pencil case with my favourite type of pen in, which was lovely.

Probably Nothing

You’re a teacher, animator, and writer – what advice do you have for artists who are trying to make their mark on the world?

Put it all online!

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Thanks so much Matilda!

Probably Nothing is available on Amazon, and I highly recommend getting a copy for yourself and/or loved ones who are going through health issues (minor or major) – it’s funny, touching, real (yes, I mentioned this several times already, I know) and best of all, uplifting.

Artist Interview: Sarah Beetson

Sarah Beetson

 

I’m heading up to Australia next week for Supergraph 2015, and one of the artists who will be heading up a masterclass over there is Sarah Beetson, of whom I had the pleasure of interviewing! Read on about what makes her tick and how she ended up working with the fun people of Supergraph!

Name: Sarah Beetson
Website |  BlogShop 
Location:
Wongawallan, SE Queensland, Australia (I spend 3-6 months per year in the UK / USA)

Illustration media:
An inexhaustive list of materials which I am constantly adding to, but often includes paper, wood, photographic prints or fabric, spray paint, tissue paper and collage, Pilot G Tec C pens, acryl-gouache, markers, gel pens, crayon, stickers, vintage magazine clippings, beads, sequins, letraset…. and more.

Tell us a little more about yourself!

I was born in Manchester, UK and grew up in Cheshire, Cornwall, and London before moving to Melbourne, Australia in 2006, then to my boyfriends’ family farm in 2009, where I live in a converted dairy and have a giant art studio next door. As a child, my ambition was to be a childrens illustrator like Quentin Blake, and I would make my own illustrated, hand written stories a little along the lines of The Munch Bunch and The Garden Gang, both of which were illustrated by young girls. My grandmother ran a pub, so my brother and I spent our weekends there occupied with colouring in books and sketch pads. I studied Illustration at Falmouth in Cornwall, where I developed my signature style, before moving to London and interning in the fashion industry, eventually securing 2 agents and moving on to freelance illustration.

Are you a full-time artist?

Yes and no! I earn 100% of my living from illustration, working part-time as a talent scout for my agent, Illustration Ltd, and the rest of my time is spent freelancing as an illustrator and creating art for exhibitions.

 

Sarah Beetson

 

Where do you live? What stands out about living where you are, and what is your daily schedule like?

I live on a farm, which means I get to eat homegrown organic fruit and veg like avocados, macadamias, mangos, sweet potato, rocket and watermelon (and so much more!) on a daily basis! I have pet chickens who free range and will often spend the day hanging out with me in the studio (sometimes they even lay eggs in there, it’s a very creative place!) There’s also Mr Hoppity the wallaby who drops by daily, and a whole host of other wild animals like kookaburras, laurekeets, bandicoots and even the occaisional koala (on the downside, we also get snakes and spiders!) The climate is sub-tropical so we get sunshine most days, we are surrounded by rainforest and palm tress and the beach is a 25 minute drive. We are also really close to both Brisbane and The Gold Coast, so I have the best of both worlds in terms of city inspiration and uninterrupted peaceful working envoironment. My living costs here are low, which allows me to travel for 3-6 months of the year, usually to the UK but I also spend a bit of time in the US and Europe. My daily schedule begins with a yoga class, then I tend to work on my agency scouting job in the mornings, going into the studio in the afternoon to work on commissions and art projects.

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start on a piece or a project?

I begin by brainstorming ideas and researching the subject in question. If possible, I will then do a photoshoot to get reference material to work with, or I will source images from my catalogue of photos, books etc or the internet. I always work from photographic reference – never straight from my head – I like to give myself all of the available information before beginning a piece. I will then create sketches, if for a client, once approved I will then beginthe final art by creating a background, working on paper, wood, photographic prints or fabric, often using spray paint, tissue paper and collage to form a background. I will then create the line work using Pilot G Tec C pens. The rest is a combination of an inexhaustive list of materials which I am constantly adding to, but often includes acryl-gouache, markers, gel pens, crayon, stickers, vintage magazine clippings, beads, sequins, letraset…. and more.

Sarah Beetson

 

What’s your favorite project so far?

Among these have been working with Stella McCartney in the early days of her label, working with Mary Portas at Yellowdoor, illustrating for major newspapers including The Globe and Mail (Toronto), The Times and The Telegraph (UK) and The Miami Herald, winning the Creative Review (UK) Best in Book prize for illustration in 2011, being shortlisted for the 2012 Metro Award (a $50,000 Australian Art Gallery Prize), exhibiting at Somerset House, London, as part of Pick Me Up 2012, and being invited to exhibit “Rainbowspective” in Paris in 2012, showing the best of the previous 5 years of my work. Recently I illustrated Wonder Woman for Smithsonian Magazine which was a great honour, and completed a 3 month artist residency in Coney Island, New York. I am creating an ongoing body of work around Coney, my favourite place of inspiration, and I’ll be returning again briefly in summer 2015. I just finished a fantastic campaign for a very big client which I can’t disclose until July 2015 – but that one was also very exciting!

Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek?

Sarah Beetson

I don’t usually have a sketchbook as such, I’m not quite that organised – things tend to end up all over the studio in parts. I did however keep one during my Coney Island residency, and some of the pages from it have been turned into a colouring boom which I’m launching at Supergraph in February (image above!)

Would you care to share your studio space as well?

Sarah Beetson

 

What or who inspires you?

I would say film is the greatest continual influence on my work. Particularly the films of John Waters have had a profound affect on my aesthetic, in that they have really encouraged me to find my own artistic voice and not be constrained or afraid to censor myself in any way. The 1993 classic True Romance has been very influential on me — I even named my Camden Market clothing label ‘Clarence & Alabama’ after the lead characters, back in 2003. It is the candy colored, sun-drenched, palm trees and cheap motels combined with Elvis, rockabilly and ‘white trash’ culture that has saturated my work the most. I try to take in two movies a day, and can often spend a day in the city cinema hopping and taking in five or six films.
Growing up in the 80s and early 90s definitely influenced my colour palette, saturated with rainbow, pastel and neon tones. I’m sure that the colourful cartoons and TV of the 1980s, like The Care Bears, Wuzzles, Popples, The Racoons, Teddy Ruxpin, Punky Brewster, Jem and The Holograms and The Garbage Pail Kids were a big influence on my later colour palette.
In terms of other artists, over the years I have enjoyed the work of Antoni Gaudi, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Julie Verhoeven, David Downton, Antonio Lopez, Jamie Hewlett and many, many more.

 

Sarah Beetson

Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your style changed since then?

When I first started out, my style was definately a lot more loose. I developed it by bringing together all of the different art materials I liked to work with, and combining them using the blind contour drawing technique. So early results were quite squiggly lines, and the drawing was much more rough. In the years that followed I have definately tightened up my drawing skills, and as a result, my work has a tighter finish. Here’s a then and now look at the difference:

Here’s what I did in 2001/2:

And here’s what I did in 2014:

Sarah Beetson

 

Sarah Beetson

 

What’s your favourite tool?

Hmmm, a toss up between Pilot G Tec C and Maica pens and Holbein Acryla gouache.

What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
I am happy for people to interpret it as they please, but I hope that it continues to stand out as fairly unique in an internet image led world of saturated same-same art and illustration styles.

Tell us a little bit more about your show for Supergraph 2015. What do you have planned? How did you initially get involved?

I met Mikala whose brainchild is Supergraph, a few years back through our involvement with L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Week. We met up again whilst I was exhibiting at the similar Pick Me Up Graphic Arts Fair at Somerset House in London, and we both mused that Australia needed something similar. I exhibited last year at the Inaugural Supergraph and it was a great success, so it is something I hope to continue to do annually. Last year I gave more of an overview of my work; this year will have a focus on my Coney Island project. I’ll be exhibiting painted polaroids, as well as creating bespoke versions for visitors to order onsite. I will have a Coney Island capsule clothing collection, more original artworks, and my onsite sketchbook available as a printed colouring in book, as well as postcards, badges, print leggings, scarves, saucy playing cards, and a plethora of other goodies.

What’s next for you in the coming few years?

More travel, USA and UK this year, possibly more exhibitions with a focus on graphic arts fairs both in Australia and overseas, hopefully some delicious illustration commissions with exciting brands and publications, and developing my Coney Island body of work further.

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Catch Sarah at Supergraph in Melbourne, Australia from 13 to 15 February 2015 at The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton – if you’re heading there, drop me a note and let’s meet up!

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