Holly St Clair talks to us about Dick Bruna, simplifying facial expressions, and drawing as their form of release
Our latest amazing collaborator, Holly St Clair has always been “fascinated by the ways our brain craves connection.” “We see faces in woodwork and the moon and we give our cars names,” they say, “we can’t help but empathise.” Continuing to channel empathy in their illustrations, Holly’s new release features a bunch of brightly-coloured fruit with feelings.
Having worked across projects from Vans' Camden Pride window painting to a recent incredible design for Communitea, the London based illustrator has been captivating us with their practice for a while now. They make work that’s instantly recognisable for its whimsical style, themes around emotions, and, of course, their use of intuitively captured facial expressions. Now for a new collection with us, Holly has harnessed their irrefutable talent for relatable work with ten minimalist but playfully drawn illustrations of the likes of apple cores, bananas, and friendly flies. Keeping joy at the forefront of each image, the fruit-themed series is littered with small phrases and humour, but also a feeling of reducing thoughts and emotions into something lighter - something Holly also says is important to their practice.
We got the absolute pleasure of speaking to Holly about this and more below, getting some advice from the artist about forging community as a creative and always remembering to reach out for help.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your practice and some of the disciplines you work across!
I’m a London-based illustrator working in mostly digital mediums. I work on projects about relatability - I try to evoke joy in my work.
What gave you the idea for your new series with us?
It was an idea I had floating around in my head for a while - I first imagined the series as a zine or art book, then an animation, and now it lives as this. I think the forms and colours of fruit lend themselves to my style of illustration - they’re these instantly recognisable symbols with their own connotations and meaning, depending on your culture, of course.
What is your favourite fruit from the series - as an illustration, and as a snack?
My favourite fruit to draw is definitely a banana - they are the funniest fruit for a reason.
To snack on it has to be mango! My grandmother used to make me sticky rice with mango and coconut cream, it was as amazing as it sounds.
What do you like to listen to while working?
I mostly listen to the world’s most depressing podcasts. Some favourites include Trash Future, Well There’s Your Problem, Behind the Bastards, Worst Year Ever, It Could Happen Here - can you tell I’m a big Robert Evans fan? I’m a bit of a politics nerd and this is how I get my fix.
I really loved your recent interview on Intern's 'The F Word' on trying, to a certain extent, to embrace failure. What words would you offer creatives who are facing a moment of things going wrong?
Reach out for help! I recently had a very low point, I couldn’t pay for my website subscription and so it was taken offline. I felt really embarrassed by it, like a failure who didn’t deserve to be helped. I wanted to bury my head and hide from it but because of the nature of my business and my reliance on an online presence, I needed to inform my audience on Instagram so that they would know my portfolio and shop would not be accessible for the time being. I didn’t expect anything from it but the response was totally overwhelming. I had multiple individuals offering to pay the subscription for me, people buying work to help my expenses, and even offers of server space. I’m now working with a designer to get back up and running! If I hadn’t reached out that would not have happened. I completely believe that if you want or need something you have to ask.
What’s something you’ve worked on this year that holds meaning for you?
Definitely the Pride window painting for Vans Camden. It felt like my first project ‘back’ after the lockdown in 2020, I love working in spaces and with people and it was something I had really missed!
I’ve been working privately on some projects that represent some great ambitions of mine: writing children’s book stories and learning how to design and make clothing. They aren’t ready to be seen and I’m not currently working with anybody on these projects, but they’ve been lovely spaces to play in when paid projects have been scarce.
Your work really stands out for how you tackle complex emotions with playful imagery and phrases. What draws you to visualising feelings?
It comes from a desire to be understood and find some kind of community in the ways my wonky brain works. I have OCD, drawing creates this great release in being able to reduce my sometimes scary obsessions down to what they are - silly and small and not above being put through a shredder.
How important is empathy and staying connected to others in your practice?
It’s everything! I’m fascinated by the ways our brain craves connection - we see faces in woodwork and the moon and we give our cars names, we can’t help but empathise.
What’s a piece of illustration or artwork you find yourself returning to for inspiration?
I’m forever inspired by Dick Bruna, he has been a huge influence in my work. He was a master at the tension between the expressive and minimal.
You are a master of simple, but spot-on facial expressions. When did you start drawing them?
They grew from a project at university. I created a photo zine called ‘Relatable Content’ - the project was about pareidolia and how that relates to empathy. Pareidolia is the phenomenon of seeing faces in things, so I had photos of door handles looking angry and even a scared toilet. I challenged myself to reduce my expressions to the bare minimum to evoke an empathetic reaction - three dots and a line seemed to do the trick for most people.
Last but not least: with so many great facial expressions in your work, what's your favourite emoji?