Poppy Crew takes us through finding colour palettes, long-term dreams and the freelancing process for her friendly, familiar practice
Poppy Crew’s artworks give you the space to take a breath. Based out of Bristol, Poppy works mainly with illustration, althought she also creates clay sculptures and works as a tattooist - a varied output she says helps to keep her curiosity levels high.
Combining cartoon elements with soft, carefully-layered shapes, Poppy always tries to encourage the comforting effect of her work through her style, something she says is often rooted in themes surrounding mental health. It’s also an aesthetic Poppy explains is a fairly recent development. “Over the last year or so I’ve felt like I’ve really started to grow as an artist,” she tells us. “I’m learning to like my aesthetic for the first time. Not too long ago, it felt very stagnant to me.” Branching out into other disciplines, Poppy learnt to play around and find inspiration for her drawing work via mediums like clay.
In a practice that perceptibly holds space for play, Poppy is channelling just that in a new collection illustrating outdoor moments. If summer has flown past you this year, Poppy Crew has illustrated some highlights - lounging in the grass, freshly cut flowers, and bugs getting everywhere.
Telling us more about the series and the varied everyday work freelancing entails, Poppy Crew invites us into her world below.
Could you tell us a bit about your aesthetic and how you landed on it?
I’d probably describe my aesthetic as quite ‘squishy’ and comforting if that makes sense. I try and keep it very cartoon-like through the way I use wiggly line work and blob-like shapes as details/shadows. One of my main focuses, when making my work, is to make sure I portray a sense of peace and calm as many of my illustrations subtly focus on themes of mental health, both my own and people in general, so I’d say that’s also a big part of what influences the aesthetic. I have had my work described as friendly and familiar because of my use of soft shapes, I loved that, so I try and hold onto that idea as I work.
My current art style and aesthetic is quite a recent development. Over the last year or so I’ve felt like I’ve really started to grow as an artist, I’m learning to like my aesthetic for the first time. Whereas, not too long ago, it felt very stagnant to me. I wasn’t ever truly happy with anything I drew. This made me branch out into different media like clay and painting, which I’d not used for years. I wanted to try and work in a less linear, less cold way and become looser, which is what I’ve been working on a lot recently. I think has really helped me to break out of that uninspired feeling and I think the way my clay creations ended up naturally looking just from playing around, influenced my new drawing aesthetic!
What does your process look like?
My art process always starts in the same way, with millions of little drawings in many different sketchbooks. Every idea I have or thing I notice that might inspire an illustration gets recorded in my sketchbooks. And I always have to have a couple different ones on the go, some days different sized sketchbooks or different types of paper are needed, if the sketchbook feels wrong I find it really hard to draw what’s in my head. I find I need to draw straight in pen first too with loose line drawings, as really quick initial ideas to keep me playful and loose with my work. This stops me over thinking the idea or drawing. However, I often redraw the same things over and over again to figure out how I want it to look and how I want to draw it, I’m not really sure why, I just find this helps me figure it all out!
I love drawing at my desk in my flat, most of the time this space helps me get into the right headspace, but sometimes I need a change of scenery particularly if a projects big or difficult, so I’ll go work in a café or in the park or somewhere around people. From my sketchbook I’ll usually move the illustrations into digital form using my iPad, by taking a photo or scan and then drawing over the top using Procreate, most of the time ending up with an image that looks nothing like the original drawing, but always with lots of colours.
What do you do for a break when you’re faced with mounting deadlines?
For my breaks when I’ve got a large amount of work on or even just a slower working day, I need to make sure I get enough time outside each day. It really helps to keep my head clear and focused. A lot of the time when I’m super busy with deadlines I can find it quite easy to neglect getting enough down time, and often find myself over working. But I recently got a little puppy to keep me company while I work from home full time and taking him on walks everyday has really helped me become better at taking a good amount of breaks! If I’m feeling particularly stressed about a project I’ll always take a moment to go and sit with him outside or take him to the park. Just being able to be outside and around nature with fresh air always makes me feel instantly more relaxed, as does having the structure of a routine that comes with being a dog owner.
One thing I’m also really bad at is knowing when to stop working, I get around this by making sure I plan things with people I care about in the evenings, so I know I definitely have to finish working at some point and it gives me some company and something to look forward to after working hard on my own all day.
How did you decide on this summery atmosphere for your new illustration series?
Recently these outdoor/summer themed vibes have carried through both my commission work and my personal work, and I think it’s come about as a reaction to the recent winter lockdowns. Spending those colder months focusing on the sunnier happier days that were coming helped me get through them and I found this really helped me to stay positive and hopeful, which is definitely evidently present in my work. This is the sort of positivity and feeling of calm that I want to make sure is present in my collection, it’s how I want people to feel when they look at my work. The thought of summer is always a happy one so that’s the emotion I wanted people to feel from looking at the prints!
Are there any real-life places or moments that inspired the illustrations?
I don’t feel like there was any specific moment as such, more just the time I mentioned previously of the winter lockdown months and the focus I had on things getting better. For such a long time the only thing we could actually do was to go outside and be around nature to get some sort of escape, which I think helped me start to notice and appreciate the smaller things, more than I maybe did before. This new appreciation of the smaller things made me want to create my prints around this too, things that bring joy like flowers, fresh fruit, being around bugs and nature. Appreciating the good moments and small beautiful things.
What’s a creative piece of work you’ve seen recently that blew you away?
It’s not one specific piece of work, but I recently took a trip to London to see a really small solo exhibition of the work of Benjamin Reichwald aka the musician, Bladee. I wasn’t particularly familiar with him or his work beforehand, but I was really surprised about how much I loved it and felt inspired by all the pieces I saw. I think I was particularly drawn to his loose and expressive style that he uses so well, alongside his dream like use of colour and shape. It’s very abstract and I’ve always been a massive fan of abstract work. There was one particular untitled multimedia piece where the mark making worked really nicely with the fluidity of the pastel colours. It made me want to make my work looser and more expressive.
Your drawings all seem to be accompanied by the most perfect palettes, how do you know when you’ve landed on the right colour?
I’d say I’ve always had a good eye and strong interest in colour, even from being a kid I remember always noticing the colour use in things and what goes with what colour. I think this has come from having artists for parents, particularly my Dad whose a colourful, abstract Artist. Our house was always full of the most perfect colour palettes. The colour palette of my illustrations is something I actually think about most, sometimes before I even know what the illustration is going to be about. I plan out a rough colour scheme beforehand and then switch between millions of different shades of those colours as I go along, it’s just a trial-and-error thing really until I find one that clicks! When it’s right, I can just tell straight away, something just feels good when I looking at it.
What's the most challenging and most exciting part of full-time freelancing?
To be honest I think the freedom of being a full time freelance illustrator is both the most challenging thing and the most exciting thing about simultaneously. On one hand, I get to spend all my time how I’d like, working on the projects that make me happiest and I feel super grateful to be able to do so as this has forever been my dream! But on the other hand the drive I need to constantly keep motivated can be quite draining and its fully on me to keep myself going. I also do absolutely every part of my work myself like running my shop, packing orders, social media, finances, commission work and most recently tattoos too so managing all of that work alongside working out how to keep a healthy balance between life and work is challenging. I’m still getting better at that side of it. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, and even though its challenging I love doing it so much!
How do you stay curious?
I think because I enjoy my work, so much I find it quite easy to stay curious and find inspiration in things around me. I like to make sure I’m always learning whether that’s from looking at other amazing art by people that inspire me or trying to learn new skills or about new topics. I think the best way for me to keep curious is to keep working with different media, like painting or clay or literally anything really to just feel curious about seeing or experiencing what it’s like. I find that I’ve got quite a short attention span when it comes to working on one piece and can’t work on one thing for too long at one time, so I’ve usually got multiple different projects on the go. This helps me stay curious about each one. I also find talking to other creatives about their practices and why they love it always makes me feel so inspired to be creative again too! It reminds me why I love doing what I do so much.
What is your favourite kind of commission to work on?
I actually think this Evermade commission is one of my favourite commissions to date, and this is the kind of commission I get most excited about. Ones where I feel the client wants to work with me for my art style specifically and allows me to have complete freedom over my creative licence. I struggle getting into commissions when I feel like they don’t actually want to hire me to do work like my specific style, but just to get the job they need done. It usually ends up being changed by the client so much I don’t like the work that comes out of it. But something like this one, where I’ve been asked to work on a collection of work specifically how I want, makes me feel so happy and honoured!
I also love working on projects that have outcomes that I wouldn’t be able to achieve by working alone, like for example my recent work for Paperboy London where I got to create designs for chocolate wrappers, or Fy! where my works been able to end up on woven throws/bags/phone cases etc. Working on custom, one off portraits for people is probably a smaller type of commission I do that brings some of the most happiness, as I get to see my work bring joy to other people, which is lovely!
What long-term dreams do you have for your practice?
I think my main dream at the moment is to be a tattooist half of my time, and stay being a freelance illustrator the other half. I’ve always wanted to be a tattoo artist and it’s exciting for me that it’s starting to happen.
Another big dream of mine has always been to take my work onto clothing and work with independent brands I love companies like Lazy Oaf. I’ve always had an interest in textiles and fashion so that would be a very exciting next step for me.
One thing I love about my work practice now is designing products and running my online shop, so definitely another big dream is to keep that going and expanding! I’ve got a huge list of products I want to make in the future that I’m already super excited about, some are on their way to me now! And then of course I’d love to still get fun commission work like this one for Evermade. I can’t really settle on any one dream as its important for me to be working on lots of things to be able to keep being inspired and excited about freelancing.
Discover more of Poppy's work on her Instagram here.