Rachel Lillie

Illustration – Like a specter in the night

Who and what keeps you inspired?

I always feel inspired when I visit a place for the first time. I love the element of surprise in a drastic change of landscape or environment. I find my sense of curiosity is heightened when allowing myself to explore. In these times of feeling surprised and curious and overwhelmed by new experiences I find a wealth of inspiration. That reaction to seeing things for the first time, for me is to draw, record it, collect it. I love reading non-fiction and reference books, from biographies to encyclopedias of the world. Again it offers me that same feeling of surprise when you stumble upon a new fact or piece of knowledge – it’s really enlightening! When inspiration is running dry, I always find a visit to a museum or exhibition helps keep me motivated, as it reminds me of what doing this is all about. I recently saw a great performance at The Southbank Centre using dance and objects, which gave me loads of ideas, but don’t know what I’ll do with them yet.

You have been working as the first Illustrator in residence for ‘House of Illustration’, how has being part of this new creative environment influenced your own practice?

It’s been a really interesting time and a totally unique experience. Firstly having that very rare opportunity to spend a substantial amount of time to explore, develop and experiment without the pressure of an outcome that usually comes with a fixed brief. I proposed to structure the residency in this way. I wanted to respond to every experience I encountered there and use it as a way of producing work, focusing largely on process, responding to research and recording what I’d seen. Celebrating illustration as process not outcome, and looking at how fact can work along side fiction. I’d touched upon this way of working in my MA but wanted to explore it more.

I’ve also learnt a lot from the fantastic team there, and they’ve given me a lot of support, freedom and encouragement. Facilitating workshops there for diverse audiences, both adults and children were really inspiring and something I’d love to develop more. Also thinking about space in away that I’d only touched briefly upon before. The House of Illustration is now a physical gallery space, exploring how illustration can be interactive, engaging and immersive in a public space, and how can it do this to a diverse audience. I tried to play with this by holding an open studio there at an interim point of the residency and I explore elements of this in the exhibition I have there, which is on at the moment!

Photo – Journal From Artist in Residency – House Of Illustration  

Do you think it’s important for your professional practice, particularly your reportage work, to involve yourself in new experiences and surroundings?

Definitely. I guess I’ve tapped into this a bit in the first question. I think putting yourself in new and different environments forces you to think and respond differently. That sense of inquisition I find is really important when drawing a live event, because you’re constantly having to look and try to grapple with what is happening. Seeking out new experiences and subject matter is key for me to keep feeling motivated to make new work and develop my working methods. Reportage is about responding to an event or subject, documenting and revealing this through drawing; like a journalist you are constantly seeking out new stories and opportunities. Like an explorer you are never satisfied and always want to adventure further. Looking out for new experiences is an opportunity to rise to new challenges. It’s never easy for me, but it’s that struggle that I enjoy. In hindsight anyway.

Sketchbook – The Marshes

What challenges have you faced as you have developed as an Illustrator?

I’ve often doubted and been worried about where I fit into the ‘market’ in a way that will sustain a substantial freelance practice. But in that worry I think it’s helped keep me motivated and eager to continue to produce work that perhaps isn’t very commercial but interesting and worthwhile exploring – work and subject matter that excites me. This in itself has led me to a wealth of fantastic opportunities. I’ve realised that my practice as an illustrator doesn’t have to be one sided. You can make commissioned work and also be an active Illustrator engaged in other projects; delivering workshops, lecturing, self initiated projects and challenging yourself by applying to the many Illustration competitions and opportunities available. I think this is so important for Illustrators.

I’m also not very good at the social media side of things! I’m trying though. I really love instagram as it’s an informal way of sharing photo’s and visual things of interest. It’s an ever present and important means of getting work – and being seen.

Photo – RCA Wall

Narrative plays a part in your work, how do you go about planning your illustrations? Do you use sketchbooks, written words, book/internet research etc.

It really depends on where or what the Illustration is for. I almost always use text to work with, whether that’s a quote from a book or something someone has said, or text that I’ve written myself. I’m forever writing down notes and short bits of text in my sketchbook and on post it notes, things that really strike a chord. The internet is an endless source of information but I love buying second hand books. I like the element of chance in choosing to buy a book. Once my scrawly notes become a collection I then start to edit them down and re-arrange them to weave together a narrative – whether real or imagined, then thumbnails tend to follow. But I often work from memory too and will build up series of drawings quite intuitively from past experiences, not really knowing where they are going – but always they lead to somewhere.

What’s next for you?

That’s the big question! I never really have a plan, but I’ve got a few new project ideas to get started on, whilst balancing this with lecturing. I would like to do something collaborative soon as It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

Illustration – A Machine Man 


30th January 2015
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