The Ecologist has just published two superb new books with Leaping Hare Press that detail the ways in which we can improve the food and fashion systems, both of which are so fraught with unethical and environmentally detrimental practices. The two petit guides are designed in an easy to read format and chapters are accompanied with some wonderful illustrations by Lucy Kirk, a contributor to Amelia’s Magazine and one of my star picks at her University of Brighton graduate show in 2012. Here she explains the process of working with The Ecologist and the creation of engaging illustrations from often difficult subject matter.
How did you get hired to create illustrations for the new Ecologist Guides?
I graduated from the University of Brighton in 2012 and during the final degree show Ivy Press visited the exhibition and later invited me and a few others to visit their Lewes office to show them more of our work. After a rather nerve racking (on my part) portfolio meeting, they kept my details on record. A few months later I received an email from James Lawrence at Leaping Hare Press asking if I’d be up for doing some initial drawings, which later lead to the project.
What was the process of creation and collaboration with the Ecologist like?
The art director James Lawrence was great to work with, he sent me the authors’ written text and brief ideas he’d had as starting points for me to work with. This being my first major commission it was hard not to find it a little daunting, so having some key notes was really helpful. It allowed me to interpret the text creatively but not get to lost.
How many images did you have to create altogether and how long did it take to get together all the images for both guides?
I think roughly about eighty. I started working on the project during the summer of 2012 but it continued on and off until november 2013. It was more of a collaboration to be finished as and when the text was complete. I think I preferred this process rather than a block of solid work, as it allowed me to approach each section of drawings with a fresh mind.
What materials and techniques do you use when you work on line drawings like this?
As often as possible I like to work with loose cartridge paper rather than a sketchbook, a big pot of black ink (which I normally spill) and a new paintbrush. I like a tiny brush; the ones used for model railways are my personal favourite.
Where did you find inspiration for the images?
Sometimes from reference photography, if there was a particular message to portray or imagery I had no previous knowledge of. Other illustrations were inspired by things around me. My parents live on a farm in Nottinghamshire, which proved helpful when it came to working on some of the food drawings.
What was the hardest aspect of creating images to accompany often difficult topics?
I think it was hard not wanting to offend anyone, but James was good at suggesting alternatives and ways to avoid this. I found that trying to marry imagery to sometimes upsetting text can be tricky, but I think that overall everyone who worked on the books has done a great job.
What was the worst thing that you learnt about the food industry?
There were lots of interesting things I learnt about the food industry that I either knew little or nothing about. It opened my eyes to the conditions of workers that I think is sometimes easy to forget. The exploitation of some women working as tea pluckers in East Africa was particularly upsetting.
What was the most interesting thing you learnt about the fashion industry?
There’s a section on slow fashion which I think is great: it is the process of making clothing that lasts a long time and is often sourced and produced locally or via fair-trade. There’s more of a stress on quality of garments rather than quantity and it’s becoming more and more popular. If you are interested in fashion I think it’s definitely something you should be aware of.
Has doing this project altered the way that you relate to either fashion or food, and if yes in what sort of way?
Yes, I think it’s easy to turn our heads and forget issues that are happening around us and trick ourselves into believing we are not personally responsible. I’m not saying I’ve become vegan overnight but it has definitely made me become more aware. I think both authors approach both subjects in a way that’s an interesting and informative read and I’d recommend them to a friend. I’ve already leant my copies to my grandma.
What else are you working on in 2014?
As well as doing illustrations, I also co-direct a stationery business called Pen On Paper with my friend and fellow artist Millie Popovic, who is also a Brighton graduate. So day to day our time is taken up designing new products and printing orders. We have some events and projects later in the year which I can’t yet reveal yet but I am very excited about. But when I’m not screen printing cards, I’m working on a new ceramic series which hopefully will be ready soon. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to work with clay, so it feels good to go back. I’m also a new member of the illustration collective Puck and there’s lots of exciting things happening with them this year, which I’m looking forward too, including some exhibitions and maybe some publications.
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