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To the Point: An Interview With Lizzie Mary Cullen

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In an attempt to shed some more light on what it means to be a successful artist these days, we thought we'd ask some of them! In this series, you'll be able to read some of the interviews great vector and drawing artists have honored us with.

Today I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lizzie Mary Cullen, a very well known artist from the United Kingdom.

Lizzie
Lizzie Working on a Mural
QFirst of all, thank you for the interview. We'd like to understand how your interest for illustration started shaping up. Tell us what made you go this route!

I used to always draw when I was little. My favourite subject was The Little Mermaid. I used to put red tights on my head and pretend to be Ariel. Still do, in fact. When I got to Goldsmiths to do a Design BA, I was so involved in doing 'designy' things like products and interventions that I neglected my drawing.

It was only in my final year when I began urban mapping (a form of psycho-geography) that my style, as it is now, really began to develop.

That final year was magic—my drawing style was developing so fast and everything I drew seemed to work. If you speak to any illustrator, the first weeks and months when a process begins to click and your personal style develops, is one of the most exciting things in the world.

Lizzie
Lizzie Inking a Sketch
Q How would you describe the experience you had with your first major client? What did you learn from that experience?

My first major client was Zizzi. Design Director Pia Fairhurst approached me at New Designers and asked if I could draw large scale. I said I'd give it a go, and I was then booked in to do the Marlow mural. It was my first experience drawing large scale and it was terrifying and amazing. It felt like such a rush and I was hooked after that.

The Marlow wall led to many more, and I've done murals around the country for Zizzi, and other clients including Graham and Brown and Harvey Nichols.

Zizzi was a wonderful client to have, because they always let me have creative freedom. They have trust in the people they commission, which is wonderful. They have amazing creative vision, and it was inspiring to work with them so long.

Covent Garden
Covent Garden Mural
Q Do you prefer working with illustration agencies, or would you rather seek your own clients?

I love working with agencies. There's such a buzz around a good agency, it's infectious. Having said that, I've worked with agencies that act like they've had group lobotomies which is disconcerting but they're definitely in the minority. Most are exciting creative places, and I love the feeling of being a part of a team.

I worked directly with Zizzi, but they have a dedicated design team who all knew what they were doing. It was a bit like working with an agency. Working directly with a smaller business is hard, as they often don't know how illustration works. You act as a creative/art director and educator all at once. It's challenging and I enjoy it, but you can't beat the vibe of a buzzing agency like Ogilvy or Proximity. I love the feel of those places—it's so fun.

Lizzie
Brooklyn Bridge
Q What does your creative process look like?

If I'm working on a client job the main thing is, 'what is the idea?' After I've had a think and drawn a few vague ideas of how I want to convey it, I'll do a rough illustration for the client. This will usually be done on paper and photographed or scanned. With client work, especially advertising, there's a long road from initial roughs to the final thing.

For murals, I'm a lot more free. I'll do a rough for the client, but you can never get how it will really look when it's up on the wall. I love mural jobs as it's always different. There's always a difference in the size of the wall, and the execution.

Personal work is something I try to fit in around everything. It's so important, but recently I've had to fight to find time to squeeze it in. It's something so intrinsic to my work, and pushes me on for the next job.

Sketch
Sketches are a big part of the process
Q. Do you have any recommendations of good books, programs you use, or media choices you're willing to share with us?

I love listening to audiobooks when I draw, especially when I'm working on a mural. My favourite book at the moment is Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. I find the audiobook beautifully done, and really relaxing.

I like looking at old books for inspiration, I've got some old Pre-Raphaelite books I draw a lot from, and some Mucha. I also draw inspiration from the Marvel artists, especially with figurative work.

Work in Process
Q Do you have a special place that boosts your inspiration and helps your creative drive?

Any city. Anywhere—just look up.

Sketch
Q Could you describe what a productive day looks like, from your point of view?

I love those days where loads of jobs happen to come through at once. Those days are exciting. Odds are, only half of them will go through to completion, but that's the industry.

If I get an idea for a new project, I consider that a productive day. Even if I've spent the whole day arsing about, when an idea comes along, and you seize it, then that's a good day.

BT Art Box
BT Art Box
Q How would you describe your "dream illustration project"? Have you had an experience that was close to this ideal?

This sounds cheesy, but any job that allows me to draw and people pay me for it is a dream job. I get so excited about everything that comes through my door. I love the early stages of planning, and I'm addicted to that point when every thing's coming together. I've had a couple of jobs that have stood out, but I can honestly say that looking back at all the work, I love every second of it.

I'm very proud of my Lewis Hamilton stop motion film to his fans that The Rumpus Room called me in on.

And I love my wall for Graham and Brown.

My first ever wallpapers are being released with them this year, so watch this space!

Q. Which are the most important hours/stages/moments to you?

All of them—I find if I treat any of my stages with nonchalance, everything will blow up in my face.

Working on BT Art Box
Working on BT Art Box
Q. To conclude this interview, if you had the opportunity to convince a novice to become an illustrator, would you do it?

No.

If they don't want to do it, don't bother. You've got to live and breathe this industry if you want to hang on. I'm always hungry for the next job. Always looking. If you're not desperately addicted to drawing, find something else to be addicted to. It sounds unhealthy, but if I couldn't draw, I would wonder what the point of my life was. Find something that lights you up, and chase it with everything you have.

Importance of passion
"If you're not desperately addicted to drawing, find something else to be addicted to."

We'd like to thank Lizzie for her time! Should you want to connect, or see some more of her amazing work, you can find her here:

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