What does a typical workday for you look like?
Well… Usually, I come in here to my studio and then… It’s quite varied actually because all the projects I am working on are completely different you might have an editorial job for newspaper and you might have just 48 hours to complete it in contrast to an illustration for some packaging design or something and you may have a month to do it. The usual working day looks like… I look at my calendar and see what I have to prioritise and then I start working on either sketches or finals or sometimes I would be posting prints to some people. It’s quite varied and I think that’s what I really like about being an illustrator. The days are quite different.
How has your work or style of work evolved over time?
When I was studying I would do a lot of etchings and with that, you work with etching needle and the quality of the line is very thin but the downside is that it’s a very time-consuming process but it’s a lovely process. But when you are working on commissions ideally I want to be doing them quickly so I guess that’s the way my style has changed over time. I used to do a lot of printmaking but just because of time constraints I have to work much more quickly so although my work doesn’t look like etchings now I think I tried to carry through the quality of the line.
How do you stay passionate about your work?
That’s a good question. I think it’s really important to constantly question what you are doing and remind yourself of what your interests are and your inspirations and trying to keep fresh eyes into finding films that you really love or artists that you really admire because I think it’s really easy to start working in a sort of practical way. You just go through the mo-tions and it can feel like a less creative process. It’s really important to always revisit who you are inspired by.
Do your clients always come to you with a clear idea of what they want or do you have a lot of freedom in your projects?
It’s varied so sometimes a client will approach me and they will pick out a thing from my portfolio which they like so I know what they are expecting bit then sometimes they will be a bit vaguer. I think I like a bit of both. I think when I was starting out I found it a bit patronizing when the brief was a bit too prescriptive because I kind of felt like I was the Vi-sionaire but now I think it’s really nice and a really good art director has a good vision and sometimes they can see things that you wouldn’t unnecessarily see your work going towards and they can push your work in other directions and it’s really nice to do.
We know that your work is widely recognised, how do you feel about people copy or publish your work without your permission?
I did actually have one experience when somebody actually published my work without my permission. I had no idea that it happened and it was for a university magazine in America and they got in touch with me saying that they apologize and they are very sorry because somebody put my image on the front cover without asking. I think that somebody in their organization realized and then they paid me for it and they were very apologetic. I think maybe because they were in the States as well they thought that I might have sued them. Even though it’s not the most ideal situation it’s good that they were fine to tell. I think because of images being shared on the internet and the culture of re-blogging image and sharing sometimes people are not so aware that images are actually copyrighted and to print them it is kind of going too far. I think that people just need to be educated around that. But I think it’s ok to share things on Instagram and blogs because part of the reason why my work has got around is because of the culture.
What would you say you are most proud of? Is there a particular project that was significant for your career?
I think whenever I work with publications I really admire like Guardian or The New York Times I get excited about that because they are these big names which I have always admired.
Do you collaborate with people?
In this building there is a couple of other illustrators but mostly I guess we work on our own projects but it is lovely to have them in the same building because although we are working separately there is a lot of shared come and round and we can help each other out and chatting things through weather it’s tricky administrative side or more creative problem.
Is there any advice you would give to graduates in the creative industry?
I think just to follow your nose and pay attention to what inspires you and always say yes to those types of projects be-cause that will lead you to work on something that you really love. I think it can be dangerous sometimes with saying yes to things that might not necessarily be in your realm of interest and that starts snowballing and you go in that direction so always follow the thing that you love.
Interview conducted by Jodi, Šárka and Daria
Harriet Lee-Merrion is an award-winning illustrator based in Bristol, in the South West of England. Her work has been published worldwide and exhibited internationally in New York, London and Berlin.