Illustrator and Typographer
Hi Zoe, could you tell us a bit about you?
I’m originally from Cardiff but I moved to Bristol when I was quite young with my mum. I studied UWE art foundation when I was 18-19 but I did quite an academic mix of A-Levels and I went to study Anthropology at University college London with the ambition of going into non-government campaign work in marine Biology but graduated when there was not a lot of jobs. Long story short I moved to Montréal where there was lots of amazing art, design and music. I came back to Bristol 4 ½ years ago and started a part time MA in Print which I finished last summer. I was a little bit unsure if it was the right thing to do at the time, I was a bit lost. I started my full time job about a year and a half ago, which was probably a little bit too soon and I became a terrible employee. I think there is a lot to be said about just needing money, I just had to work really hard. I still feel relatively new to the whole thing I think very few people are actually making it without anxiety and the struggle for the first few years.
What does a typical workday in your life look like?
Hmmm.. I could do a typical work week. It is quite diverse. I generally try and get in (to her studio) at around 9.30, and I’ll probably leave at about 6 or 6.30. In that time I have meetings, I sometimes go for coffee with friends or squeeze in yoga and do work a bit later. But yeah, meetings and emails I try to get done first thing which usually leaves afternoons for design work often I have to go and visit sites (for murals) as well, so that takes up quite a lot of time. When I get there I take photos and measurements of the buildings, I don’t trust anyone to do measurements. So I am nipping in and out quite a bit and running around a lot. If I’m doing a mural, that is really weather dependent, for example this morning is chucking it down so it’s not going to happen. There is always work to be done, theres never no work to do, theres always designs or emails, I am constantly behind. If its raining I will crack on with everything else I have to do, but it it’s a nice day I will try and get out there early and ill just do a monster day because murals take a long time and its better and more professional I think if you can get it done. People don’t want you hanging around on site for weeks, its not good for anyone so those days can be very long. In summer I can be there for 7 in the morning to 9 at night sometimes. My day rate is going up which is legit because im a lot quicker now and I try and hire people to help as well which means I can do more work in a short amount of time. So yep, those days are very long but they are often followed by a meal out and a beer!
How have you found the transition from being a student like us to being a professional? What are some challenges you’ve faced?
I think that is a hard one for me to answer… it’s not as scary or as big of a jump as people say, I think for me it was quite gradual, its not like 1 day you are working and the next day you quit your job and go full time. Its just not how it works. It got to a point for me where I was just trying to do too much and then I was going to my paid job grumpy and tired and I was just overworked. I worked in a café, in a bike shop, loads of different things. So yeah, Ive never really had a proper job, or not one that Ive been emotionally invested in. So I didn’t find it scary because I was never used to a comfortable salary, whereas I think comfort can sometimes be quite hard to leave. What I would say is do it when you are happy to be uncomfortable, I think it’s a lot harder to do when you have kids and a mortgage, it’s a lot more of a jump.
How do you go about starting a new project? Do you have a creative process that works best for you? What inspires you?
I do have a process, I didn’t think I did until recently when I did a talk. I work mostly to briefs, its very very rare that someone is like ‘go to town’ and I just do it; that just doesn’t happen. Usually people have a certain idea and a colour scheme and they will give me some examples of what they like. What I will do is, often I sketch… my sketchbook is not pretty, its not like an Instagram sketch book, its just words and random bits of crap you know. I draw and draw and draw something over and over until there is something in there, I force it out. I really don’t like this idea that sometimes artists are inspired and sometimes it’s not working, you just have to sometimes work through it, like, you’ve got 4 days to do this, you have to crack something out. Ill often write down key words and then Ill make images and symbols that associate with these words; my style is often quite like mashing lots of things together. After this I will draw them a few times over then I’ll take a pictures. (She shows us sketches of a piece from UWE inspired by her graduation). There’s stairs, hands, champagne glasses, bubbles, arrows, ideas, keyboards and books, I just shove them down like illustrative diarrhoea. Then I will take a photo of them on my ipad and I’ll trace them and then mess around with the composition of them. The first stages are just lines, I like overlapping lines. So to cut it briefly, words, images, composition and then colour. More and more wit mural work I have a specific colur palette, reason being, because paint is so expensive, its better if I can recycle paint instead of being leftover with loads of different colours. Theres a limit as well for telling someone, the mural is going to be £800 and the paint is going to be £500, it’s quite weird. I have a palette on procreate, so I can just limit the colours; its really important.
How do you stay passionate about your work? What drives you?
It is quite hard, I think theres a point like this (she hold her hands up and points), it levels out and goes down (moves her finger up and down to show her levels of passion throughout her projects) and then it levels out and you kind of have to make it go up again. You start off being excited because you are putting your life and soul into the project and then you are overwhelmed and then you realise you are earning which is great but you are still overwhelmed because I cant keep up with all these projects. I make my levels of passion rise again now by being a bit more closed and a bit more free, so now I really have to be strict, if there is a project that I don’t really have time for and don’t really want to do and its not going to be something I put in my portfolio, then I just say no, I don’t have to do it. Its hard because someone is offering you money but you just have to say no. But then, how I stay passionate: I take on projects that I really do want to do and sometime ones that aren’t paid, for example I put in a piece for an exhibition for world mental health day and I had time and space to do my own thing. Ultimately, making time for projects that excite you and doing new things that are a bit scary.
What do you want people to feel when they see your art? Does your work have a message?
Yes and no. I am starting to think about this a lot more. I think again because that pattern of trying to get work and trying to make money. Now I am at the point of turning things down trying to maybe say something a bit more. I really want people to feel uplifted, and I want people to feel joy, some of my art is changing public space and I think it can really make people feel more welcome and it makes people invest and care about where they live and where they work. It also creates conversations and connections I think that’s important. I think more and more im nodding more towards making references to environmental issues and empowerment in a sense of, we can address something. It’s a big ask, a lot of people make money not doing anything so if you can do a little bit of something then its better then 99% of people’s jobs. Im hopefully selling something that at least has some positive effect.
Who do you work with in your network? Does social media play a big part in finding other creatives to work with? Is there anyone you would recommend us speaking to?
Collaborating I think is really good and I opens your eyes to so many things. I think you learn a lot. If you are a little bit uncomfortable or a bit unlikely to get a job yourself, get someone else in. Just go and work with someone else, its really good for you and you learn new ways of doing things, especially because it’s a career where you can show yourself off. Im currently collaborating with Dave Bain on a mural, and also with my friend sophie on something big on Church Road, I applied for it on my own but the clients were worried that I didn’t have enough community service and Sophie is a community art teacher so that was good because I was taking the feedback. I think collaborating can definitely bring you up a little bit.
What advice would you give graduates entering the industry?
I think its so hard because it takes a long time and its so uncertain, I think for me I was scared of it for a long time. I never really knew you could make a career out of it, I’d never met anyone who had and I wasn’t in an environment where it was on the radar, I have a very academic family full of engineers and dentists. I kind of wish Id followed my gut a bit more and done what I enjoyed. I was always trying to do my mates album covers or posters, I was always twiddling away doing artwork but I never really invested in it because I wasn’t aware I could make money doing it. I think jut have a bit of faith, it’s a hard thing to do. And keep going and I would also say, et out of your studio or room and meet people. The first few gigs I got were by just going and saying hi to people face to face. People also want to help, people are generally quite nice. I also get a lot of emails, which is another thing I have to deal with, so I don’t think people will warm to you as much. Its quite scary but I think if theres an exhibition where you like the artists, go to it and have a chat and say hi that was really inspiring. Just put yourself out there a bit. As long as you are doing your best, there’s not much more people can ask other then that. Its hard now to have your own style now, I am bombarded with ideas and then I look at someone elses work and want to do that, sometimes you have to turn that off and keep sketching, experiment and network.
If you were a colour what would you be?
Probably brown because its all the colours mushed together, a really shitty grey-brown, just all the colours thrown in to one. My favourite colour is teal or bright blue.
Interview conducted by: Daria, Sarka, Jodi
Zoë Power is a multi-disciplinary artist, working in the fields of illustration, print and typography.
Zoë graduated with an MA in Multidisciplinary Print Media at the University of the West of England, Bristol. With a love of craft and typography, Zoë has also studied traditional sign writing in London and in Bristol and frequently works with individuals and creative teams to make their businesses look more beautiful.
Currently Zoë is extensively involved in several community arts projects, working with local residents and businesses in Bristol to bring art to the wider community.
Clients include Great Western Railway, The Bristol Pound, Leeds College of Music, Upfest, the University of the West of England, the Tobacco Factory and Off the Record charity.