'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 30 April 2020

Meet The Illustrator: Zoë Collins

Name: Zoë Collins

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Abstract, witty and rebellious art applied to all kinds of curiosities.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
I must have everything I need in reach. I often have multiple illustration projects on the go — I design and produce earrings here in Brisbane; I take online classes every year and I am building my portfolio, aiming for a range of pieces from kids book illustrations, to home decor, greeting cards, wall art, and whatever else I dream up.

If I’m painting I’ll have quite a few different surfaces on the go, plus the computer close by. It gets out of hand most days with paintbrushes mixing in with the markers, pencils, etc. I draw digitally in Procreate and Fresco and paint or draw on whatever I can find. I often work beyond the time I should leave to pick up kiddos from school, so it looks like a crime scene. You know the ones where the detective comes in and says something like ‘it’s obvious she was interrupted’. Also, I cannot live without my long-arm stapler for making my own artist’s books, metal ruler, a good sharpener and a lot of paper. My studio is small but beautifully lit — with double doors opening to a little courtyard garden. I LOVE the space.
Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
Short answer: no.

Long answer: My favourite thing to do is to play, so I intentionally don’t allow myself to master one particular medium or approach. If I did, I think my work would be a parody of illustrators far more skilled than I am. I think my needs as an artist and illustrator are met most when I pick up whatever I’ve got and see if I can make a beautiful bit of art to go on a pair of earrings, or a repeat pattern, or that little monkey which was my first go at digital illustration on a wacom tablet.
I go through mini obsessions — markers, textured mediums, paper for collage, gouache and acrylic, dirt from the garden, leaves, thread and a sewing machine… Last week I borrowed the neighbour’s mitre saw to chop bed slats into skinny ‘canvases’… For commercial work though, I always end up taking what I’ve got and making use of it on the computer with Photoshop. It’s such a reliable tool in that I know how it works and I don’t need to spend much time experimenting. Plus the undo feature is a miracle of modern technology.
Name three artists whose work inspires you.
Hm… Mirka Mora, Donna Malone, Maira Kalman. I’m sure you’ve heard of Mirka and Maira, but perhaps not Donna. Donna is a Brisbane artist. Her work is an expression of who she is, without any apologies, just lots of love and an almost naive, but intelligent honesty. She’s been a wonderful teacher and Mentor to me since I first met her in an art class we took together.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
Just for a visit, because I’m quite happy in this period… um… I honestly don’t know! I mean, how would I get there? What would I have to pack? Will I be warm enough? Can I shower regularly? Would I be able to join in with the art, or would I be scuttled off to the kitchen or the nursery? I think I’ll just stay here if that’s ok. Although I might have enjoyed a chat with Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. Oh and imagine hanging with Annie Liebowitz in her Rolling Stone days, or any day really! Can somebody get her on the phone for me now? Wooooo! (I would scream and run away if that actually happened). 

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I thought I became an illustrator by accident, though it makes so much sense to me now that that’s what I was heading towards! People who inspired me (and still do):
1. My high school friend Caitlin, whose house was filled with art, books and the opinions of intimidating parents and siblings. I remember enviously eyeing off the bookcase in her bedroom. She introduced me to the works of living artists, incredible art galleries; handed over novels when she’d finished with them; and, made me watch very confronting movies and then discuss them like grown ups. She’s amazing.
2. A graphic design teacher, who I adored, who became my boss, who then made me cry a lot. He wasn’t as mean as he sounds. He was extremely clever and probably the first person to point out how much self awareness I lacked. He helped me realise that illustrating can be really hard or really simple — and that both approaches work.
3. The women around me — smart, industrious, powerful forces who lift me up and make me feel like I am playing tennis with a pro. These are the people who show me their strength through vulnerability. They look at my work and encourage me to keep going. Their presence and acknowledgement are priceless!

Can you share a photo of your creative work space or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.
My desk is always messy. My paper storage desk was handmade 20 years ago by the dad of a kid I went to school with (some 18 year olds I knew spent their money on cars, drugs and alcohol; I saved for a bespoke plan drawer with dovetailed joints. I am REALLY fun at parties). I also have lots of drawers filled with stuff, louvres which let in light and air; and some plants outside for when I need a break. I also have my door which was the front door of the first house my husband and I bought together. My record player STILL doesn’t have speakers. I just can’t find the headspace to figure out where that should go. Any ideas are welcome. Email me ok?

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
The bits that don’t involve crying, gnashing of teeth or feelings of emptiness.
SO, the beginning and the end. Or the middle bits where I amaze myself at what I have done… right before I go too far and end up with lots of brown paint and an irritation that will outlast humanity. Hooray for the Macbook Pro! Hooray for photographing the good bits for later use! Plus, I am a grown up who is (mostly) learning to reign in my enthusiasm for extended play and experimentation when there’s a deadline involved. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
OK, here’s something you may not have heard before: listen to your inner critic. Sometimes she’s right. But, listen with intelligence and guts. Know what YOU want before you ask others for advice. And then all the usual advice which is really true for me: draw often, every day if you can; take as many classes and workshops that your budget allows for; spend time with other illustrators in order to lift your game; be interested in the world around you; ask lots of questions; be kind to yourself.

Zoë Collins is a problem that can’t be solved — no… I mean that in a nice way! Wink. Anyway. She’s an illustrator, graphic designer, creative mentor and someone who has an insatiable appetite for creative thinking, making and observing.

Zoë has taught typography, design and illustration to lots of lazy young students and the odd creative genius who made her heart sing. She loves nothing more than fostering other peoples’ creative journeys whilst tinkering with her own.

She lives in Brisbane with three loveable humans, the best dog in the world and a very bad cat. For more information please visit Zoë's website or follow her on instagram .