I discovered illustration by accident

Feature by Ema Johnston | 11 Jan 2007

Lucy MacLeod is sobbing. I have come round to her flat, but she is finding it hard to talk to me as she's so upset. She has just been released from Edinburgh Art College, and is unable to see how four years of Fine Art tuition could help her survive the real world. "What am I gonna do?" she asks in near-despair.

That was five years ago.

Today, I meet Lucy again in her home. All around us is evidence of her newly shaped family existence. Toys and books are strewn on the floor. The Teletubbies sing happily from the TV, much to the delight of her gorgeous one year-old daughter Maisie. "Did you know the baby in the sun is twelve now?" 'The baby in the sun' is not as portentous as it sounds: anyone familiar with the kids' programme will be aware Lucy's questions have lost their philosophical panic.

What has she been up to, to bring about this dramatic change? Well, her super sexy illustrations have just landed in London's uber-chic Fashion & Textiles Museum as part of the Production Lines exhibition - and that's not all. Lucy already boasts an impressive client list, including the current British Airways campaign for BBH, La Perla, Smirnoff, Diva Magazine, The Independent, The Times, Channel 4, and Nylon Magazine. The list goes on.

In the flesh Lucy is a combination of Liza Minnelli, Trinny of Trinny and Suzanna, Sharon Osborne, and Erin O'Connor - all rolled into one. Her drawings reflect her impeccable observations and her vivacious sense of humour.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. When did you start wielding your weapon?

My weapon of choice is generally charcoal. Occasionally I'll use the pencil if I'm feeling a bit anal. I started wielding my 'weapon' on a semi-professional basis when I was pretty young - shitty pavement drawing competitions on 'holiday' in Aberdeen. I wasn't best pleased when my little sister, who could barely draw, blatantly copied my design, bastardised it, then came in first place. She won a cup and a Barbie doll. Naturally, I boycotted the prize-giving ceremony. On the drive home in the car I executed my finest diva strop, tearing the head off said Barbie. It was then I realised I may have a bit of a competitive streak. I must point out that shortly after this event a matchstick hedgehog drawing I had done was featured in Tony Hart's gallery on TV. Sweet, sweet revenge.

How did you land in ECA, and what were your experiences there?

I landed at ECA via Telford College's "portfolio preparation" course. I have always felt a bit guilty about it, though. All I did was find out what I needed for my portfolio at the beginning of the year, then did bugger all for the rest of it. I didn't even bother turning up at the end, and just spent two weeks drawing and painting wildly, recruiting various members of my family, passing tradesmen and animals to pose for me. A paper mache mask sticks in my memory.

Also, I'm ashamed to say I 'borrowed' a couple of my Mum's drawings (she studied painting at college in the Sixties) to ensure my entry. Will my degree be robbed from me after this sordid confession?

Anyway, college was a whirlwind of various viral diseases, much posing around and lots of smoking. With my work judged to be "too good-looking" by the tutors, painting was probably the wrong course for me. But I'm glad I did it, as it's given me a more painterly approach to illustration which has definitely become a strength. I definitely lacked the seriousness and, dare I say, pretentiousness, for a career in fine art. I just wanted to make good pictures. All in all though, the experience was positive and I still really miss having lots of people around me making things. It was a bit magical.

How did you arrive at illustration?

I discovered illustration by accident. I moped around a bit after college feeling bitter at everybody and everything. Then a friend gave me a second-hand computer with Photoshop installed on it. I just started mucking around with it until I realised that the work I was doing might constitute illustration. I got a few pictures together and started sending them around to various magazines, publishers and agents. If my memory serves me right, I was one hundred percent rejected. But I felt really strongly that I had the potential to get somewhere with it. I just kept doing more work and sending it off relentlessly.

After a few months, a couple of web magazines picked up some pictures and slowly feedback became more positive. It took ages to get paid work, though, and my first experience woke me up to the reality of those who commission illustration. Not to name names, but let's just say The Shmindependent came calling one day, asking to use one of my illustrations for a weekend supplement feature. Flattered and excited at my first paid job, I accepted their pathetic offer of £60.00 - only to learn that they had then used it for the cover of the supplement. They then added insult to injury by sending me a cheque for £40.00. After a meek complaint I was sent another cheque for £10.00. Whoopee!

Nowadays, I'm willing to say no to a job if the pay is rotten, or if they're trying to get something from me for nothing. But with work so hard to find, I can understand people doing freebies and whatnot. Unfortunately it affects all illustrators, as commissioners think they can take advantage of you knowing that if you say no, someone else is willing to do it for little or no fee. You would never dream of asking a plumber to mend your toilet for no money, or go into a shop and offer them 'exposure' for wearing their clothes, so I don't see why these people get away with it.

What's tickling your fancy right now, in terms of icons or inspirations?

In no particular order: the baby Maisie, Fiodor Sumkin, Sam Weber, Jeffrey Decoster, Charles Anastase, Kustaa Saksi, the drawings of Alasdair Gray, the fashions of Dorothy Cotton, the music of Great Ezcape. And pom poms. They're rocking.

Future Projects?

Look out for a range of fashion and textiles in 2007 with a shop added onto the website There will be many shenanigans with 4WALL. Currently 4WALL have taken over a square in Bermondsey, and the London Fashion and Textiles Museum, for Production Lines, a two week event. There is an illustration 'supergroup' exhibition [line-up includes: McFaul, Richard May, David Foldvari, Daisy De Villeneuve, Container, I LOVE DUST and Lucy MacLeod], fashion events, and a 99p tombola of postcards. The tombola contains drawings by Bono, Ken Livingstone, Tracey Emin and the likes, as well as random Bermondsey schoolchildren, passers-by, etcetera, just to mix it up. There is also Beer Futures, which will include the unveiling of a specially brewed 4WALL beer. I have been selected to feature in the upcoming publication The Big Book of Fashion Illustration by Martin Dawber which is released in 2007.

You recently made contact with Spooky Tim, the phenomenal artist who illustrated the Scissor Sisters album covers. There is talk of you collaborating on a graphic novel.

Tim got in touch a while ago about collaborating on a kind of humorous graphic novel. But we've kind of been sidetracked by the having of children. He has a four month old daughter and Maisie is sixteen months old. Hopefully we'll combine forces to create a visual mutant at some point. An illustration mongrel if you will.

Have you become the person you wanted to be when you grew up?

Absolutely not. I wanted to be adopted for starters (kidding, Mum and Dad). I saw myself as a trapeze artist. I had an overwhelming desire to be upside down. I was forced to make do with the swing in my back garden, and cartwheels. Wearing tights still makes me feel a bit tingly though.