Interview: Megan Swan

Megan is an aspiring illustrator with a love for art and design. I was lucky enough to have an interview with Megan about her work.

 Hello Megan! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

HI!! Well I’m finally feeling a little calmer — I’m coming to the end of a very intense second year at Leeds College of Art, and it’s been busy to say the least!!

Tell us a little bit about your background.

So I’m 21 and I’m a student on the BA(Hons) Illustration course at LCA, but home for me is approximately 260 miles away in the South West (Somerset to be precise). I’ve come a long way away to study, which many people wouldn’t consider… but for me it’s been an amazing journey, I’ve completely changed as a person, I almost feel like I’ve come into my own whilst I’ve been here. Plus, Leeds is a fab arty, cultural and busy place, and coming from a small farmers town it’s just what I needed.

Describe your style in three words. 

I’m not sure I like to say I have a ‘definitive style’ because I get so bored of things that I’m constantly trying new things!! My design friends would disagree though; they think I do have a style — for three words I guess I would say: Colourful. Whimsical. Tactile.

I adore your work. What inspired you to start doing illustrations? 

I’ve always had this desire to tell a story. I also studied Psychology and I love understanding the way people think. Particularly, how a person’s perception of something can be altered through colour and design. so I guess a combination of these desires leaves me with communicating with images. The problem was figuring out what I want to communicate.

Have you always been into illustrations, design and art?

YES. When I was a little one, there was nothing I loved more than going through my crafts box and sticking popsicle sticks down, covering them in glitter and drawing obscure shapes (a load of tat) but I’ve always loved having design as an outlet. It helps me to feel connected to myself, if that makes sense.

How has your creative process changed since the start? 

I feel like Art at school forces you to be a certain way, by making everyone do the same projects in the same way. I struggled with this, it stopped me from making my own discoveries about my own practice. Only in the Second year of my degree have I begun to figure out where my work lies in a professional context and which ways of working best suit my voice.

What equipment do you use for your work? 

I’m infatuated with screen-printing. LCA has wonderful facilities that I’m going to miss sorely when I graduate next year, but whilst I’m here I plan to use them to the full extent. We forced to get hands on with printing our own work, and a lot of people are stressed out by traditional printing processes. However, I love immersing myself in the environment and lose myself in the process. Even though it takes ages from start to finish, I think it’s worth it. I feel so proud holding the perfect finished print, after all the blood, sweat & tears. 

Are there any pieces of equipment that you recommend?

For me, I adore layering my work with texture, shapes, line and colour. One of the ways I always start an image is with a thick graphite pencil. The chunky, scratchy lines are so textural and it forces me to stop being so perfect with sketching. I end up feeling less restricted, compared to using a sharpened thin 2B pencil. Also A VISUAL JOURNAL. I always have a sketchbook to hand, incase I get any ideas or thoughts. Thinking through drawing is crucial.

What tools or materials could you not live without?

Colour. I’ve spent some time this year researching and writing about how colour works and it’s honestly such a fascinating field. It holds great power in design because it can change the whole perception of an image, and it can even persuade you to buy things?! I’ve always loved a tasty colour palette and I enjoy this part of the image-making process.

What helps you to be inspired?

Research. If I find myself stuck in a rut or getting really frustrated with a project because everything is looking awful, I realise it’s because I’ve stopped opening my eyes to other designers, my own photos or inspiring books, places and galleries etc. As soon as I jump back into research I feel refreshed. They say you should never rely on your memory, because it’s never as good as the real thing. I totally agree, I need to feel inspired by research to produce good work.

What has been your favourite piece of work? 

I was real proud of a concertina book that I designed, screen-printed and bound all by myself just before Christmas, partly because I broke out of my comfort zone and wrote a strange surreal story inspired by the work of Japanese write Haruki Murakami. There was no text, it was like one long line of images that rolled into each other. That’s when I started to feel like my ‘style’ was emerging. Though I’ve just submitted my final design module of second year and I really enjoyed the whole project — I designed two homeware collections based on two explorers!

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use? 

It’s a wonderful place to meet likeminded creative individuals. I also studied photography for a tiny amount of time and have always been taking pictures — Instagram specifically started as a space for me to post all of these pictures. Nowadays, it’s great for my professional side because I can promote my work and follow other designers. Plus I get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of my favourite designers!! 

Who inspires your work? 

I’d say my favourite designers include Keith Negley, Anne Laval, Molly Hatch and the design studio Atelier Bingo. Bit of a mishmash I guess… but I can appreciate all of their work and I try to tie in their different approaches to my own practice. I feel like they unite over their strong use of colour and composition.

Do you have any favourite pieces of artwork or illustrations that you adore at the moment?

Atelier Bingo just seem to understand what should go where, which colours look good and what sorts of marks would work really well? They kind of combine illustration, graphic design and surface pattern design, and I like that they don’t limit themselves! Plus they’ve expanded from prints to clothing and stationery which is just gorgeous and I need it.

Have you considered setting up your shop?

I’ve sold a few prints here and there, but I think a lack of confidence has stopped me from going all out and launching anything wildly big. Thing is I know the basics now about selling after collaborating with the wonderful Polly Vadasz from Sighh Designs, which taught me a lot!! I think I just need to start slow and build a portfolio and website, then maybe start thinking about commercialising my illustrations.

As well as setting up your own shop, have you considered setting up a blog? 

I have thought about it yes!!!! I’m obsessed with clothes. I enjoy some trends, but I think style is different and is what makes someone stand out. I could use it as an outlet for clothes as well as my design work. I actually have to keep a blog for my course — but it’s kinda boring because I just have to reflect on my projects and track my progress, so I know the logistics. Again, I need to summon a spur of courage to create one. You become kind of vulnerable when you put yourself out there, but how else do I hope to grow?!

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Facebook and Instagram?

Over the Summer I’m going to try and start making things and maybe I will start a blog!! It’d be so beneficial for my practice, especially as I’m graduating soon. Hopefully people will be supportive of it and I won’t want to go and cry if no one buys anything or reads my posts hahaha. 

I at least know I want to develop some branding for myself so I can launch a website to send to potential employers! 

Do you have any career plans? 

I’d adore to work in-house as part of a design team for a company — I work in the homewares department of a store and I love getting to see new products when they release new collections, particularly as more and more people are enjoying the hand-made aesthetic. I like to think I work well in a team and enjoy having people to bounce ideas off, particularly with other creatives, so I guess I need to get some placements to gain experience in the industry!

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to set up their own Facebook page or Tumblr?

I’d say make it your own. I honestly believe the most important part is making sure it reflects who you are as a person, or who you want to be. So don’t feel restricted by offering too much of yourself. People love to see behind the scenes, and when you make mistakes!! Reminds people that no one is perfect (sometimes social media gives the impression of a perfect life)

Do you have any advice for designers and illustrators? 

For people that are trying to grow as designers, I say try new things and embrace new experiences.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

It’s funny but I’ve recently interviewed an illustrator that I’m in awe of, he does lots of work the New York Times and has released a book. I was in shock that he was willing to chat with me!! Anyway, he left me with a piece of advice that really resonate with me:

“Look within yourself for inspiration, tell your own stories, and only look to your own conscience for approval”

{easier said than done of course}

You can keep up to date with this lovely lady on her Instagram 'meganfrxnces'. She is always posting wonderful illustrations and fashion.