Meet Holly. We stumbled across Holly on Instagram (where else?) and were immediately taken with her expressive and simple illustrative style. Never sticking to one format, a lot of her designs are available as prints as well as t-shirts, pins and other accessories. Other than working on her own art, she’s also one half of Hi Bye Studio – a collaborative studio that runs workshops, exhibitions, events, and creates publications with the aim of opening a dialogue in the creative field around sex and race. She also works as Creative Manager at Beach London, a super-cool East London creative studio! Holly is quite a busy lady, but we were able to meet up at her local haunt Stir Coffee to hear more about her story and share our sweet new sunnies with her.
So you graduated from art school pretty recently didn’t you?
Yeah, in July! Only 4 months ago. I did a Foundation year at Camberwell and then stayed to do my Undergraduate there too.
Where are you originally from?
I’m from London, but I have a really weird accent, I’m not sure why! My dad’s from Manchester – that might be it, plus my best friend is Irish-Libyan so it’s all rubbed off on me. It’s been mentioned to me a lot over the past week for some reason!
What a mix! So tell us about your work – when did you first start illustrating? Was drawing and doodling something you always did?
I went to an incredibly nerdy comic convention when I was 16 because I was really into anime and Manga, Japanese comics. It was the first time I realised that people actually did this for a living, I thought, ‘You can make money drawing weird stuff?’
That was when I started getting into it and uploaded some of my drawings online, but I almost stopped doing art altogether after my GCSEs.
What! How come?
I went to a super academic school and they didn’t consider art to be a ‘proper’ job. The attitude was kind of, ‘Oh, you like drawing? But what are you going to do next?’ As if it was just a hobby, not a career choice. So I actually dropped art and tried product design, but I was just so bad. I could do the design side, but then the tutor would ask how I could possibly make it. I had just drawn a nice picture, it wasn’t technical at all!
It’s a totally different mindset really.
Yeah, completely. When I found out what an Art Foundation was, I decided that was the next step for me. It was the best decision I’ve made – it was so much fun. The first day all we did was dig through trash to collect items for a group sculpture. I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘This is amazing – this is exactly what I want my education to be like!’
It was super fun and after that I decided to stay and do my BA in Illustration. The tutors were amazing – people whose work I’d admired for years and when I met them I was totally starstruck!
Did you start working and getting experience while you were at uni?
I had a stupid amount of weird jobs! On the art and design side I did an internship with Charlotte Mei, who’s a ceramicist and illustrator. She’s rad. She’s so good. I did that after my first year, in the summer. But otherwise it was just weird, odd jobs. I even worked at an estate agent!
Yeah, and as an extra on Eastenders.
No way! Is that still on your CV?
Sometimes, if I’m applying for something that I feel like I just need something to talk about in the interview – ‘I was on Eastenders once!’ It was in the background, no lines.
I also worked in Whitechapel Gallery for a while as an invigilator – you know, those people who make sure no one gets to close to the art works. It was a great uni job because I could just sit and look at art all day but didn’t have to do anything. Easiest job in the world; telling people off in an art gallery.
There was one point this August when I had four jobs – I can’t even remember what they all were. I was trying to freelance on the side as well. I feel really fortunate now because I have a job three days a week, and then the rest of the time I can work on my own stuff. It’s pretty flexible. I’m so thankful because after I graduated I was envisioning a year of having a ton of different jobs.
What kind of work do you get as a freelance artist?
I’ve been doing a lot of t-shirt designs recently, but I usually do more editorial-based work. I also just work on my own projects, making my own zines and products. I've recently released some baseball hats with little baseball hat illustrations on them - I'm considering a whole line of kind of meta apparel. T-shirts with t-shirts on them and that kind of thing!
So how did you meet Charlie from Beach London?
I did an exhibition with Beach for a studio with my friend and collaborator Lily Kong. We have a project called Hi Bye Studio, which is focused on starting a conversation using art and design. We did a launch party at Beach’s gallery, where I met Charlie. I noticed that the Gallery Manager was leaving, so I applied! She ended up not leaving, but he offered me the position of Creative Manager and I knew I would be an idiot to refuse. I love managing them creatives.
Tell us more about Hi Bye Studio!
I started collaborating with Lily while we were at uni – she’s my best friend and our illustrative styles work really well together. We want to broaden the horizon of the art world; and I think it’s the right time to be having new conversations – why are certain voices not heard? I think people are doing a lot of introspection at the moment with everything that’s been in the news. Something’s got to change. It feels like a reckoning.
We want to start conversations about sexism and race, particularly from a vocational perspective, but we don’t want to make it scary! We hold workshops and talks and just have fun, trying to lighten it up a little bit to make it less intimidating to talk about.
It’s very current and it’s important for people, like you, to be starting these conversations, it’s inspiring. So what’s your long-term goal?
I’m really happy where I am at the moment, but in the really long term I’m aiming to freelance full time. I’m learning so much at Beach that if tomorrow the New York Times asked me to go and do editorial work for them, I’d turn them down because I feel like I’m not ready. I have so much more to learn! Maybe in ten years.
Find out more about Holly's work and check out her Shop for fun prints and other items (we’re eyeing the Cap On A Cap) at www.hollystclair.com. Catch Holly in on tour in 2018 with her exhibition around the theme "Love" and what it's like to fall in love in the 21st Century. She'll be in Newcastle, Leeds, and London:
28th March - 15th April - Colours May Vary, Leeds
Shot on location at Stir Coffee, Brixton.