Grad Spotlight: Arabella Simpson
With her colourful, textured journals, mini zines and surreal imagined worlds, illustrator Arabella Simpson is one to watch.
Graduating from Hereford College of Arts this Summer, Arabella Simpson has been keeping herself busy ever since. Here we talk to her about her first publishing commission, appearing on the One Show and her unconventional creative heroes.
Tell us a little about your place of study – why did you pick Hereford College Of Arts?
Hereford College of Arts is a very small art college that offers foundation/diploma based courses, at Folly Lane (main campus) and uni courses at newest Cathedreal like building at College Road. (funny enough, used to be where the Royal College of the Blind was.) I picked this college, mainly because I knew I would have the opportunity to make the most of more tutor attention and support – and it was also close to where I live.
What aspect of your illustration course did you most enjoy?
At my first year I really liked taking part of the Hay Festival events, that one of my tutors have a personal connection with some of the people there, and has been commissioned from them. When Chris Evan’s 500 word, essay had happened at BBC Radio we were selected to illustrate book covers for the winners and runners up(who were children) for the competition, but this had to be finished in extremely short period of time (30 seconds). We were filmed to do this at the One Show, and actually it wasn’t as nerve racking as I expected it to be – I really enjoyed it!
Your work features a lot of surreal characters, mixed media, textures and techniques – where did you get your ideas from?
At a young age (7) I constantly drew my surroundings with colouring crayons and felt tips. I drew areas like my living room and my dog, named Henri, with all the items that I could get my hands on to draw. So I was always hunting for textures and everything around me back then. Books, video games and everyday items were great sources of inspiration. During college at Stroud, where I did my art foundation, I got known for creating colourful, textured journals that illustrated my processes/diaries in my own method and style, using mixed media/textures. My journals, drawings and style are me and everyone I approach, knows they scream me!
When I did my final project there, I began collecting found objects to create 3D characters, mostly from found materials and objects I found on the street. They always looked so surreal. I started to concentrate on drawing whilst at University, and tried to develop and mature from there. But I also really enjoyed writing stories inspired by our surroundings, so I began to make zines and comics. These days I have returned to my drawing roots using less colour, but I still use mixed media and textures. I’m a late developer.
Can you talk about your final project, What was it inspired by and what did you make?
I went to Grayson Perry’s exhibition “Vanity of Small Differences” based in Bath recently, and saw his six pieces which were also busy looking, but also very colourful. These told the story of Rake’s progress, by Hogarth (1776) – Perry also creates art based on British social classes. This inspired me to make a series of pieces based on the Moon; something which is not only part of natures resources but also used widely across media, visually and in literature.
For my final project I decided to illustrate a zine that featured short stories of the four types of full moon characters I created ( these are now heavy brooches/wall decor). Since then I have created all 12 types of full moons to sell, but at the time I preferred the prints. My tutors and people I know, including my followers on social media also really liked my prints. That was my definition of success.
How would you describe your working process? What materials do you most enjoy working with?
I go straight to drawing with sharpies and paints, sometimes mixed media/ textures I’d collage in and then I work with them digitally (getting better at Photoshop this year!). I love sharpies and felt tip pens.
We understand you receive a commission for a book project whilst you were in your second year – What was this experience like?
Really positive actually! Though I admittedly have autism and moderate learning difficulties myself (diagnosed at age 3 with a really experienced psychologist and been in a special needs school for 17 years) I had the opportunity to have good conversations with my client, Carmel, who is a doctor who specialises in autism. We taught eachother lots of different things about autism. Our client was a really kind and honest woman who was really prompt with feedback during the project. It was great to see her again at my Summer show.
Who are your creative heroes?
I had to choose them, it be Lize Meddings who I first met at Shake Bristol. She has influenced me to create zines and lots more work. I picked up a few other contacts whom I know now, such as Ellice Weaver and Max Kemp who are also illustrators and have many more artists on the way. Mogu Takahashi is another hero of mine. I really really like her childish doodles on her journals. Drawing what she thinks, feels and sees on a daily basis. And the fact that I always dreamt of going to Japan since I was a child. Not only to meet her in person but to explore even more of Japanese culture with my own eyes would be wonderful. And finally Lauren Humphrey – I simply love her style and use of colour. I’d quite like to meet her to in person too.
Are you hoping to pursue more editorial/publishing projects or would you like make your own book?
Both. I would quite like to make my book and get it published. Although I am currently building my portfolio, I am making many zines/comics at the moment. I’m eager to look for an agency/clients who are passionate to represent and commission me.
What kind of projects, collaborations and experiences do you hope to cultivate yourself over the next year or two?
Actually I would love to try Risograph printing. We didn’t have a machine at college and I’m keen to know how to use and potentially own one in the future. I’m currently doing a magazine collab project for Shake Bristol, coming out this year at Christmas. I also have a degree showcase exhibition coming up next week (September 10 – 16th) at De Koffie Pot in Hereford and a couple stalls coming up at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair and potentially Semi Nice Art Fair in Cheltenham and International Etsy Team Market Fair Hereford. Lots happening!