Brighton-based freelance illustrator Jessica Meyrick has been on a journey. Well, lots of journeys to be accurate. Originally from Bristol, she now lives and works on the south coast after five years of living in Australia. And her bold, hand-painted artwork has evolved along the way too.

With an interest in themes of femininity, equity and issues surrounding mental health and well-being, Jessica has refined a fluid line work that manages to work in distinctive graphic shapes. Working in gouache, watercolour and digital mediums, her strong aesthetic is also preoccupied with colourful fruits, plants, and explorations of the female form.

Graduating from Falmouth University with a First in illustration is just one of her many achievements as an illustrator. Having known that she wanted to be an artist from an early age, Jessica has realised this ambition by signing up with The Jacky Winter Group to work with clients such as the Boston Globe, Facebook, Apple and Penguin Random House to name but a few.

More recently she has been representing her interests in her work, which has lead to closer alignment with the types of clients she collaborates with. This includes projects with Emergency Centres in Australia against domestic violence; Breast Cancer Awareness; and global Period Equity and Menstrual Health, which she describes as the highlight of her career so far.

To learn more about her art and her journey, and how you too can align your values with the sort of work you create, we caught up with Jessica as she settles into her new Brighton home studio.

Fruits, plants and the female form are recurring images in your work. How come?

I could easily answer this question with, because I love painting them! Fruits are such an interesting subject because of their cheeky subtext! I’m fascinated by the associations with fruit and human anatomy – particularly associations with female sexuality!

I’ve owned a lot of plants, and living in Sydney and Falmouth exposed me to the most beautiful leaves. Plants bring me such a sense of calm. Having links to nature in my work does feel important to me.

I’ve always loved drawing people, but I find the female form particularly engaging. There is so much power there, but there is also a whole bunch of expectations and restrictions societally that I want to challenge through my work.

With some clients, I’ve received comments that some characters look “too big”, need to be “thinner”; or are “too muscular”…in the very worst cases, even asking to remove people of colour entirely. It’s also interesting to me the comments around male characters appearing “too feminine”.

I think, essentially, there are a lot of unintentional limitations set around representation in some commercial illustration. And I find the limits around femininity something I always come back to in my work. What if you’re looking at an editorial illustration, but all of the characters are specifically one size, or one colour, or one way of looking? How does that affect the individual looking at the work?

I’d like to create work that explores entire spectrum of human experience through my character design, but femininity in particular is something I naturally keep coming back to.

Who are your biggest artistic inspirations and why?

Yayoi Kusama has had a massive influence on me because of the way she utilises her creativity. Not only has she created a way to work through her personal experiences through her art, particularly with mental health; but a way of engaging and immersing an audience into her world. That in and of itself is so powerful to me – let alone how stunningly breathtaking her work is!

How did you cultivate your distinctive style?

During my last year in Falmouth studying illustration, I invested a lot of time developing what I hoped would result in an authentic, personal style I could be proud of. I thought about attributes I was drawn to in illustration and design; what I enjoyed creating and how I enjoyed creating it.

I actually ended up drawing and painting the entire summer before third year – trying to translate my love for graphic shapes and hints of minimalism with fine, elaborate details in hand-drawn artworks.

After a lot of trial and error, I finally hit on something I liked. I just continued to draw, paint, draw, paint…until I started to get more confident with what I was doing.

Each new piece I make now has continued to have a ripple effect on the next artwork. I’ve learnt so much through creating, that my style continues to evolve more and more into a something I love!

I’d describe my style as a combination of fluid line work and bold graphic shapes, using bright colours, intricate detail and pattern; and a use of flat, 2D perspective.

What advice would you give to artists who are hoping to align their values with the professional work they create?

Show it in your personal work. Whether a client finds you, or you’re presenting your work to clients: they’ll be looking through your portfolio.

If you make a body of personal work that reflects your values – they’re going to spot it in the work. If you can, put aside time to think about what interests you: who do you want to work with? What kind of topics interest you and align with your values? Then, spend time making work about it. Get it in your folio – and you’re good to go!

I’ve always loved drawing people, but I find the female form particularly engaging. There is so much power there, but there is also a whole bunch of expectations and restrictions societally that I want to challenge through my work.

Why are mental health, well-being and self-perception themes that you like to represent in your work?

In all honesty, I’ve struggled a lot with poor mental health since I was young. I’ve had a lot of anxiety and depression, which led to struggles with anorexia. A couple of years ago, I got to a stage where I was in a health crisis. I needed to get professional help as soon as possible.

I’ve always unintentionally hidden allusions to mental health and well-being in my work, purely because I wasn’t being inspired by anything other than my own experiences with it. But while I was going through recovery, I made a personal piece about body dysmorphia, after finally coming to the realisation it was a massive struggle for me personally.

I had so many conversations with close friends about their experiences with eating disorders or difficulties with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. It kind of shocked me how many people I knew that had had, or were having experiences just like mine.

The response was incredible, and the artwork received the AOI’s “highly commended” for the World Illustration Awards 2019. So many individuals got in touch with me, expressing how much it meant to them. It was very moving and totally unexpected!

Since then, I’ve wanted to keep exploring personal experiences in my work. It makes such a difference for people to see their reality in illustration, know they’re not alone; and feel there’s space for them to talk about it with others.

What does a typical working day for you look like?

Usually, I work Monday to Friday 9-6ish, but when there’s a big or quick project on, it’s late nights; working weekends; and multiple cups of coffee. Since the first lockdown, I moved out of my shared studio and started working from home – so there is always access to much needed black coffee.

If there’s time, I try to squeeze in an hour of yoga once or twice a week, with a quick walk in the morning and evening to replicate the feel of a commute to work. If I’m not working on client work, I’m busy sketching and painting new work – but I try to spend as much time painting as I can.

What are you working on right now, and what would your dream project be?

Right now, I’m still adjusting to being back in the UK, but I’m working closely with my incredible producer Clara from my agents, Jacky Winter, in Brighton. There are a couple of bigger projects that I’m sitting on for now, but I’m hoping all will be revealed in the upcoming months!

My dream project would be working with Nike on a project promoting women in sport – any excuse to paint up some chunky trainers! Plus, I love how each illustrator’s response to Nike briefs feels unique and authentic, whilst staying true to the brand.

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