I truly love it when readers reach out to me whether it be by email or randomly on the street. I am totally flattered that even one person reads this blog and when readers are interested in collaborating or being featured it completely makes my day.
Melanie Lambrick followed me on Instagram and I was immediately intrigued. I checked out her illustrations, fell in love and immediately wanted to know if she’d be interested in being featured. Lovely gal that she is, she said yes and agreed to answer all my questions.
Here Melanie tells us all about growing up in a small town, finding her way and establishing her career as an illustrator.
Tell me a bit about yourself – where you are from, your professional and /or personal background.
I’m originally from Vancouver Island – I grew up in a village called Cowichan Station. Our house was pretty remote. We didn’t have cable or even neighbours, really. I spent most of my time creating – drawing, sewing, writing. I also walked a lot in the forest.
I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria in political science and visual art. It was strange going back and forth between the very free, unfocused “art school” world and the intense, heady political science department, but I think each major taught me to approach the other in a more balanced way. After I graduated, I moved to Montreal on a whim, and then applied to the McGill urban planning Master’s program and got in. While I did my second degree, I started working in international development, connecting feminist theory to urban management. It was an amazing experience. I worked with people whose experiences were completely different from my own and had the opportunity to travel to many countries I would probably not have seen otherwise. After five years, however, I was having some health problems and feeling very burnt out. I realized I needed to return to the more creative aspects of myself, and I began experimenting with design, photography, painting and writing.
I finally settled on illustration as a career goal last year, because it’s so challenging both at a creative and an intellectual level. It’s a way to make a living that incorporates all of my experience so far, with a lot of room to grow.
A lot of your illustrations have a Montreal theme. What is about Montreal that inspires you?
Yes, a lot of my illustrations are specifically about the Mile End. This spring, Centaur Theatre was putting on a production set in the Mile End and they invited me (as an artist living in the neighbourhood) to show some paintings during the show. I had always wanted to do a “painting a day” series, so I took the opportunity to make 20 illustrations about where I live in 20 days.
When I first came to Montreal in 2007, I lived in the Mile End. Since then, I’ve moved around a lot but I find I always end up back in the area. I think I like it because it’s familiar – I have a lot of fond memories of the streets and alleyways. At any given time, you could probably throw a stone and hit an artist around here, for better or for worse. Because I grew up in a small town where being artistic wasn’t necessarily considered a good thing, I suppose it just feels comforting to fit in. It’s also motivating, to be in a place where so much great work is being produced. It pushes me to try harder and to separate myself from the crowd.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?
When I was young, I wasn’t really exposed to the kind of publications that had illustrations in them. I think I just thought illustration was for children’s books. In art school, our professors focused on training us to become “fine artists” whose work was made for galleries. I felt they kind of discouraged us from illustrative careers.
It wasn’t until I was more focused on writing that I started to notice and appreciate illustration. I would be working on a paper or an article or even a poem, always focussing on cutting back. I wanted to express things simply, elegantly. And then I would see these illustrations in the New Yorker or the Atlantic that would just use a few lines and some colour to pull together whole concepts and humanize them. It was then that I understood the power of illustration as a communication tool, and it became really attractive to me.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before becoming an independent creative artist?
This is a new venture for me, so I’m not sure if I’m qualified to give advice! I do know that one of the most difficult parts of this career path, for me, is having the right mixture of patience, vision, and self-forgiveness. It’s like a secret recipe that I’m still working out – I know where I want my work to be, and I know where it is now. I know I have to experiment to grow, and that means giving myself a lot of freedom. At the same time, I also have to make money, so it’s hard to loosen up and find that space. Every day is about re-assessing my work, my business goals and my identity, as it fits into everything else. It can be terrifying and exhausting. But it can also force you to grow and make better work. I suppose I would say that to be an independent artist, you have to be okay with going through that process regularly, on your own.
You have to trust yourself to come out alright, even if it’s not apparent that great things are happening all at once.
There are lots of little, wonderful things that add up. Those are the things to focus on.
Thank-you so much Melanie for answering all of my questions.
Find more about Melanie at Melanie Lambrick Illustration.
ps Find more interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs here.