Hattie Stewart on how to create incredible, fun and super-bright art

The illustrator tells us about her latest projects, doodlebombing, her love for Posca pens, and why female illustrators still get a raw deal.

Before the launch of the book, I caught up with Hattie to discover how she imbues her work with such a sense of fun (with an occasional satirical bite) and how her doodlebombs have evolved from drawing on magazine covers to create artworks to being commissioned to bomb them for real newsstand covers. We also talked about her latest project for Mac cosmetics and why we still need to do more for equality between men and women in the creative industries. You can watch the interview (above), or read an excerpt of the conversation here.

Neil Bennett: "How do you think of yourself?"

Hattie Stewart: "Predominantly, I'm an illustrator – but then I work in so many different fields as well, [including] photography and fashion, and I also consider myself an artist. I think I chose illustration as a field particularly because my key thing was always to draw - and my interests in all those other creative realms weren't as intense. I really wanted to be a part of them also, and focussing on illustration enabled me to branch out into all the different areas that I wanted to."

Neil: "How would you sum up your style, in terms of the emotions you want to evoke in people, and the general approach to what you want to represent?"

Hattie: "I always define my style as sort of tongue-in-cheek. It's playful. I'm not really one for allegory, or telling people what to think or what to expect. I prefer my work to be completely open to interpretation, and people to take from it what they want themselves, to project their own ideas onto my work.

"I really do just draw and focus on the things that I like and find interesting. I don't really ever know what the real intention of my work is, but I'm discovering that as I grow stylistically and as a person. I think when I'm older, I'll probably look back and I'll realize what the intention of my work was, or I'll realise maybe the effect that it had."

Image: Artwork from Living With Hattie Stewart. You can buy the book from Amazon here.

Neil: "There appears to be a satirical edge to some of your doodlebombs, like you're taking the piss out of the source materials. Is that true?"

Hattie: "When you have celebrities of this calibrate – and they're projected constantly as these perfect entities – if I fuck them up and play with them, in that sense, it's automatically going to be satirical, because you're flipping the original intention of a cover on its head. [But] they're part homage and part satire.

"The people who don't like these covers, or don't like the people on them can have a laugh and a giggle, but the people who do like these covers, and do like these people on it can enjoy seeing their icon or whatever twisted into a different reality. It's just meant to be playful."

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Neil: "With your doodlebombs,  you started with you drawing on preexisting covers. Now you work more collaboratively, commissioned by the magazines themselves. Has this changed the way you create them?"

Hattie: "When I'm collaborating with a photographer, I'm always like, 'You do the pictures. Just make sure there's some fun movements in there.'

"That's literally all I give in direction. I don't really like taking control of what is their field. Also, if I tried to preconceive a photograph too early – at its conception – it just never works as organically. I prefer having the pictures set ready, and then I'll draw over the top."

Neil: "You've also developed that style into animation as well, and created GIFs. How much fun was that?"

Hattie: ""I absolutely love animation. Seeing your stuff move and come to life is just the most exciting, thrilling thing. I just love working in any field, and applying my work into any different area or realm that I possibly can. The freedom to do that is just phenomenal, and I want to do more.

"I want to experiment more. The ultimate dream is to do a feature film, but that's sometime later on down the line.

Image: Hattie's work for Old Navy.

"I worked closely with one of my good friends, Andy Baker. He's a genius animator – he knows really how my work moves. I've collaborated with him on the Sexercize stuff for Kylie, where then we got to really bring out that tongue-in-cheek nature of my work, and bring in the animation stuff with more live action."

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Neil: "How did the Living With Hattie Stewart book come about? Did you approach the publishing company, or did they approach you?"

Hattie: "They actually approached me. It's the second in the second in their series of books called Living With, which is all about the movable art prints, you can have them yourself in the home and stuff.

"I liked the concept. I liked the idea that it was just predominantly, totally, fully illustration. It wasn't really conceptual – they're just prints. I hadn't really had the chance to sit down and just focus solely on just illustration work [for a while] – it's a luxury I'm rarely afforded nowadays."

You can buy Living With Hattie Stewart from Amazon here.

Neil: "What kind of materials do you use to create your work?"

Hattie: "I use Posca pens. Oh my God. They are literally the best pens in the world, because I love to work on so many different materials, and work in so many different realms. Posca pens let me draw on leather and draw on windows. I just absolutely adore them."

Image: Artwork from Living With Hattie Stewart

Neil: "What else have you got coming up at the moment?"

Hattie: "Well, I've just been working on a campaign for MAC Cosmetics, which should be finishing this week. They sponsor Fashion Weeks worldwide, so I've been doing 33 illustrations – or about a hundred in total when you account for the mockups that represents.

"They gave me an image of a woman to represent each city, and then I did my illustration over the top. That has been really fun, because they've pretty much given me complete freedom to do whatever I want to do over the top of them."

Image: London for MAC Cosmetics

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Neil: "Do you like having that kind of freedom, because some illustrators find that utterly terrifying?"

Hattie: "Yeah. I like to have something to work with, because if it is 'Do whatever', I'm like, 'Well, where do I even start?'

"[If a client says] 'We want you to do what you do best, which is illustrating over photography, and incorporating the patterns that you use – but just work with this colour palette, and don't add in this or that" – having that kind of freedom to basically focus on something that I love to do anyway is really, really fun."

Image: Milan for MAC Cosmetics

Neil: "It's perceived that illustration is something where you have more equality between men and women than certain other creative industries. Would you say that we're still not at the point where there's total equality?"

Hattie: "Oh, definitely. It's completely inequel. Of course, there are many talented female illustrators – but sometimes how they are considered compared to their male peers is a lot different, and the attention on the male illustrators is a lot bigger and broader than it is on the females.

"I [have a memery of] an external examiner at uni who always winds me up, and he said, "You know, don't take this the wrong way. If anything it's a compliment, but I thought, when I saw your work, that you were a boy.

"I was like, 'Okay. One, that's not a compliment. That's kind of insulting to me, and my gender. Two, what makes this a masculine style? What defines this style, or this way of drawing as masculine?'

Image: Paris for MAC Cosmetics

"I stopped using pink for a really long time, because I didn't want to be defined as that female illustrator – or dismissed because 'she's doing something girly'. Whereas now I'm like, 'Well, fuck it. If I want to use pink, I'm going to use pink.'

"If people are going to define my work, or not take me as seriously because I draw in a certain way or because I'm a girl, then fuck them. I'm going to exactly the kind of work that I want to create – and I know that I'm creating it because it's me, not because of my gender."

Image: Artwork from Living With Hattie Stewart. You can buy the book from Amazon here.

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Neil: "There is this whole idea that somehow fashion illustration is what girls do – and at the other end, pixel art is what boys do."

Hattie: "Yes – this is one thing that totally winds me up all the time. Because I've worked within fashion, I get defined so many times as a fashion illustrator. [I have to say,] "no, fashion illustration is an entirely different field of illustration'.

There are loads of male illustrators who've worked within fashion, but then they didn't get defined as fashion illustrators.

Image: Hattie's bodypaint-based project for Stylist magazine.

"Not that there's anything wrong with fashion illustration, because working in fashion is amazing. It's just that I get asked questions like how I dress, and about my hair and stuff. What's that got to do with my work? It's just literally just how I dress.

Neil: "We've seen celebrities being interviewed where they ask the male actors the questions the female actors usually get asked. We should do that. Next time Mr. Bingo comes in, I'm going to ask him about his hair and fashion choices."

Hattie: I" have been told, 'You should do it because it gets your work out there more'. I'm like, 'But it's not about my work anymore, it's about me and my identity outside of it'. Yeah, in a sense they're one and the same, but I don't want to be defined by how I look compared to how I draw.
"For a woman to be out there speaking, it's just defined differently to when a man's out there speaking. I think you're judged more on how you appear to be rather than what it is you're saying. You're constantly being picked out and judged. I feel like sometimes when I go into meetings, [then] if I'm a bit ditsy, I'm not taken as seriously as my male peers. I get talked over a lot, which drives me nuts."

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Neil: "How do we fix that? Because having a brand identity as an illustrator is seen as being a very important thing, and that brand identity is, in some ways, about your personality."

Hattie: "That kind of question's almost impossible for me to answer – or for anyone to answer. One of the key points is just the fact that you're acknowledging it, and thinking of it, and being aware of it – because then if someone's consciously aware and wanting to make those changes, then when they go into those interviews with male and female [subjects', they'll recognise if they say anything differently.

"A friend told me this story about when she was a school teacher. Each child [in the class] had to give a talk on their own chosen subject. Then there was a boy and a girl, and both of them were too afraid to do it.

"She said, 'When I realized what I had said to each, that I realised what the problem really was. To the girl, I said, 'It's okay. If you're not sure, don't worry about it. We can do it another time. Don't you worry about it.'

"To the boy, she said, 'Come on. You can do this. You've got this. You're going to be absolutely fine.'

"The differences are so subtle, but in the long run they become something so huge – where guys can go out, completely fearless, thinking they can do anything. Whereas the girls – and I see it with so many of my female illustration peers – are too wary and afraid to make that step.

"We're more consciously aware of the work we're doing, whereas a guy will just go and be like, 'Yeah, I can do this. I can do whatever I want and be accepted into the crew'. Whereas a girl's more on the fringes, not sure if she's able to take that step. It all stems down to those subtle differences we are told as children that define us when we get older, because those small things have a huge impact.

"When you become consciously aware of those two differences, you stop yourself from doing them, and that will lead to the big impact."