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Subsign Spotlight #124: Alice Mawdsley.

Subsign: First, can you tell us a few things about yourself?

Alice: Hello, my name is Alice and I’m a freelance illustrator currently based in the UK. I got my illustration degree from Falmouth University in Cornwall, which is where I fell in love with reportage illustration and screen printing. My art explores different cultures, daily life and food. My favourite projects involve working with communities during my travels, often creating colourful drawings on location that share the stories of the people I meet. I enjoy getting inspiration from everyday life, so you will often find me on location drawing with my sketchbook.

Subsign: What was your childhood like? Do you think your childhood experiences have influenced your present creative endeavors?

Alice: I had a very fun childhood. I was a very academic child who also loved sports, music and exploring. I always loved being creative with my sisters, whether that was through art, drama, or music. At school, pursuing creative subjects and careers wasn’t something that was very encouraged. Due to this, I was originally considering going into chemistry or architecture, but something kept on telling me this wasn’t what made me truly happy – and I am so glad I went to study illustration instead. Looking back these responses from others helped drive my motivation to make illustration my career and one day show how important creative careers are in society.

Growing up my parents would always organize these long summer trips travelling around Europe and ticking off lots of countries along the way. We would stay with friends or in places with locals, immersing ourselves in different cultures and trying new things. These experiences have been a massive influence on my work and my enjoyment of reportage illustration, travelling, learning about different places, and meeting new people. I always love that feeling you get when you are somewhere new with that sense of the unknown. It encourages you to see the world and your daily life with a new perspective and I guess also fuels my love for learning.

Subsign: How were the winter holidays like in your family growing up?

Alice: Christmas has always been a family event. Christmas Eve was when my sisters and I would do a lot of baking and create a spread of Christmas treats for family friends. Then Christmas day would either be celebrated at my cousins or my grandparents. We would go for a big Christmas meal, presents, granny’s Christmas cake with the best marzipan and of course a game of charades or pass the bomb (both of which I was never any good at). My sisters and I would often put together a little music concert on the flute, cello and clarinet, as entertainment for the adults. Winters would also include trips up north to see my dad’s side of the family, which always felt like a special break. Boxing day is my mum’s birthday, so we usually always make a trip to the beach, even if it is raining or snowing, as it is my mum’s favourite place to be.

Subsign: How do you celebrate New Year’s Eve?

Alice: After the busy few days of Christmas and birthday celebrations, New Years Eve was never anything too significant for my family. I remember staying up until midnight together whilst watching fireworks or a film and writing goals for the next year. Nowadays, I just enjoy it as a time to spend with friends or family.

Subsign: What does your workstation look like?

Alice: My workstation depends on the project I am doing. Due to the nature of my illustrations, I spend a lot of time drawing on location, otherwise it is at my desk with my pencils. I also often spend my time on my laptop, editing, emailing, sorting out my website and doing admin work, which is never the most exciting thing, so I like going to public spaces like a café or a more interesting environment for a change of scene. My favourite place to work is always at a screen-printing studio – this is where I feel my most creative and happiest. If you are in London, East London Printmakers is such a lovely space with a great team for screen printing!

Subsign: Do you have a work style? How would you describe it?

Alice: Through my illustration degree this idea of finding your style was always something very prominent in my mind – often being reminded how important it is for your illustration career, which can put a lot of pressure on the process. At the beginning I didn’t think I had a style; it was only until my art teachers started commenting on it and I spent more time exploring that I started to see it. I feel style is more of an intuitive thing that you develop and strengthen through continuously pushing your artwork and finding out what creative things make you happy. For me colour theory and playing with different palettes has always been something I love to experiment with in my work. I also enjoy focusing on linework and details, getting my inspiration from the world around me and things that may be unnoticed in daily life. Due to my love of screen printing, I find myself looking at locations and subjects in terms of colour layers, which I guess formed my more colourful approach to illustration.

The biggest influence on my style was during a previous trip to Malaysia, where I spent several weeks studying at a university, travelling around the country and staying with locals. During this time, I decided to capture an authentic insight into daily life and found my sketchbook and coloured pencils was the quickest, most accessible and enjoyable way of doing this. I spent my time constantly drawing and writing down conversations I had with others everywhere I went – whether I was in a wet market, jungle, on a crammed train, or sat by the road. I also found drawing on location was a great way of communicating with others over the language barrier, especially when staying with a lovely Malay family near Kuala Lumpur. This experience reinforced my love for reportage illustration and is always a memory I go back to when I am thinking of what gives me that creative spark. With illustration I feel that there are so many possibilities, so I am always learning and look forward to seeing how my style develops as I continue.

Subsign: Can you share with us how your creative process works?

Alice: The creative process depends on the nature of the project I am doing and its deadline. I am a lover of researching all the details around a subject so I feel I can fully illustrate the concept – however, this isn’t always possible for quick briefs. For longer deadlines, I generally spend time at the beginning getting inspiration from drawing on location, talking to people, looking at books, galleries and creating mood boards. Then it’s onto the idea generation phase, involving mind maps, morphological matrixes and doing quick pencil sketches of any imagery related to the text or subject. I then go onto thumbnail sketches and colour roughs (using Procreate on my iPad) and then onto the final piece. Once it’s done, I scan the design and make any edits needed on Photoshop. If I am just drawing on location then the process is quite spontaneous and intuitive, getting colour inspiration from the location and drawing straight away – though I do often do a few thumbnail sketches to decide the best composition to capture the location.

Subsign: How do you balance work with your personal time during busy periods?

Alice: I’ve always admired any creative who can balance their work with their personal time. Creativity isn’t something you can easily ‘switch off’ or control, so I find its often always going on in the back of my mind. I am still working on this idea of balance, but I’ve come a long way in trying to find it. Nowadays, I find it helpful to make sure to time block things and create clear schedules for the work. As someone who likes making plans and organizing, this can often be quite a nice task to do in-between drawing. I also make sure I spend time doing things outside of illustration and creativity during the week, to give my mind a break – this could be doing sports, spending time with friends and family, going to new places or cooking. I’ve learnt, from personal experience of burnout from working too much, that having some time for your mind to be clear can be so beneficial in coming up with new ideas and being more creative – even if I didn’t always think so at the time.

Subsign: What is your favorite work you have done so far?

Alice: My favourite work must be a trio of A1 screen prints I created called ‘Daily Life Through Our Eyes’. It was a reportage project working alongside Syrian refugee families and their supporting charity in Falmouth, Cornwall. This was a self-initiated project spread over seven months, and involved a lot of organising, but was extremely rewarding and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I spent a few months drawing on location in the families’ homes whilst learning traditional recipes, going to their clubs, support groups, drawing with the children and talking about their journeys. I decided to capture life through the children’s eyes since coming to England, as a way of connecting through familiarity. All the imagery and writing on the screen prints came from drawings I created on location and conversations I had with the children, who taught me so much and still do. These screen prints were used to raise money for the charity to support new families coming to England. They were also selected for the Refugee Week Greece 2023 exhibition. This idea of creating illustrations for positive change, even if it is in a small way, has always been what has driven my love for this career and inspired me to pursue it in the first place. Creativity is such a powerful thing, and I really hope to be making more projects like this in the future.

Subsign: Which artists do you admire and would recommend others to follow?

Alice: Reportage illustration has always been at the core of my practice with amazing artists in this field being George Butler, Lucinda Rogers, Benoît Guillaume and Olivier Kugler. I would also recommend reading books by Gary Embury and Martin Salisbury. Laura Carlin, Emma Carlisle and Beatrice Alemagna are some other artists I love, among so many other amazing creatives!

Subsign: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the creative field of work?

Alice: Continue doing that creative thing that gives you that excitement and go for it. Always look around you and you’ll be amazed how much inspiration you can get from everyday life. Something which I would say is extremely helpful is trying to draw on location and from life as much as possible, once you’ve got the fundamentals you can start playing with around more. I would also say that social media is amazing as a platform for sharing your art but remember that your success on the platform does not determine whether you are a good illustrator or not! Most importantly create what is truly you and have fun doing it – never forget what brings you joy and why you started.

Subsign: If you could have a super power, what would it be?

Alice: To bring peace to others.

Subsign: Can you recommend a book, a song and a movie, for our readers?

Alice: For a book I would suggest ‘Untamed’ – I often suggest this for friends and family who love it as well. For a relaxing song, well piece of music, it would be ‘Toulouse’. I am never great at watching films the whole way through, but I do remember liking ‘Emma’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

Subsign: If you were organizing the perfect New Year’s Eve party, what would it be like and which famous people would you invite to the table?

Alice: For a New Year’s Eve event I would love to do a trip somewhere where it feels nice and Christmassy. So, I don’t know whether it would be a party, but more of an experience to start the year somewhere new with friends and family. For famous people it would be great to meet some of the creatives I love.

Subsign: Do you usually set resolutions for the coming year? What goals would you like to achieve in 2024?

Alice: Yes, setting goals at the beginning of the year has always been something my sisters and I have done together. For the next year I would love to be doing more reportage focused projects where I am contributing to helping others, such as with another charity organisation or I have a few books ideas around this topic. Illustration wise I would like to be doing more screen-printing and finally start workshops as a way of making art more accessible to inspire others to start creating. I am in the process of moving abroad, so for a personal goal it is to be settled down in the new country and have found other creatives in the area.

Thank you, Alice, for being a part of our Spotlight!

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For more of  Alice‘s work, you can follow her work on the links: Alice on Instagram, Alice on Behance.


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"Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard."

Guy Kawasaki