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Amy Blackwell Portraits, Patterns & Plant Ladies

All things bold, bright and beautiful, Amy Blackwell’s illustrations are just the tonic to see us through these cold and wintery days.

2020 will go down as one of the toughest years on record for artists, but their resilience and capacity for reflection and reinvention has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

As a self-confessed ‘Jacqueline of all trades’, Amy Blackwell’s artistic interests span illustration, printing, painting, doodling and knitting. It was an absolute pleasure to chat with her about this absolute rollercoaster of a year - and how she’s been keeping the creative juices flowing.

First things first - tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the world of full-time artistry.

My name is Amy and I’m an artist based in the Midlands, Nottingham to be specific. The land of Robin Hood. I’m originally from Derby, which is just down the road and where I grew up, in a very creative household. Just me, my mum and dad and some cats. They’re both artists and makers so it’s in my blood and has always been part of my every day. I knew from a very early age that art and creativity was a path I wanted to pursue and my parents actively encouraged it.

I did the classic thing of going to university and picking the wrong course. I did Fine Art but I am in no way a fine artist so that was a life lesson. But it didn’t deter me. I graduated with a terrible grade in 2007 and at that time websites like Etsy had started to pop up, giving us newly debt-ridden creative folk a platform to showcase and sell our makings. I jumped on the bandwagon and established my online illustration presence and the rest is history really. I bit the bullet and finally went full-time freelance about three years ago and I haven’t looked back.

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You express yourself across multiple mediums. Do you have a favourite, and if so, why?

Right now I’m very much a digital illustrator, although I’ve tried all sorts over the past few years - painting, print-making, collage. I’ve always thought of myself as a Jacqueline of all trades. I get fixated on one process and then after a few months I wear myself out and move on to something new and get fixated on that.

They all tend to have very similar repetitive core processes though, like painting lots of similar leafy patterns or cutting away at lino blocks. I’m very much process-led in that way. I just love making things and applying patterns and colours to things.

I’ve also very recently branched out into the world of knitwear design. I love knitting and I love writing up my own patterns. I think knitting is very similar to drawing in a weird way.

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What was the inspiration behind your Plant Lady Calendar?

I actually asked people on Instagram what they’d like to see in the new calendar and the most common answers were portraits, plants and patterns, so I just mashed it all together and created these new plant lady portraits. I can’t seem to stop drawing them either at the moment. I love drawing leaves as well. They’re probably my favourite thing to draw.

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How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on your day-to-day practice?

I’ll be honest, it’s been interesting. I had such a busy year last year illustrating books and all sorts for the first time. It was a dream come true but a huge learning curve and I felt like I was burning out by December, so I’d planned to take some time off this spring and summer to go to museums and develop my art style and top up my inspiration levels.

Then the world shut down and I was left with all of this free time as projects began to dry up. I quickly realised how integral that simple day-to-day connection with people and friends and the commute to the studio was to my energy and inspiration levels. I felt completely drained and lost and a lot of the people I spoke to via the wonderful world of Zoom felt the same. When the studio reopened I was relieved to have somewhere to go and a sense of normality to my days, but it’s still hard work to get the creative juices flowing and find motivation and direction.

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Tell us about Earth Heroes and how you came to collaborate with Lily Dyu.

Earth Heroes was an incredible project to work on and I feel so lucky to be part of the new full-colour edition. When that beauty landed on the doorstep - and it did with a thud - I was over the moon. I was contacted by the publishers and probably asked to supply some samples and then we went on from there.

It’s such a wonderful collection of incredibly inspiring people doing amazing things in their different world health-related fields. I learnt a lot doing it, both by illustrating a book and by discovering some Earth Heroes I’d never heard of.

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And finally, what's on the horizon for you?

Well, we’re knee-deep in Lockdown 2.0 so I’m going to be gentle with my brain and listen to what it needs so I can keep drawing and making. I’ve also got a few other book projects in the pipeline and a tarot deck which I illustrated during last winter and completed this summer. I’m so excited about that and fingers crossed it’s due for release in Feb/March 2021.

I reckon I’ll also stick with the plant ladies for a little longer and keep up with my monthly Patreon print club.

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