Illustrator, artist and maker Morwenna Farrell chats family, fishermen, film and finding her passion.
1. Do you think growing up in Cornwall has helped shape the kind of work you do?
I come from a very creative family, so I think I’ve been influenced by everyone a little bit.
My mum is a wonderful painter and used to make the most amazing clothes. She made me a yellow Beauty and the Beast dress and everyone at my birthday party was jealous. My big sister, auntie and cousins are talented painters and potters. My stepdad was an incredible musician who used to play his harmonica while doing a headstand, and my great granddad was a beautiful photographer. My Uncle is also a collector.
We’re very proud to have a link in the family to Alfred Wallis, so it’s most definitely in my blood and shows in the way I produce lots of different things – from film and photography to printmaking. I love to dabble in a bit of everything!
My family is also very eccentric which influences and shapes my work. I see the little things and want to cherish them and bring them out in my work. I enjoy a quirky character and a good story.
There are so many tales in St Ives. One that sticks in my mind is about the small chapel on top of the island. If you run around it 12 times (I think) on a full moon, the tale goes that a ghost will come and push you off! The true story is in fact a very sad one – a lady with a baby lost her husband to the sea. I draw on these stories and memories and try to capture them.
I’m currently working on a fishermen’s superstitions zine. I’ve created some tees from the sketch ups, and the book should be ready soon. It was inspired by a visit home and a trip to the St Ives Museum.
I want to do some work soon about Alfred Wallis using my nan’s memories. I want to get the stories of St Ives from her perspective – she really is a storyteller, so it will be a fun challenge.
2. We’ve spotted your nan modelling your wares. Has she been a big influence?
My nan has always been an inspiration to me, as has my mum. Both have always supported me in whatever I choose to do, and nan just rocked the Norwich tee! I couldn’t resist getting her to model for me!
My nan and mum both inspire me to have fun, be myself and wear whatever the hell I want. Have you seen Absolutely Fabulous? That’s them in a nut shell.
3. We love your screen prints and illustrations – are there any other materials and mediums you want to start using?
I love to screen print. My first time screen printing was while studying at Wensum Lodge in Norwich. At uni I experimented in many other mediums, and then when I came back to it in my final year, I incorporated collage and other mediums into my prints.
I would be in the print room all day until closing time, experimenting with colours, blending and trying to produce 3D effects. I also printed onto laser cut puppet shapes and made toys. I love to push the boundaries of print and see if I can come up with something new.
Collage was important to my practice at uni, using my vast collection of vintage materials to tell new stories. I enjoyed using vintage materials to make stories about social media – social media wouldn’t have existed then but it still works so well. I haven’t really touched collage much since I left uni – I’m just waiting for the next project where collage feels right.
I also enjoy film on the side – I’m a massive movie nerd. I enjoy a good B movie and world cinema. I love the imagination of Park Chan-wook in I am a Cyborg, but that’s Ok, and Eraser Head is probably my favourite film of all time. The sounds and the eeriness is everything I love about film. David Lynch really is my idol!
I have a Super 8 camera that I purchased a few years ago, so I need to dust off the cobwebs and get filming soon!
I enjoy taking pictures and using old cameras because I love the fact I can’t add a filter or delete them if someone doesn’t like the way they look. The beauty is having to edit – by only having a certain amount of snaps in each roll, it forces me to edit.
4. There are lots of retro references in your work. If it were possible to pick, which era would you choose to live in?
The strong imagery and fashion makes the 1920s one of my favorites. I love the old-school touch of Hollywood glamour. I’m fascinated with the fact there’s no sound in the movies, and the exaggerated expressions. One of my favorite film scenes to explain this would from Metropolis, when the men watch the lady dance. It’s so fast-paced and chaotic.
I also have a fascination with 1950s suburbia – the portrayal of what’s perfect, and how dated it is compared to nowadays (yet it can be edited by me to fit into today so easily!). And of course the teddy boys. I’m always attracted to a rebellious character.
The swinging sixties, especially Mod fashion, go-go girls and 70s punk all influence my work too. I love zines, and the ripped, handmade-ness of it all. I love the statements of bold colour slapped in your face.
I’m a hoarder of everything and in all honesty, a bit of each era inspires everything I do. Whether it’s the fashion, the attitude or the slogans of the time, they all spark my imagination.
5. Who’s your favourite illustrator of all time and why?
I absolutely adore M Sasek. His style is adorable, and so is the way he captures places and uses layout. Also Ryan Heshka – his style is so evocative.
6. What’s the hardest part of what you do?
It has to be editing – every day I see something that inspires me! I’ve found a new way to cope with it, by writing it down and coming back to ideas another time. I have to stop my mind from wandering, so I set mini projects to cope with my hoarding of ideas.
Holidays are the hardest – I capture everything in sight, then create a one-page print of the places I’ve loved and the things I don’t want to forget.
7. You went to art school a little later than most students. What made you decide to finally take the plunge and how did you go about it?
I was lost in a job I’d been in for 7 years, terrified of change. I did progress in it, but I knew there was something missing. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself in making work. I got quite down and things got stale, so I just decided to enroll on a weekend course at Wensum Lodge in Norwich. I went and all this passion came with it. It was the best choice I ever made.
Once I finished the course I was a little worried about what I would do next, and began to feel lost again. So I just thought ‘go for it’ and applied for a degree in Illustration at NUA. I thought if I get in it’s meant to be, and if I don’t I’ll know what I need to improve on before applying again.
I couldn’t believe it when I got in. It’s funny how things turn out. I’m not afraid of change at all now, if anything I prefer it and I never thought I would hear myself say that.
8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start exploring his or her creativity but doesn’t know where to start?
Start an Instagram page to share your sketches and ideas. Always do it for yourself and not for the likes.
Make work you enjoy, and look out for local creative groups. I’m lucky that in Norwich there’s a huge creative community with lots of other people feeling the same way.
Just go for it – there’s nothing stopping you! Put yourself out there, and most importantly have fun doing it!
Collaborations are also a fun way to make new friends. Sign up for a market to see how your work goes down and who your audience is. Step out of your comfort zone and find those opportunities. Life is too short to be unhappy.
9. Where do you sell your work?
I’m in the process of launching my Etsy shop. I also sell locally at the wonderful Norwich Makers Market, run by the talented Ella Goodwin. Also at the Fierce Babes Market run by a pal of mine, and Clutter City at the Norwich Arts Centre.
I also get to team up with my pals at Print to the People (an artist-led social enterprise), when they have stalls or events. They’re like my creative family here in Norwich, and I owe a lot to the super-talented Jo Stafford. She’s supported me since leaving NUA, and I now work with her on Fridays at Print to the People, teaching people to print (I get to use their wonderful facilities in exchange!).
I’m looking into doing my first stalls in London and St Ives this year, so watch this space.
10. What’s your biggest ambition as an illustrator and maker?
To get my first book published, and to have my own fashion brand. The dream would be to have a little shop in the heart of Norwich, with my ever-so supportive husband.
I’d love to continue teaching and give something back. I was lucky enough to meet some friends for life at Print to the People, so if I can give back and teach people what I have learned, then my job is done! I love to inspire and help people.