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Mayah Wetherell: Artist of the Week

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

This week we will be exploring the various projects of Mayah Wetherell, a Birmingham based illustrator, who has been creating a range of digital images.

Mayah Wetherell is a Birmingham based artist moved by the everyday beauty in the world, who uses art as a tool for celebrating life, culture and vibrancy. If you want to find out more about their artwork you can read our Q&A below. You can find more images of her recent projects or visit their website. You can also find her recent print Unity – Who’s in? exhibited in our online exhibition Locked-Down over at the Oddball Gallery.

Can you briefly describe your art practice?

I’m a curious mind, so I am in the habit of asking lots of questions about style preferences, colour options etc. I then experiment with different compositions and develop the art as I am producing it. My personal work often starts in my trusty sketchbook! I’m often doodling ideas or taking in the environment around me for inspiration.

What drove you to pursuing a practice in illustration?

Illustration was a bit of an outlet for me through the difficult headlines and intense racial tensions during the lock-down months. I needed a tool to help me process what was going on, and the conversations I was having. I quickly felt that I didn’t want my work to be labelled as ‘political’, so I used illustration as a way of celebrating and representing people from my culture. ‘Ionae’ is inspired by my mum. And that piece is an example of how I have highlighted the positivity and the beauty to be seen in my culture which so often can be misunderstood and mistreated. I had a lot of fun designing the dreadlocks on this piece, as well as ‘Shiro’. I was driven by a desire to create ethnically diverse work, as I felt like I had not seen much of what I wanted to produce.

Is there a piece of art that you are most proud of creating? Why?

‘Feather’ is such a serene image for me, yes, it’s part bleak and represents loneliness, but it’s also part hopeful as the little bird looks out into the light. It was my first piece developed using Photoshop. I really love the colour palette and textures I achieved. I should mention that I previously had some horribly frustrating Photoshop experiences where I tried (and failed) to retouch an old photograph! I almost gave up on Photoshop all together, but I’m glad I persevered with illustration instead!

Mayah Wetherell, Feather, Digital, 2020.

Is there a piece of artwork you dislike that you have created? Why?

I love this question. Of course, there is! I have quickly learnt that it is essential to establish early on what the brief is, and to be clear on what level of creative freedom is being given with each project, my least favourite work has been my micromanaged work!

What themes and concepts if any do you enjoy portraying within your artwork?

To put it into professional terms, I like my art to make people feel happy! Probably because it is created often times in my happy place, where I go when other things (like the news) are getting me down. I generally go for lighthearted, colourful and positive themes.

What projects have you recently completed?

I have recently completed a project with an international digital greeting card company where I have designed a piece for someone who has lost a loved one. I am also working on my own ongoing project as part of a children’s book about Black ancestry.

Mayah Wetherell, Shiro, Digital, 2020

Why do you make this type of art?

It is challenging and stretches my skills, I also appreciate its scope, it won’t take you long to see that illustration is everywhere! On the websites we use everyday, in our favourite childhood stories, and rather than just being beautiful, it’s functional! Illustration has a place in so many areas of life, and I like learning new styles and techniques. At the end of each project I am pleased by what I have learnt in the process and I’m driven to create something even more interesting the next time.

What kind of artists are you inspired by?

I am a big Disney fan, actually. I think from an early age I have always been drawn to the artful combination of sharp and curved edges and vibrant colours from film such as The Lion King, and Mulan. In the illustration world, I am inspired by the work of Pierre Kleinhouse. I have learnt a lot from his work and I’m always amazed at his creativity. Other than that, I have a lot of appreciation for the many many styles and art forms out there, but the appeal for me is to create new and original work, so I suppose I am inspired by my own interpretation of the world.

What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today? 

I think the art industry could do a better job of encouraging young and experienced artists and art lovers from all backgrounds and cultures to experience and celebrate art, in all its arenas without judgement or assumptions made about specific groups.

Mayah Wetherell, Unity – Who’s in?, Digital, 2020

How do you go about creating a digital illustration? Do you find that you have more range with this tool than working with more traditional materials?

Oh it’s great! All artists will have their own process, but for me, I start with a rough sketch, I then use it as a template with my digital pen and redraw the image onto the digital canvas. Once there is a rough form and composition, the fun begins and a range of colours and brushes can be used to bring the drawing to life. I really enjoy acrylic painting, and I hugely admire traditional artists. At the same time, I definitely think there is more of a range using digital tools, as there is scope to create virtually any aesthetic you want! I can switch between watercolours and patterns, gradients and stippling AND easily access countless colours within minutes. There’s no waiting for paint to dry, or washing paintbrushes! Two major bonuses for me!

Due to the sudden unforeseen events of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been asking artist how they have been adapting to this current time. Have you struggled, adapted, learnt something new perhaps?

I’ve been working from home, and have been grateful to have this structure, but in my free time my passion for illustration has really been able to flourish. I would say that one of the small tokens of good that has come from such an awful and difficult situation is that it has allowed me to teach myself illustration and pursue a creative career as a freelancer.

Your work is very varied in style and technique. How do you go about creating a stylised image in terms of composition and colour choices?

Thank you, I take that as a major complement! Many of my pieces are personal experimentation and are a reflection of me and my frame of mind at the initial inception of the concept. I usually start with an item that I want to be the main focal point, and base my colours and surroundings around that intuitively. With ‘Gardener’ I wanted the woman’s dress to be the main focus with unusual textures and warm colours. The rest of the composition was built around that, I wanted her to be tending to flowers. This later evolved and I wanted her to be watering the flowers as this told more of a story. I felt the background needed something which added context, so I put her near mountains, which also broke up the curves with some jagged straight edges, creating some balance. I rarely know exactly how pieces will look when they are complete, and that’s why I find them interesting!

Mayah Wetherell, Gardener, digital, 2020

Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

Yes, please follow me on Instagram and take a look at my website which features lots of artwork including those I’ve mentioned throughout the interview. Also if any readers would like to work with me, commissions are open! I also sell my work as prints, so do get in touch if you’d like to buy some artwork!

If you are interested in being featured as an Artist of the Week you can fill out a short application form here.

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