If you were around Bristol last weekend, you might have noticed something going on at the Avalaan Flagship store. And indeed there was loads going on when illustrator Diggy Smerdon, member of their artist collective La Familia took over the store for a solo exhibit of her work. We caught up with her to learn a bit more about her and her work
Friday was the opening of your exhibit at the Avalaan store. How did that go?
It went really well, with interesting people coming along which is always fun. It’s nice when it’s not just your friends, haha.
So there were a lot of people?
Yeah, it was busy, then got quiet and then busy again… It plays with your emotions quite a bit, one minute you’re excited “Hey, it’s really busy!” and then you’re “Ohh…no ones coming…”. I had a lot of fun but in a way I’m also glad it’s over. It’s always nice to put everything up, but then I prefer to linger in the background, just watching everyone come in looking at the stuff and listening to what they say.
So you were involved a lot?
I’m part of Avalaan’s art collective, La Famlia, and they kind of put the exhibit on for me. In exchange I do sketches and stuff like that for them and helped with their collection.
Is that the first collection you’re doing with them?
I started working with them last year but they’re always a year in advance with their designs so yeah, the Spring/Summer that is out just now was the first one I did and there is also stuff coming out next year.
How did your coop start?
I do graphic design and work as a freelancer so when I started up I did a lot of flash banners etc. for their website. The brand is only managed by two guys and no one is really sitting down fiddling with the designs, so I just helped out. With that it all got rolling.
But this exhibit was the first one?
It was the first solo show I have done with Avalaan. I have done stuff with the art collective before, but this was the first show on me, I just took over the shop basically, haha, that was really good.
Would you like to do more stuff in that direction?
Sure. I used to do graphic t shirt designs for a company in London as well. I’ve always been dabbled in clothing design.
Which works quite well with your art.
Yeah it looks good. Sometimes I find it hard to do simple stuff, especially with screen prints you can’t use all colours for example, but it’s nice to sketch the stuff and it’s great to see it on t shirts. It gets out there, not like normal art that’s stuck in people’s houses where no one sees it. And it’s great to see someone in your t shirt when you’re walking down a street!
Are there any other areas you still want to conquer?
I’d like to do more design and art for music artists. My boyfriend’s a musician and I did his album cover and some stuff for a few DJs. I like doing art for things, not commercial but for a purpose, you know.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to design?
I’ve always wanted to do snowboards! Uhh I’d love to do snowboards! I remember this Rome Agent I had a few years ago and it was just wicked, Rome Snowboards do a lot of stuff with artists. Same for Burton but I guess that’s more in house… So yeah, if I could get my little feet into some kind of snowboard company and work my way into design and production I would be really happy!
Do you snowboard yourself?
Yeah I do, mostly in Verbier in Switzerland. A really nice spot, I’m lucky enough to have an uncle who owns a chalet there. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t do it so much…
How long have you been snowboarding for?
Maybe 10 years? I started skiing but always complained, pretending my feet didn’t fit the ski boots, I would cry and say they pinch my feet just because I was dying to get in soft boots and start snowboarding. I just thought snowboarding was so much cooler, haha.
Do you surf as well?
No, I don’t actually surf. I’ve tried so many times and been to all those great surf spots all around the world, Hawaii, Bali, etc. where you should love it and I always tried, every year. I really want to love it but it just doesn’t doesn’t click with me, you know, I like snowboarding! I have a lot of friends who surf but I’d rather go swimming, haha. But I did a festival with Surfstock in Cornwall last year where I decorated and painted surfboards and stuff. There’s always something you know, at the moment there are ten surfboards in our garden so I’m thinking I might be able to borrow one…
Looking at your work it seems like you also have quite a passion for animals…
I love animals, yeah! Haha… I feel there in a way there’s an animal in everybody. You know how sometimes when you meet someone you know what that person would be as an animal? Or when you see a cat or a dog and it reminds you of a friend? I’m not saying all my friends are dogs, haha, but kind of the way they are, their personal appeal…
What animal would you be?
Well, a lot of people say I look like a chipmunk but I feel more like a hamster.
A hamster? Why’s that?
I don’t know, I like to make nests and stuff, get maximum cosy. I don’t know…
What about the hamsters wheel?
Haha, me and a friend already had that idea of making a giant wheel. I think people would actually like it if you could get a thing to attach you on, I think it would be really fun.
Doing some performance art?
Haha no, I don’t think I would be the one in the wheel, maybe in my house but not in public!
How did you get into art in the first place?
Ehm…. I don’t know… I’ve just always done art…
Did you already draw as a child?
Yeah I did. I already did art in primary school but didn’t do very well because they wanted me to write and explain what I was doing and I was never good at that. It’s a release for me, while other people switch off when they play video games, I do that when I do art.
Did you always do illustrations?
Yeah. It starts with scribbling, I always had a bit of paper with me and I always carry a pen.
How did it become your profession?
I did a graphic design degree, that was kind of the hinge between doing something creative but still having to make some money. Graphic design is a good option for that. I always tried to get my illustrations into my designs too, but I realised I have to keep it separate sometimes, which has been hard, haha.
Do you have a favourite material to work with?
I’m really stingy, I hate spending money on paints and stuff. I love those fabric and paper samples you get when people redecorate their house. Cheap material basically. I also started using charcoal and brown paper lately, I just sort of discover these things, get all excited and use them for a bit until I find something new. Mixed media I guess.
Where do you get inspiration from?
A lot of it is subconscious I think, I just take in things throughout the day. But I don’t actually know, which is good because it means I can just keep on going, there’s nothing in my way. I never studied art at school or college so I don’t know any artist names or anything. I also rarely look at others artists stuff, but that’s good because then I’m not trying to adapt too much to an artist I like. The more I look at stuff that I like, the more it sort of stains my art. I like to just go with the flow. I’ve got a commission for a big canvas to do this week, quite simple charcoal, but I don’t know what it’s gonna be until I do it. If I plan it, it always comes out shit.
You like to go more for the intuitive?
Yeah I never plan anything.
How do you start a picture then?
On something like a white canvas it’s hard. I try to find some kind of dot or something to start from. I don’t know, I guess I just scribble or make landmarks that I then join up, but I don’t have an image in my head. I like to be surprised I guess, I never know what’s gonna come out of it, which is exciting. If I were to try and really draw something the outcome would be shocking…
So it’s just coming from your inside?
Yeah, which is more pure actually. If I look at the work of other artists too much I get upset because I always think everyone’s stuff is really cool. I did four weeks of a fine art degree but then left because I thought “Well, I could do this at home”. When you’re suddenly in a room with loads of people doing exactly the same thing as you, all wanting to be artists, you kind of go “what am I doing here?”
If someone sits you down to make it art it’s not gonna work…
Or if someone asks “What is that about?” I just say “I don’t know”, haha. There is a lot of subconscious meaning in my work but I prefer people to get out what they feel for my art instead of me telling them, coming up with some clever ideas. Some go like “Oh, that dog over there” and I’m like “Where? What dog?” and they go “It’s a dog isn’t it?” and I’m like “I don’t know, it’s nothing, it’s not actually anything.” It’s all about what people take from it, which is nice.
What’s coming up for you in the near future?
I’m gonna carry on doing some stuff with Avalaan. And I just quit my job doing graphic designs for big corporate company because there wasn’t much real creation there. So I’m going back to freelance I think and will probably spend some time on the internet trying to find clients and sending out emails.
Interview: Anna Langer – photos: Diggy Smerdon, Avalaan
Click on the images below to start the gallery of some of Diggy’s fine work…