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Interview with kickass illustrator Gemma Correll

Gemma Correll is a whizz with a pencil. Hell, she’s a whizz with a pen too. Give her a blank canvas and she’ll whip you up a storm of slightly awkward characters with cute sideways glances, mischievous pug dogs and blissed out cats, all cut through with her trademark bittersweet wit. After a “brief but disastrous stint at teach training college” the 25-year-old from Norwich found herself at art school doing a Graphic Design BA, specialising in illustration.

In her years of doodling Gemma has produced T-shirts, badges, prints, cards, plates, mirrors…you name it! She’s a real life Penny Crayon. Such trinkets can be found in her online shop as well as her craft concession Cherry Cherry, in Norwich. AND we’re extremely proud and honoured that Gemma has drawn an exclusive piece of work just for us (pictured left). How cool is that?

Armed with her favourite pen she tells us about her current exhibition at The Soup Gallery in Turo and what’s next in her pencil shaded world.

How did you make illustration your thing?
I’ve wanted to be an illustrator since I was a little girl. I used to use old notebooks to make illustrated storybooks for my friends and also publish a comic called “The Chatterbox” at primary school. I would spend my pocket money on penny sweets and sellotape one to the front cover as a free gift. After that I started to write and illustrate a children’s page in my parents’ church’s newsletter. I did that for 10 years. I studied Graphic Design and specialised in Illustration – I had great tutors and was very lucky to get some work straight after graduation. I worked part/full time jobs for a while, doing my illustration work in the evenings, but now I’m a full time illustrator, which is great!

What inspires you to draw?
Mostly people I see, animals, things I hear. I’m the girl quietly sitting in the corner with a coffee and a sketchbook. And yes, I’m probably drawing you, especially if you have a comical hairstyle/pet/accent.

Do you get nervous about big exhibitions?
Yes! Very, very nervous. I can be very self-critical when it comes to my work so an exhibition multiplies that by about a thousand.

Tell us a bit about your new exhibition at The Soup Gallery?
The Soup Gallery is in Truro. The owner, Mark, kindly offered me the space on the top floor (the bottom floor is a shop, selling all kinds of lovely things, like Lazy Oaf tees and David Shrigley cards) and the freedom to draw on the walls, and pretty much do whatever I wanted. So I drew on the walls and ate a lot of pick n’ mix because I’m a bit crazy like that.

How did it come about?
I have an Etsy shop (gemmabear.etsy.com) from which I sell my wares, I produce my own cards, zines, prints etc. Mark ordered a print set for his lovely girlfriend Becky and emailed me to say thank you and offer me the chance to exhibit at the gallery.

You run a shop called Cherry, Cherry, it looks amazing. Tell us a bit about what makes it tick?
I’ve been doing craft fairs for quite a while now and there’s a brilliant one that has been running in Norwich for just over a year now called Clutter City. My friend Kate and I noticed that we were doing pretty well for ourselves at these fairs and that there were loads of other fantastic stalls and also, that there was a complete lack of shops selling that kind of “contemporary craft” in Norwich. There was nowhere to buy zines, handmade jewellery (or at least, nice, non-chintzy handmade jewellery) or in fact, anything made by young craftspeople. There’s a lot of talent in Norwich so we’ve got a lot of local artists’ products as well as craftsters from around the country and abroad.

You draw lots of cats and dogs, is there a particular cat/dog in mind as your inspiration?
The cats are usually based on my late cat Oliver. I loved him dearly and was so upset when he died that I wrote a book about it. I’m hoping to publish that someday soon…when I find the time.
The dogs are sometimes based on my parent’s Labradors and otherwise based on dogs that I’ve seen out and about. The Pugs that I draw are kind of projections of the Pugs that I, one day, hope to own.

What advice would you give to someone who wants the doodles in their notebook to be more than just doodles?
Don’t worry too much about being neat and tidy, that’s the point of a doodle. Relax and draw whatever comes into your head.

If you could have your work anywhere, where would it be?
Hmm, I would like to do the posters for one of Michel Gondry’s films or something for The Flight of The Conchords or Rilo Kiley. And I’d love to do a mural on a wall in the Mission district in San Francisco.

Are there ever any messages behind any of your illustrations?
Without getting too psychoanalytical, there are definitely echoes of my life – growing up – feeling like a misfit, which is an obvious theme. I seem to have an empathy with people and animals that are a bit, let’s say “different” and I think this is often reflected in my work. But it’s not a sad thing, it’s a kind of celebration of being unique.

Do you have a favourite picture or character?
I don’t really have favourites of my own work, I generally dislike everything I draw within about five minutes of drawing it! In terms of other people’s work, I have a Maxwell Holyoak-Hirsch piece on my wall, which I adore and I love all of the characters that Anke Weckmann draws.

Do you have a favourite pen/pencil – do you get protective over them?
Yes I do! I have a few pens that I love dearly (that’s sad, I know) and I do get a bit protective over them. I don’t like my boyfriend using them, he has his own pens.

What other things do you get up to other than drawing/painting awesome pictures?
Well, I spend a lot of time sewing. I make plushies and felt brooches to sell. I do yoga, drink coffee and browse in charity shops. That’s about it!

Cats or Dogs?
I can’t choose! I have probably liked cats for longer, but recently I have become slightly…OK, very… obsessed with Pugs. My current aim in life is to own a Pug by this time next year.

What’s next?
Apart from getting a pug, I’m aiming to go and live in the US for a while next year. In the more immediate future, I’m working on a tea towel for the superace company “To Dry For” and a couple of editorial commissions. I’m taking part in Art Trek 6 in Antwerp, Belgium at the end of this month with some brilliant artists like Marcus Oakley and Ephameron, which I’m really excited about. In the very, very immediate future, I’m about to make a coffee and draw a French Bulldog.

gemmacorrell.com

Gemma’s exhibition at The Soup Gallery runs until August 1. The Soup Gallery is a bubbling melting pot of the freshest contemporary illustration and street art, go peep it at
thesoupgallery.co.uk

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