Lucy Davey: Getting that extra freedom to do your own thing is really exciting

    DACS gets a glimpse of life as an illustrator as we catch-up with Bristol-based Payback member, Lucy Davey. Her versatile, retro-inspired designs can be seen in anything from book covers to pub signs, stamps to packaging.

    What made you decide to become an illustrator?

    I don’t really remember deciding to become an illustrator but I guess I’ve always liked drawing. For a while I thought I’d go into art and become a fine artist but I got more interested in textiles and making stuff. I was looking at doing that at uni but then during my foundation course I got channelled towards illustration and then realised that’s where my skills lay – a combination of drawing and design skills. My older brother started doing illustration at that time as well so I became a bit more aware of what it was about.

    How would you describe your practice? What sort of work do you do?

    I do quite a lot of book covers, packaging and I’ve done some advertising and magazine work. I guess my work has got a bit of a retro-vintage feel.

    Which artists have had the greatest influence on your practice?

    I don’t know how much you would see it in my work but I love Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and various mid-century artists.

    Also, I’ve always liked Japanese woodcuts – screen-prints, old lithographs, woodcuts and linocuts. Sometimes people think my work’s screen-printed or linocut but it’s all hand-drawn and then I scan it in. I do screen-printing as well but that’s more of a hobby. 

    What have been the most memorable projects to work on?

    In my first year after graduating I got a Starbuck’s advertising campaign through my agency, which was kind of crazy because I had almost no experience. It allowed me to leave the temporary office job I was doing. I ended up going to New York and I saw my work was on billboards and in trains – it was a strange experience!
    I also did some stamps for Royal Mail. It was nice to go from seeing my work on large billboards to seeing it on a much smaller scale. They were stamps that you would buy for special occasions.

    Do you ever work on your own personal projects?

    I do a bit of screen-printing when I can. I’ve done a few pop-up shops where I’ve sold prints. It’s really nice to make a piece of physical artwork and get your hands a bit dirty.

    When do you feel inspired?

    Definitely being in nature - plant shapes and landscapes. Also looking at the work of the people who I mentioned before. I suppose when you’re working as an illustrator you can’t really wait around for inspiration though. I’m a big fan of Pinterest and I find that browsing through that can often spark a few ideas.

    Are deadlines pretty short?

    Yeah - I’ve done illustration for the next day for a newspaper, which isn’t that pleasant. Book covers usually get two to three weeks. It’s not like you’re working on just that either, you’re probably doing several projects at once.

    When did you first start claiming Payback royalties?

    I think it’s probably been about five years now. It was funny actually, I think I posted something on Facebook about my work and a friend was working for DACS at the time as a temp and he said I should apply. He sent me a link to it and that’s how it started.

    How do the royalties help?

    Well, I think of it as a bit of a Christmas bonus as it always comes in December. It’s a good time as it’s such an expensive time of year. I normally get about £250 which pays for about four months of my studio rent so that’s really good.

    Why is it important that DACS is there for creators like you?

    Being self-employed and freelancing, you don’t get a lot of benefits. You don’t get holiday pay, you don’t get sick pay. You have to pay for your own studio space. It’s just nice that there’s someone actually helping you out.

    What has been the impact of digital technologies on your work?

    It’s made a big difference I think. I graduated in 2005, just over 15 years ago and obviously we had the internet then but there wasn’t Pinterest and there weren’t the number of blogs you have now. In a weird way I’m glad that I graduated at that time. It’s great that there’s so much around now but it’s almost overwhelming and to find your own style and make your own mark, it’s probably a bit harder if you’re starting out now.
    I used to spend quite a lot of time in the library photocopying stuff but it seems quite quaint now. When I first started out I would post my work on a disc! Obviously Pinterest and Twitter and blogs are a very good way of getting your work out there and connecting with other artists.

    Do you have any tips for those starting out?

    I think what really helped me was doing some work with context for my portfolio. What changed was one of my tutors saying, “Your work would might be good on book covers – you should do some book covers for your portfolio”. Then book publishers saw that and they commissioned me even though I’d never actually done it before.
    I was lucky because I met my agent straight out of uni so I didn’t have to self-promote that much. They found me; we took a degree show to London and they came to the show and it went from there. It’s important to have a presence at those fairs to get your work out there and hopefully secure an agent. 

    What are you working on at the moment?

    I’m working on too much stuff at the moment, it’s a bit overwhelming! I’m doing three book covers and I’ve also started doing a pub sign for Young’s Brewery, which is quite different. I’m working with a design agency who have done a whole series. They’ve got different designers and illustrators to do each one and I’m doing a sign for The White Hart, which is just north of Bristol. I’ve also just finished doing some packaging for Hovis.

    Do you have any dream projects you would like to work on?

    I really like pattern-making. I’d like to do more of that and get some more packaging work. Sometimes briefs can be quite restrictive too, so whenever you get that extra bit of freedom to do your own thing, it’s really exciting.

    Payback closes on 30 September! Is your work in books and magazines or on TV? Sign up now as an artist or estate

    Find out more about Lucy Davey's work


    Image: Payback member Lucy Davey in her studio. Photo © Brian Benson,

    Posted on 19/09/2016 by Laura Ward-Ure