A somewhat recent graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in 2018, Lauren Morsley is an award-winning freelance illustrator and printmaker whose client roster includes D&AD, The Skinny Magazine, Fiverr, V&A Dundee, and many more, including LUSH where she previously worked as a design intern.
Just two years into her career, Lauren has also scooped up a D&AD One to Watch award, a Batsford Prize – 1st place for illustration, and a Sekalski Print Prize. Not bad!
Lauren called me from her home in Fife, Scotland, where she is also a volunteer committee member for Dundee Ceramics Workshop.
Claire: Firstly I just wanted to say, thank you for the beautiful illustration featuring all the women of MadeBrave for International Women’s Day. We love it! How did you find the process?
Lauren: I really enjoyed it. It’s actually the first illustration I’ve ever created that features real people and quite a large group – twenty-one women and two babies to be exact! In terms of the process, it was really nice to connect with some of the women I was depicting. Also, from a spacing point of view – this particular piece of work was really wide, almost panoramic – to accommodate everyone, which was a first for me.
I also had to be very aware of how the final piece would be carved up; part of the project was to gift each of the MadeBrave women with their own ‘part’ of the illustration, which they’ve been gifted with today. So that was quite a challenge, albeit an enjoyable one.
Claire: Women in art have been underrepresented and undervalued for centuries. For employers looking to rectify that, what’s your advice? How can we better raise awareness, visibility and support for female artists like you?
Lauren: In my opinion, the first step for any business is to self-assess your organisation. Are you doing everything that you can to create and promote an equal playing field for everyone? Also, that playing field doesn’t just exist inside the business. Who are you collaborating with externally? How are you adverting opportunities?
Ultimately, gender equality should be viewed as a business imperative, not an initiative – but I would say the very first step is that self-assessment piece where you look at every aspect of the business.
I thought, ‘it doesn’t matter how I want to make my work, I’m just going to make it’. I stopped over-thinking it and questioning myself – and I just let go. And here I am.
Claire: The female body is one of the oldest and most commonly depicted motifs. In your work, your figures feel pretty gender-neutral. Tell us more about that.
Lauren: This is such an interesting question and something I have been asked a few times over the past couple of years. I can definitely see why you would ask this question; my figure drawings are definitely quite fluid, but I would say this has been a very subconscious thing. I haven’t gone out of my way to have that as part of my style or aesthetic.
It’s probably come from a place where art was my escape growing up; I got very tired of my body being a topic of conversation at school, so I didn’t make it a topic in my work. I actually love that it’s made my work very accessible and as you mentioned, kind of gender-neutral.
Claire: In my experience, if you ask anyone to think of three famous artists the overwhelming majority of responses are all male. Sad face. What female artists have inspired you over the course of your life and career?
Lauren: I think that’s a really interesting thing and so very true. However, I was lucky enough to grow up in quite a creative family, so from the books lying around in my house to my Mum’s artist friends, I was exposed to a lot of local artists and a very vibrant and diverse community.
Growing up I was inspired by artists like Mina Braun and JooHee Yoon – and nowadays, I take inspiration from all the incredible women around me, like Nicola Henry, Hannah McInally, and Ruth Mae Martin.
Claire: In your opinion, are there any assumptions about women working in the creative industries that you would like to change?
Lauren: I think one thing is that women can’t be funny with their work. I don’t know if its that big an assumption, but I’ve always found that women aren’t allowed to be as funny as men. I think generally women are thrown assumptions all the time; I think piece by piece though, well hopefully, it’s starting to change.
Claire: To celebrate #IWD2021, MadeBrave is partnering with Edinburgh College to host and mentor several of their final year female students. To think that only two years ago you were a student, too! Was there a particular stepping-stone that you would site for your rapid success?
Lauren: I don’t think there has been one big moment or milestone. In fact, it wasn’t until just a few months before I graduated that I actually found my style and confidence. Before that, I was very lost and didn’t really know what I was doing – my style changed a lot.
But once I started making work I enjoyed making, I just went with it – and then I won the Batsford Prize (2018) and that was the moment I felt like I was on the right path for me. It was a real confidence boost and made me think “it doesn’t matter how I ‘want’ to make my work, I’m just going to make it”. I stopped over-thinking it and questioning myself – and I just let go. And here I am.
Claire: On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women starting a career in the arts or more specifically, illustration?
Lauren: I would say, don’t be afraid of self-promotion and putting your work out there. As an artist, self-promotion can feel like a dirty word and it doesn’t always come naturally to me at all – I definitely had to push beyond my comfort zone when I first started putting my work out there. So, my message on this day would be; share your work, get it in front of people, and – most importantly, don’t shy away from showing how proud you are of what you’ve created.