We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Pickle Illustration founders Olivia Collins and Lauren Jefferis to find out a little more about their recent projects, the difference between working as close friends to becoming joint business partners, and what it takes to grow a studio in the middle of a global pandemic.
So, tell us a little about yourselves, your work and what Pickle means to you today!
Lauren: Today, Pickle Illustration is a mural and illustration company working across multiple sectors, from public sector to commercial clients. At the start, we didn’t really know where we wanted to specialise which seems to be one of the main struggles for a lot of creative practices. Now, we see the value of putting illustration into spaces, working with the end clients and communities closely to make sure it communicates a really meaningful message.
Liv: Over the past couple of years, we've seen exactly how illustration can add value. At university, the focus for illustration students seems to be almost entirely books and posters, but actually it can be a lot bigger than that. A mural on a wall can be seen by so many more people, proving a more accessible way to view art to people who don’t feel comfortable attending art shows and galleries.
Are you able to tell us more about the latest project you've worked on?
Lauren: At the moment, we're working with Sudbury Hall and the National Trust Museum of Childhood. They've got a beautiful garden in-between the house and museum which the client wanted to tie in more with the museum, acting as more of a space for different types of childhood play. They were inspired by the Fosse Park Fox Trail we worked on last summer and wanted their own trail made up of hand-painted wooden grasshoppers. These kind of projects are great for us, as they're really interesting to work on and they keep people active, moving around and spending time together.
Liv: Yeah, especially after Covid it's great to play a part in getting people back outside and rediscovering places that they knew before the pandemic. Something really cool about this project is that throughout the renovation projects while they’re working on renovating the museum, The National Trust are working with a group of 90 children ambassadors to find out exactly what they want from the project and give us feedback on how our work is going.
It sounds like a big focus for your work then is using illustration to connect as many people with each other as possible. Do you think this sense of collaboration and connection should be a real focus for young creatives starting out in the industry?
Liv: 100%. A massive focus for us is making sure that we take the time to talk to people who live in the community. We've recently interviewed Anne-Laure from Alter Projects, and she really championed the idea of making sure local people agree with what you’re doing. You want your project to be disruptive enough to have an impact, but not enough that people feel like they’re being attacked.
Lauren: I think illustration can just be used in such a positive way. It can be really powerful when promoting a cause or something that needs to be spoken about, but it can also just be fun! There are so many different ways of communicating through art, and most people already have a positive connection to illustration imprinted on them early on from reading children’s books growing up. Also, people like to feel like they belong to a space they love, and knowing that people are feeling connected to a space with “our fox in it” feels great!
Liv: I also think that one of the biggest realisations for me is when you're at university, it's so easy for you to make friends. However once those three years have been and gone, everyone just moves on and you end up wishing you had built and strengthened connections while those people were still there. After moving to Birmingham, we’ve both made much more of a conscious effort to focus on strengthening our relationships with the people around us.
Thinking a little broader, what do you both consider to be the best project you've ever worked on, whether just a personal favourite or one that helped grow your business?
Lauren: I really liked the project we worked on for the Met Office. There were a lot of elements to put into the project, it wasn’t an easy brief and there was a lot of problem solving, but there’s always a way around it. There wasn’t so much tweaking that it was overpowering, but there was just enough that we got a sense of satisfaction for problem solving.
Liv: Some of my favourite projects are more about the experience of working with a client instead of the work itself, but the best project for us commercially was definitely the Fosse Park Fox Trail. When something is in the public realm, you're always worried about how this will be received. When you’re working with a small client, projects like leaflet illustrations aren’t that offensive or disruptive, but when you’re working on something at a location that people have personal ties to, you're always worried about whether every line is crisp and it’s as good as it possibly can be. But when the feedback finally comes in though and you get realise how much people loved your work, that's a really great feeling and it makes all of the stress worth it in the end.
Lauren: Yeah the foxes were a bit ridiculous looking back at it. I remember laughing that my grandma couldn’t come round because of the pandemic, but my living room was full of twelve fibre-glass foxes. It was a challenge and bit of a pain at times, but it felt great to finish!
Your studio is now just over two years old and has grown really quickly in such a short space of time. Has it been a natural journey for you both or have there been a few shocks along the way that you didn't quite expect?
Lauren: I don’t think there have been any crazy shocks. We’ve learnt a lot but there’s a fair amount of learning on the spot. We’ve done better than I thought we would and you do worry that some of it is luck, but we know that we’ve worked really, really hard to get to where we are today. You could never go in and think “this will be a doss” - it’s about honesty and working hard on something you truly believe in.
Liv: We’ve always treated Pickle as a full-time job, making sure that we started work together 9:00am and finished for the day at 5:00pm, no matter what. If you focus on treating it like a job, then you're able to get a real sense of progression knowing that you’ve had a productive day. I suppose something that benefitted us more than we realised was starting small at a small location. We never could have imagined moving to London from the offset and trying to start our careers there, but starting small means that word is able to spread a little quicker between people.
So what are the main differences between working together as two independent creatives to joining forces as a studio-led partnership?
Liv: I think that when you work with someone and you both equally driven, you’re both held accountable to each other. When I was at university, things would take twice as long because I wouldn’t be as motivated to work on bigger projects. I don’t think I ever would have gone to a networking event on my own, but now we’ve tendered for large projects that I never would have gone for when I was on my own. When you're a pair, we’re able to boost each other up and encourage ourselves to aim a little higher.
Lauren: Yeah, it’s nice to feel that you rely on each other and don’t want to let the other person down. It’s such a confidence boost to go to events together, and we often rely on each other as social crutches some times.
Stay Tuned For Part Two!
A massive thanks to Liv and Lauren for taking the time to sit down with us and for inviting us round to their incredible home studio!
Watch this space for part two of our interview series with Pickle Illustration, where we'll be asking the girls more on the importance of staying connected with other creatives and what they're doing to lift the veil on the mysteries of networking.
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