Tuesday, 6 August 2013


 ©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.
My niece has a wish list. When we were looking at it for something to buy her for her birthday we came across the title Cardigan Heart and I was captivated by the artwork. My wife ordered two copies, the second one for me.

When I read Cardigan Heart I was so impressed by the work of Lizzy Stewart I could not stop looking at it.  The artwork and the text came together in such a way that the book was a delight and it repaid repeated revisits.

Let me give you an example. On one page is a drawing of a mug and next to it is written:

You teacup sat on the side for a few days after you'd visited. It was nice seeing it there; an unassuming little monument to the fact that you'd been here. I washed it eventually; I was concerned that leaving it any longer meant I was creepy.

The whole book is a joy.

Edinburgh with colour
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission

I just had to interview such a talented artist. When I did I discovered that we had both been at the same gig in Bristol many years before-the first time The Decemberists toured the UK (here's a link to a photo-it's at the very bottom of the page.. It was an excellent night. I am not going to ramble on but instead leave Lizzie to do all the talking.

You were on a Fine Arts Course at Edinburgh when you decided to concentrate on telling stories and smaller spaces-prior to this you had been working on big canvases-can you tell us what they were like?

I was very young and very greedy. I wanted to paint like every artist I came into contact with. I was ok. I don’t think I’d have set the Fine Art world on fire but the work wasn’t awful. I was trying stuff out and figuring out what my view point was, what exactly it was I had to express, but I don’t think I was old enough or focussed enough to be able to pinpoint one exact approach to painting.

at 14.42
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.

You have mentioned previously that you keep a book of lines from songs and sentences that you use to kick start our creative process-can you share with us a couple from the book?

Ha, no. This has long gone. I used to do it whilst I was on my BA in Edinburgh. Since then I have decided that I wanted all my work should come from me so I abandoned “borrowing” from books and songs and started writing for myself a bit more. Its obviously a far slower process than my old magpie approach but I like the sense of ownership it gives.

at 14.42
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.

You have said before that you are influenced by Carson Ellis (as are we all- I met her once it was after the Decemberists first played Bristol-a charming woman she was reading a book about Russian prison tattoos that her sister had given her for her birthday, which coincidentally was that day), which other artists have influenced you?

I went to that gig to! At St. Bonaventure’s Social Club? I went with a boy from Exeter who I’d just met and we ended up being together for six years, that trip to Bristol is part of our folklore.

Anyway. Yes. Carson Ellis was a big deal for me. I found her work, around the time of that Decemberists gig, whilst I was in sixth form and before that I had no idea that illustration was a job beyond children’s books I mean. It was eye-opening. I love her work, so much narrative clarity, and she creates worlds so thoroughly. You feel you could climb into one of her paintings and live there.

I love Maria Kilman’s books, they’re so full of life and personality. Judith Kerr was integral to my childhood, so she’s an influence too. I think Maurice Sendak’s approach to writing for children is pretty much spot on – “tell them anything you want.” Though I find some of his illustration work a little uncomfortable visually I think that as an artist and a human being, he was unparalleled.

What moves you at the moment?


I saw Francis Ha last week, that felt pertinent to me that this stage (being a slightly self-indulgent 26 year old).
I saw Steven Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along in the West End (twice) and loved that. It’s about losing sight of dreams and friendships and how we get to be where we are. The cast were perfect and the songs are excellent.
I saw a piece called Fleabag at Latitude this year and I thought the writing in that was staggeringly good. It was very funny and very dark and at times acutely pinpointed. That made me want to write tougher things (I won’t but I wanted to).
Continuously- A good sky over Waterloo Bridge, the excellence of my two closest friends, any stories about ordinary families, when the tube stations play classical music in the ticket halls, brass bands playing Christmas songs.

What’s in the pipeline?

I’m self-publishing a new book and I’m quite excited about that. I feel that every book is a step closer to being the kind of artist I want to be. The first was Toska and that was exciting because it was the first thing that I’d ever had to fork out a decent amount of money to make so it felt like having enough confidence in my work , to spend that amount of money was momentous. Cardigan Heart, last year was a step toward using more narrative and a broader range of mediums and parts of that worked I think. Other parts didn’t but it felt good to give it a go. This new book is called Minnows and it features fourteen short stories and poems. In some places the focus is on the writing and the illustration is just...padding and that’s a new thing for me. I’m not a great writer by any stretch but it was fun using different tools to tell stories.

Other than that-I’m reworking the book I did for my MA with an editor. I have no idea what will become of it, perhaps nothing at all but maybe it’ll get published and that’d be a dream.

hazy maze
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.

Are there any early works that you have yet to show?

Probably not. I think that if things haven’t seen the light of day then there was probably a good reason for that. I’m not a huge fan of re-visiting old work, I feel like I always need to be “ploughing on”. I worry about stagnating. Though occasionally an old idea will fall out of an note book or something and I’ll be able to see the good in it and try re-working it so that it fits with what I’m doing at the time.

In one interview you said you would like to write fiction- got any ideas you could share?

No! Absolutely not! I can’t have writers who are actually competent stealing all my ideas. Nope. No way.

I have the starts of lots of stories. I have the opening lines and the closing lines, fully developed characters and so on and so forth. But I don’t think I have the staying power at the moment. I’m a bit scattered, with stuff going on all over the place. I’d like to write something for teenage girls though, for real. I have ideas on that front. Something about ordinary girls in painfully ordinary towns and what it is like, without vampires, and werewolves messing stuff up. Thats what I want to write about the most I think.

What do you think your MA in Communication Design has added to your work?

I feel i’m still processing my MA experience, I found the whole thing sort of incredibly disappointing and it’ll take some time and a bit of distance to feel more positive about it. I arrive at Central St Martins hoping to leave a better illustrator but struggled with tutors who were from a design or a design academia background. Instead I think I got better at talking about illustration but a bit visually lost. My work has definitely changed and I think that was a reaction to the polish of graphic design-heavy course. I abandoned digital work altogether and now I mostly work in paint and ink. Which feels very honest and appropriate to me but maybe didn’t fit in with the “communication design” environment.

If you were a song/book what would you be and why?

My best friend had the singer Tom Rosenthal (who is excellent) write a song about me for my birthday this year. So I’d be that song. But no one else has heard that...so...I’ll have to think.

Nope. It’s too hard. To me songs sound like other people, people I love, but not me. And a book...I have no idea. Maybe a children’s book Beatrice Alemagna’s A Lion in Paris or...The Tiger Who Came to Tea, by Judith Kerr. Either way something about a big cat getting in the way a bit.

If I was an animal I’d be a llama.

Thanks Lizzy. I am already looking forward to Minnows. Lizzy's website is a joy and well worth checking out. 


  1. Lovely artwork..I liked the hazy maze painting. Could frame and keep looking at that quite happily.

  2. I agree. There is so much to see in Lizzy's work