Maker Spotlight: Lizzie Quirke

Illustration by Malaika Astorga

Illustration by Malaika Astorga

Before returning to Edinburgh, we met with illustrator and designer Lizzie Quirke at Café Reine Garçon in Montréal. Quirke is not afraid of color; her work is bright and bold, which is fitting for someone who has fearlessly explored creative opportunities in different cities.


What’s your background with art?
I’ve been drawing since I was young but I didn’t start drawing every day until my later years of high school. I used to skip history classes to go sit in the art room—I had a very encouraging teacher who wanted me to study art at university. I studied philosophy instead, but I still made art because I found it therapeutic. It made me feel good and confident in myself. I began doing freelance work towards the end of my degree and concentrated on that while I was supposed to be studying for my final exams. During that time I was making these wacky coloring posters for a fundraiser hosted by the YWCA, the young women’s movement in Scotland. It was a cool feminist project, which I loved.

How did you end up in Montréal?
I got a two year work visa after I graduated. I started in Vancouver but my mom became sick, unfortunately, so I had to go home for eight months. My current flatmate, Nick—who I’ve known since I was thirteen—had told me to come to Montréal. Initially I was like, “No, I don’t speak the language. I’ll be washing dishes,” but he persuaded me. I’ve been here for fourteen months now, which was longer than I anticipated. I did end up washing dishes (laughs).

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How did you start working with Tattoo Moments?
I saw the ad while on my lunch break at the vegan restaurant where I was washing dishes. I applied online, you know, whilst I scarfed down my samosa. I interviewed for the Social Media Manager position. They were asking me about my background so I told them about my design background and how I love tattoos. They kept asking, “But do you know how to make Instagram posts? Have you managed social media before?” and I was like, “I know how to make Instagram posts! I’ve managed my own Instagram before.” Somewhere along the line they realized I wasn’t very good at the social media part and I could do the drawings instead so they made me Creative Director.

That worked out perfectly. Have you found it hard to balance your full-time gig and own creative process?
I’m quite lucky because one of my best friends in Montréal, Ellen, is a writer so we do a lot of friend dates where we go to a café after work and I’ll work on my stuff while she works on hers. I think it’s just a matter of recognizing that I have freelance work that I need to sit down and do. I struggle to work in my apartment, but sitting in cafés in new places and making art is one of my favorite things about traveling. I still feel new here, and hanging out in Le Cagibi still feels like a novelty.

We saw your collaboration with JumpFromPaper. The backpack you created looks like a galaxy. It’s so cool! Can you speak more to that process?
Thank you! The company is called JumpFromPaper because their backpacks are meant to look 2D. They’re doing this collaborative project where they send artists two backpacks. The artist gets to keep one, decorates the other, takes a photo and sends it back to them. Those will be one-time pieces that’ll be exhibited later in the year in Thailand. It was really fun. I spent a lot of time on my balcony spray painting it with hardware store spray paint, and then over the top of that, I painted it with acrylic. I work so much on a computer nowadays that it was a nice change. One of my favorite artists, Dominic Kesterton, was also asked to decorate a backpack which I found very cool.

Who are some of your other favorite artists?
Polly Nor does these really fun depictions of women and their demons. It’s so awesome. It’s an interesting portrayal of female sexuality, self-esteem and the age of internet dating. It’s dark, but funny, which is the kind of art that I’m drawn to. I also love Bridget Riley. She was one of the pioneers of Op Art movement in the sixties. Some of her pieces are in the Tate in London. It looks simple but is very immersive. You can walk away, look at it from one angle, and then go back and it’ll look very different. One of my favorite artists in Vancouver is Andrea Wong. She’s a muralist and focuses in surrealism. Her landscapes are beautiful and fairytale-esque, while still a bit strange—like paintings of people walking through mazes or down staircases, out of the back of someones’ head. I did a collaboration with Judith Nicolussi who creates textured collages that I love. We created a piece where she collaged a background and I transposed some ink drawings on top. They look nice, I’m very pleased. It’s lovely having the opportunity to work with other creatives. We’re working on something new soon.

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The last time we were together you mentioned you’re going back to Edinburgh to study.
Yes! I’m going to art school in September. I’ll be doing my Masters in Illustration which I’m very excited about because I don’t have a formal art background. I’m hoping to meet people who do product and fashion design because I’m interested in furniture and clothing and what we can do to make them more illustrated and immersive—especially in the workplace. I’d love to design something that fosters a creative environment. I don’t know about you but I cannot get anything done when I sit down at a square desk. I work in an environment which is supposed to be creative, open and free but the desks are so generic looking. I feel like I’m taking an exam and it sucks (laughs).

Do you have any favorite brands who have done that type of partnership with illustrators?
Oh my god, yes. I love Lazy Oaf and Dreamland Clothing from London. They do crazy jumpsuits that’re fucking amazing. This is my dream (showing a jumpsuit from Dreamland Clothing’s Instagram). Either to make... or to own.

We adore collaborations with independent artists and companies—especially in light of recent instances where bigger corporations have ripped off artists and their work. It’s disheartening to hear.
It’s shocking. I had an awkward situation where someone saw my work, reached out to me to get a tattoo of it and asked me how much I would want for it. I sent back a reasonable price—something like $40 bucks—and they never gave me the money for it. I later found a picture of them with the tattoo on their arm and I was raging.

How’d you deal with that?
I sent them a message. They didn’t get back to me but I said they could’ve sent me a picture for my portfolio at the very least. It’s theft! I was like, “Just don’t offer to pay in the first place” (laughs). I cannot believe corporations get away with it, especially when they’re sort of on a stage. How did they expect that no one would catch on? There are trends in art and there will be similar styles that artists create but it really isn’t that hard to switch it up a bit and make it your own.

To not even take responsibility for it is upsetting. How do you feel about that line of plagiarism and inspiration? Where does it start and end and how do you deal with that as an artist?
That’s interesting because a lot of the work involved to get better at drawing, for me, was by looking at artists I liked and copying their work. In the UK we do A-levels and, as a part of our exam, we had to write about an artist inside our sketchbooks and then attempt to draw in their style—which is essentially copying—but we weren’t branding it as our idea or trying to make money out of it. In terms of learning, I do recommend imitating your heroes, but don’t be shady about it.

In our generation, the access we have to art is instant through social platforms like Instagram. With this access in addition to galleries and museums, has the access to art helped or hindered your own process? Do you feel like you need to be immersed in it to keep going?
When I was in New York, I saw so much art. It was unbelievable. I felt spoiled and definitely had “art fatigue,” which is a term I use for when you see so much amazing stuff, that you start to feel tired and overwhelmed. I’d like to be the kind of person who is above this but when I see something amazing, I’m always a bit disheartened like, “Oh, should I be making my own shit? Look at what is already out there. Look at what has already been produced.” New York galleries are amazing, though. I felt inspired on the trip. It gave me a lot of ideas.

When I feel disheartened, I try to think about how you can never be the best at something. There will always be something better, as with anything in life but you don’t have to be the best at something to continue to do it. A friend of mine, Miriam Chappell, illustrates comics and she wrote one essentially around the theme of “imposter syndrome.” One of her illustrations really resonated with me; the main thought process was of someone asking, “Am I good enough?” Someone else responds, “...Does it really matter?”

What would be your advice to someone who is looking to be an illustrator and is starting out?
Show your work. Just do it. You might not like it, but someone else will, and art is for sharing. Draw all of the time and try and finish your work. Always finish it—even if you don’t like it, because you may find a different technique or way of doing something. I used to half finish things, rip them out of my sketchbook and not show anybody. That isn’t the way you grow. You have to make mistakes. In life as well! I’ve been moving around quite a bit in the last few years and I was very fortunate to be offered the chance to stay in Canada for another six months. It’s not that I didn’t love it here—I do—but I think you should always move around and see other stuff. Even if you have a good thing going. There may be something even better on the horizon and you won’t know until you try it.

- Autumn Fox

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