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Seeing the funny side
30.11.20 Interview by Hannah Valentine. Photography by Yeshen Venema

Seeing the funny side

To celebrate the launch of our new stationery collaboration with London illustrator Holly St Clair, we sat down with Holly to find out what inspired their playful designs and why injecting humour into their work is more important than ever this year.
30.11.20 Interview by Hannah Valentine. Photography by Yeshen Venema

Where are you today and what are you up to?
I'm home in Streatham, shivering in my cold studio space. It’s Friday so I have a beer in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. It’s been a relaxed day—no urgent deadlines—so I’ve been having fun working on personal projects.

You’re a South Londoner. Is there anything about the area, or people, that particularly influences you?
It’s hard to describe, but I certainly feel an affinity with the area. I live 10 minutes away from my grandmother’s old house and the area has changed a lot, but it has retained its soul. I grew up in Kingston, which is quite middle class but uniquely eccentric; I think growing up there gave me a level head. South Londoners are full of malapropisms and humour, and my work is always inspired by language and how people have these funny turns of phrase.

Holly St Clair
"I tried to imagine the sorts of cards I would give to my sisters, who are my best friends and my sworn enemies—cards that insult you, but still say 'Happy Birthday'."

We’re really excited about our new collaboration with you. Can you tell us about your approach to the project, and some of your favourite designs?
I’m excited too! My approach was to generate lots of ideas until something stood out. I spent lots of time thinking about idioms and word play. I tried to imagine the sorts of cards I would give to my sisters, who are my best friends and my sworn enemies—cards that insult you, but still say 'Happy Birthday'. I made sure to include some nice designs that my Nan can send too!

The litter tray design is a personal favourite, inspired by my cat Dusty who has the world’s most sensitive stomach and would definitely present me with such a 'gift' if she could spell. Also, the engagement and wedding cards were fun to work on as I’m getting married (hopefully) next year!

What do you enjoy about collaborating with brands like Wrap?
I’m always interested in how other people interpret my work, and what elements of my style they want me to lean into. It’s like seeing the back of your head in a photograph. It’s also great to make something that will physically exist in the world; editorial illustration is so ephemeral—it’s nice to go into a shop and see something I've designed in person.

Holly St Clair
"Humour is a coping mechanism, and I think we can all agree coping mechanisms are needed right now."

Some of the Christmas cards you've worked on with us are Covid-themed. How did you find taking a more humorous approach to the pandemic?!
Humour is a coping mechanism, and I think we can all agree coping mechanisms are needed right now. Christmas is probably going to be pants this year, hopefully those cards can help bring some cheer.

So does humour play an big part in your life and work then?
When I was a teenager my plan was to do stand-up comedy. I wanted to go to Cambridge to join Footlights and basically be the newer, hotter Stephen Fry. The issue was—and it’s a big one—I’m awful at exams, so my dream died when I opened my GCSE results. Humour has stayed important to my work though; I’m inspired by artists like Charles Schulz, as well as Tove Jansson who doesn’t get enough credit for being very, very funny.

Your illustrations make use of cute faces and funny expressions to convey your characters’ feelings. Is exploring emotion a central aspect of your practice?
Definitely! Drawing is my self-care. I have OCD so I’m constantly plagued by intrusive thoughts; horrible things like "kick that pigeon”. It can make you feel like an awful person. Drawing is an outlet—I put the horrid idea onto paper and make it silly. I remind myself that these thoughts aren’t representative of reality—they deserve to be mocked.

Holly St Clair
"It’s great to make something that will physically exist in the world. Editorial illustration is so ephemeral—it’s nice to go into a shop and see something I've designed in person."
Cherries – £7.95 ADD TO BAG

Can you talk us through your creative process...
I’m very direct, I try and put the idea onto paper as simply as possible. I do enjoy making more involved pieces with backgrounds and stuff, but there’s something about simple feelings expressed…simply. And with feeling.

The iPad has been a game-changer for my client work. The turnaround times can be very fast these days and using the iPad has sped up my process so much. I’ve never been one to keep beautiful sketchbooks; I keep a 'log' that contains my agenda, to-do lists, and sketches. Mostly it’s writing though—I always start by writing down words and phrases to do with the project at hand.

It’s been such a strange year—how have things changed with your freelance work?
The first fortnight of lockdown in March was scary. Everything was cancelled...the fairs, talks, and workshops I rely on to make a living just disappeared. But things turned around; I’m not exactly sure how, but it got back to 'normal' pretty quickly. I still miss working with people physically in the same room though. Looking at a screen all day sucks!

And finally, how do you like to unwind?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch) works a dream whenever I need to chill out. Cooking is another happy place for me. I have a deal with my fiancé that if I do all the cooking, he does all the cleaning (I. Hate. Cleaning.). It’s bliss.


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hollystclair.com / @hollidaystclair