Feature: Q&A with... Becky Ryan

We caught up with Illustrator and Artist Becky Ryan, to see what she does and what makes her tick!

HM: Who are you and what do you do? 

B: I'm Becky Ryan and artist and illustrator based in Belper, originally from Liverpool, specialising in portraits with a retro twist, taking inspiration from the vintage glamour of years gone by and the burlesque scene.

HM: When did you realise you wanted to be an illustrator/artist? 

B: At the end of school. When I was younger I'd wanted to be a vet, but I guess the artist in me just didn't want to give it up full time, so I pursued art through school, failed it at GCSE and they weren't going to let me carry on (the GCSE teacher was horrible!), so that could have put a halt to my pursuit in the arts, but they eventually let me carry it on and I got an A at A level, woo take that GCSE teacher!

HM: What are your main influences/inspirations?

B: Vintage imagery and old photographs, current cabaret and burlesque performers inspire my work, as well as individuals from pop culture, for example singer Florence Welch, Frankenstein's Bride, and Pulp Fiction's Mia Wallace have all featured in my work.

I'm also a bit of a romantic and have drawn my boyfriend several times and some love related pieces.

HM: How did you arrive upon your style?

B: I still feel I'm finding my style to be honest. I like to vary it up and have several styles at the minute. Friends and family say that I do have one, and that they can recognise my work, but I'm not so sure.  But I feel the consistency with my work is a delicate quality, which has always been there with my drawing. I've generally always chosen to work on a small scale and I think it's just how I feel the most comfortable working being more towards an introvert than extrovert. 

HM: What is it that draws you to the world of burlesque?

B: I kind of fell into the burlesque art scene really. There was a Dr Sketchy class in Liverpool that I attended (around the time I also attended my first burlesque show) and I decided to base a university project around it, through it I met some performers who I created artwork for as gifts, and it's just gone from there really as word's spread online and from word of mouth.

HM: What are your materials of choice?

B: Ooh got to be a mix... pencils, toned paper, promarkers, watercolours, fineliners, brush pens, biro, digital colouring...I haven't used acryllic for a while but that's another one.

HM: Do you prefer to work by hand or digitally and why?

B: I always draw by hand with pens or pencils (though I am hoping to invest in a graphics tablet this year), but I tend to do equal amounts of traditional colouring and digital colouring really. I'm not sure which I prefer. Digital is obviously great because it's generally quicker and easier/less messy and easier to alter or quickly try out a different coloured dress on a figure for example. But there's always something nice about a completely traditionally created piece, as there probably isn't so much of it around no within illustration.

HM: Is this your only job, or do you do it alongside regular work?

B: It is my only job, unfortunately! It's great to have so much time to spend on my artwork, but at the minute I'm not earning enough from it to pay the bills, fortunately my boyfriend has a full time 'proper' job(!). Before I moved to Belper at the end of last year I worked at Tate Liverpool and it was great to be surrounded by art everyday and work with like-minded people. It would be great to have another little job to run alongside my freelancing which still had an arts/creative side to it, though I'm also currently thinking of trying to get into teaching or even art related workshops.

HM: Did you study illustration/art, or are you self-taught?

B: I consider myself self-taught, though I did go to university.

HM: Did you have a bad experience at University then?

B: I chose to do a degree in illustration at Uclan up in Preston, but believe it was a complete waste of time unfortunately. I'm not sure if it was just the course/university but I thought it was terrible and had a bad time on it. I came away from it feeling like I had barely learnt anything, but lost a lot of money in fees and travel! The tutors weren't nice people either and certainly didn't make the studio a nice environment to be in. I don't know how important degrees are really when it comes to illustration, but I think so long as you can show you have talent, and something unique, that's what's important. From personal experience I don't think I'd recommend doing an illustration degree, or maybe I'd just advise people not to go to Uclan!

HM: If you could do anything else what would it be, you mentioned wanting to be a vet?

B: I still somewhat wish I'd been a vet. I love animals, but I'm not sure how I'd have managed doing something which I'd need to dedicate so much time to and work so hard in without being able to fit in anything more creative, I think I'd need that outlet. I also feel that maybe it would have been a waste of the gift I've been given of my Dad's artistic genes! But if I had become a vet I'd imagine there wouldn't be any issue paying the bills...hopefully I can get a career in teaching to run alongside my freelancing.

HM: What other interests do you have beyond illustration/ art?

B: I love animals, as previously mentioned. I'm a pescatarian (veggie but still eat fish), and have an interest in animal rights. I love music and have quite an eclectic taste which includes Florence & the Machine, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Guns N Roses, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Rat Pack, Green Day, Belle & Sebastian, Blur, The Cure, Delays...

I also love comedy and have been to see a fair few stand-ups live now, Lee Evans, Ross Noble, Bill Bailey, Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Dylan Moran, The Mighty Boosh t'name a few. We've got tickets to see Rhys Darby later in the year, can't wait!       

HM: What artists/illustrators do you look up to and why?

B: I love the work of Alphonse Mucha and the ethereal quality he brings to his pieces. Each piece is tied together so beautifully with the mixture of figurative drawing and art nouveau elements that compliment it, I'd love to be able do work like that with some sort of bordering and/or background that fits in with the image as a whole.

An illustrator I really like is Ken Garduno, I just think he has a great unique style. I particularly like his Edward Scissorhands, Pulp Fiction, and horror movie monsters group shot pieces. 
Some others whom I find inspiring are Stella Vine (wonderfully individual with great colours), Vince Ray (rockabilly/tattoo style pin-up art, graphic quality and again has a great signature style), Audrey Malo (creates lovely pretty pieces with fairly muted colouring) and Esra Roise (very talented illustrator who creates detailed pencil drawings with selective colouring). 

HM: Any tips you could share with budding illustrators?

B: I don't feel like I've got enough experience myself yet to give tips to budding illustrators but I'll try …..

Sometimes you need to take no notice of tutors/teachers, sometimes they can give useful advice, but from my experience a lot of it is personal opinion and for everyone that doesn't like what you do there'll be someone that does. Of course it's always best to appeal to as many people as possible with illustration but don't let negative comments get to you too much. One of my tutors wrote on a feedback form under Areas To Improve, 'stop drawing those twee smirking girls they're nauseating', that's the type of thing I mean that you should completely ignore!

A certain quote from Little Miss Sunshine comes to mind though, "Do what you love, and ... the rest!"

Another thing I'd say you need to do to be successful is promote yourself. Get it out there. Get a website, a Facebook page, whatever, but you need to get your work seen by as many people as possible to hopefully get something of a following and earn commissions. 

Maybe do a bit of free work to begin with to get your stuff seen perhaps, for newspaper, magazines etc? It's good exposure and we've all got to start somewhere.

With illustration, particularly at the start, it's good to have a back-up plan/a part time job so you have a guaranteed income too, commissions can be come and go. 

HM: Any exciting things coming up this year?

B: I have my first gallery exhibition this year in May in London. It's a group show called 'A Brush With Burlesque' featuring around 10 artists who capture the UK burlesque scene. www.abrushwithburlesque.com

For more on Becky’s work head to her website and . She is also on !

Tags:  Artist Illustration Illustrator Becky Ryan Creatives retro burlesque Vintage pin-up

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