Illustrator, Zinester and boss lady, Olivia Mew talks about running her own business, doing what she loves and her grumpy world-view.
by Ben Pobjoy
How old are you?
I’m 25 years old.
Were you born and raised in Montreal? If not, when and why did you come to Montreal?
I’m from Toronto – I came here in 2006 to attend Concordia University.
You have a passion for illustrating, when did this begin?
I’ve always been interested in drawing, as well as put off by the jobs I had as a student (retail, office environment, etc). When I finished school I became determined to make a living doing what I truly enjoyed. Illustration seemed like a great way to support myself with something that seemed more structured than the world of fine art, but still within the realm of stuff I actually like doing.
Why did you decide to study fibres over illustration at university?
Going to school for illustration didn’t even cross my mind when I was applying for university. I actually started doing a degree in art education (to become an art teacher) but realized two years in that I wasn’t happy enough with my own art practice to feel comfortable teaching others. I was stitching these felt dolls at the time that were really just 3D versions of my illustrations and so I transferred into fibres to explore that side of things a bit more.
You seem to balance personal projects with commissioned projects. What’s a typical day like for you?
My bread and butter is the Stay Home Club [http://stayhomeclub.com] and that’s what takes up the bulk of my time. My studio/office space is in an apartment in the same building I live in, so usually I go downstairs around 9 or 10 a.m., spend a while answering emails and doing little customer service bits, then get into the meat of my day. These days most of my time is probably spent dealing with inventory and packing/shipping orders. If I’m lucky I’ll get a minute to work on designs for Stay Home Club. If I’m working on a freelance illustration job my assistant usually comes in and takes care of the Stay Home Club daily stuff, bless her heart.
What do you love most about your job? What do you hate about your job?
I love being my own boss, the lack of commute, making work/products I’m actually excited about and seeing other people get excited about it. I hate relying on other people (my suppliers/printers/etc. are awesome but every now and then something unavoidably goes wrong and I have to pass the delays/bad news to my customers—worst feeling ever).
Can you tell me how Stay Home Club started?
Stay Home Club started as an idea while I was washing dishes—I feel like all my ideas either come when I’m doing menial chores or walking home from bus stops. True story. The initial idea was to mostly license work from other illustrators and start a shop that sold textile housewares printed with great designs and artwork. I got five or six awesome people on board at the beginning and started out selling pillowcases.
As time went on I introduced a few little products here and there and realized that my own designs, especially the Stay Home Club logo, sold as well or better than the work I was licensing. The Stay Home Club sentiment/aesthetic started to come out more and more in the products I put out until I decided to start printing t-shirts, and it was all downhill from there.
Stay Home Club is real ambitious—you create apparel, accessories, prints, bedding, etc. —was it hard to get off the ground?
Not really! I’d been selling my work online since 2007 (those dolls I mentioned before? Total Etsy stuff right there) so the basics were old news to me when Stay Home Club began. I already knew how not to get screwed over by Canada Post, how to market myself online to a certain extent, etc. I had quit my day job a few months before after saving up a little nest egg to fall back on, so I had all the time in the world to devote to the project. Admittedly the first bulk purchases from suppliers felt huge and terrifying but thankfully they paid off in the end.
There’s a stigma about artists productizing their creativity, but yours feels so natural.
I really reject that stigma and anyone who believes it. I’m immensely proud of myself for making a life doing stuff that’s fun for me. The bulk of my friends are doing similar things (fashion designers, illustrators, general makers of cool stuff) and we all support each other in a way that really warms my heart. I’ve seen proof in all these people that it’s possible to support yourself and then some as long as you approach it properly.
What are the commissions you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
I really loved working on illustrations for the Literary Review of Canada last year—it was my first time really doing editorial work and I was stoked with how the illustrations turned out.
Your work seems to playfully celebrate notions of anxiety, reclusiveness, apathy and of course, nods to weirdos. How would you define your style?
I have a bit of trouble reconciling the Stay Home Club side of things, which does have that obvious theme of reclusiveness, self-deprecation etc. with my freelance work which obviously can’t stick to one theme or intent since I’m working for various clients. Stay Home Club is where I really get the opportunity to air out my personal sense of humour and grumpy life view, but my other illustration work is more tied together aesthetically rather than conceptually.
Do yourself a favour and become a member of the Stay Home Club:
@oliviamew on Instagram.