"I thought I was going to be an author or journalist, but in a way I’m still a storyteller, it’s just through illustration."
At just 23 years old, Birmingham based illustrator Manjit Thapp has an enviable list of brands clamoring for her pop-culture savvy textured illustrations. Her work mixes the digital and the pencil to create thoughtful female characters with intriguing storylines. Having recently illustrated The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont, which celebrates 100 women throughout history and from around the world, we chatted to her about Beyonce, reality TV and creating digital art.
What’s your favourite thing to illustrate?
I’ve always liked drawing people the most, especially girls. I don’t really know how or why this started, but it was the first thing I started drawing seriously. Faces are always interesting to draw because they’re all so different.
You’ve illustrated Wes Anderson’s films, which is your favourite?
Probably the first one that I ever watched, which was The Royal Tenenbaums. I remember instantly loving the storyline. The characters, backdrops, colours and the clothing is all so vibrant. He carefully creates these whole worlds in each of his movies and every single one is instantly recognizable. His style is utterly unique.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought I was going be an author or journalist, but in a way I’m still a storyteller, it’s just through illustration.
How did you come to work on The Little Book of Feminist Saints?
Quite simply, the editor found my work online and sent me an email. The book was in the idea stage and they were just deciding on the list of women and searching for an illustrator at the same time. It was so out of the blue!
Who’s your favourite ‘feminist saint’ and why?
When I was working on the book there were so many women that I wasn’t familiar with, so it was empowering to learn how they changed the world. But the female artists I relate to are Mexican painter Frida Kahlo – who inspires my style of illustration – and Yayoi Kusama a Japanese contemporary artist. But to be honest, all of the women in the book are awesome.
Who are the women in your illustrations?
Originally, each character was supposed to be a different person, but people started to think it was a one person narrative. To me they’re a variety of characters, but subconsciously I do end up putting a lot of my own thoughts into the artwork, so that’s why it feels like the same person throughout.
Who would you most like to swap lives with for a day?
I don’t even need to think about this…Beyonce! Her day would be the complete opposite to mine I’m sure.
Illustrations by Manjit Thapp
Do you prefer a digital or traditional approach to illustration?
I use a mixture of traditional and digital approaches. I like to use both because I like mixing the two textures together. Digital art really lets you experiment; you can change up the colours without making a permanent mistake. I can sometimes struggle to figure out which way I want the piece to go initially, but when you’re doing it digitally you can make those errors and just press undo. It’s probably a bit naughty, but it works for me!
Late nights or lay ins?
I find that I’m most productive towards the evening and late into the night, which I’m trying to change. But really, I prefer late nights.
Who are you listening to right now?
I often take inspiration from music for my work and I like quite a mix of different stuff. At the moment though, I’m into The XX and Drake.
Your biggest fear?
I actually have a huge fear of cats, which I’m quite embarrassed about. I always feel really awkward when I meet someone who has a pet cat.
Dream fashion designer collaboration?
Gosh, so many! There are too many, but if I had to choose I’d say Dior because they recently created some dresses with illustrations on them. They were all so beautiful and intricate and I fancied having a go!
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I love living in the city, so it would have to be somewhere like New York or London. There always seems to be something going on, especially when it comes to art shows.
Favourite memory of drawing?
At secondary school, because I would draw all of the time and I felt very productive with it. There was also less pressure, as an adult you become more self-conscious and second-guess what you draw.
What is your most treasured possession?
I was going to say my laptop, but I realise that that sounds a bit boring. But then really, that is where I do much of my work. A lot of my pieces are finished digitally, so it’s quite an important object.
Best place to work?
I work from home in my bedroom because I need a quiet space when I’m concentrating. That was one of the things that I found difficult at university, having to work with loads of other people around – usually chatting away on their phones . As I’ve got older I realise I like being in my own space.
What super power would you choose?
Teleportation would be the most fun, don’t you think?
Who is your fictional hero?
I love period classics and I remember reading them or the first time when I was a teenager and being so touched by Jane Austen. Her strength is incredible against such odds, particularly in that period when women were expected to be submissive. The eerie backdrop of the countryside is also really beautiful.
Dream holiday location?
Colorado in the US, because of the crazy scenery.
Manjit Thapp will host a talk at Urban Village Fete, a contemporary take on the village fete on Sunday 20th May.
The publication as well as Manjit’s limited edition prints, stickers and phone cases will be available to buy. Discover more at greenwichpeninsula.co.uk/whats-on/little-book-feminist-saints-book-launch/