We found some amazing drawings of Copeland Park by local Illustrator Paula Caffrey and decided to interview her about her work. Paula spoke to us about working as an illustrator, taking on a Masters, and making a living from your artwork.

What do you do?

I’m a freelance illustrator/graphic designer, but I’ve just recently moved to London to do my Masters in Illustration and Visual Media at UAL, so that’s what’s been taking up most of my time lately.

Are you an illustrator full time?

I’d say it’s more part time at the moment because of my studies. Doing a Masters is hard work… who would have thought? So I’ve had to bump off some graphic design commissions onto my partner who is a full time graphic designer, but I keep all the juicy illustration ones to myself.

What’s the most exciting illustration job you’ve had to date?

I’d say it would have to be a campaign I did in 2018 for the new Autumn collection at Livingston Designer Outlet in Scotland. I was asked to do a collection of fashion illustrations to advertise the season, and they were to appear on massive billboards and interactive bus stops all over Edinburgh where I was living at the time. I was commissioned by the design team at APS Group and it was so exciting because I love fashion and it was the first time I’d been asked to do something of this nature. It was also a really well paid gig, in fact it was the most I’ve ever been paid for my work to date and I got such a rush of emotions to see my illustrations standing 3 metres tall around the city and to stand beside them every time I was waiting on a bus. Many excitable photos/selfies were taken.

Which artist are you most inspired by?

This is a really difficult question because there are so many talented artists past and present that inspire me on a daily basis. If I have to pick one artist though, I absolutely would have to say Henryk Tomaszewski. A poster artist in post WW2 Poland, his work is both charming and provocative. His posters are painterly and imaginative, and his drawings look almost carefree and playful, yet I have no doubt are done with tremendous attention to detail. I’ve found that I refer back to his work regularly for inspiration, no matter what project I’m working on.

What’s your connection to Copeland Park?

Well, I actually only first visited Copeland Park 3 weeks ago (a few days after I moved to my new house off Copeland Road). I was exploring my new neighbourhood when I came across Holdrons Arcade. I thought it was such a great little corridor of independent businesses with a real friendly vibe and the next day I looked it up online and realised it was part of Copeland Park. I noticed there was a Vintage Kilo Sale on in the Unit 8 warehouse and was round within the hour to check it out, where I bagged a steal with a gorgeous suede jacket and leather skirt for 15 quid! It was then when I noticed everything else that goes on here: the eateries/bars, the studios, the galleries, Bussey Building! I knew I’d be back here again very soon!

What is your favourite thing to do here?

People watching! This may be a characteristic of being an illustrator/artist, but I love to just sit back and watch the different types of people that go by and wonder who they are and what they’re up to. The first Saturday I was there, after my vintage rummage, I sat in Social with a coffee by the window and just watched everyone go about their day, observing the street style for a good two hours – shoppers, musicians, artists, families, friends catching up, there’s a real sense of community here. I enjoyed it so much I came back the following Saturday under the guise of doing work, but really I was just there to do much of the same thing!

Have you been to any stand out events here?

So far I’ve only been to the Kilo Sale and ‘The State of Things’ show in Copeland Gallery, celebrating Black History Month and exhibiting artists of an African-Caribbean background. It was great to see the work of fellow UAL students and recent graduates there and to see an interesting variety of pieces on show. As I only discovered the place a few weeks ago, I have a lot more to see and do here. I’m going to ‘The South London Soul Train with the Soul Sisters’ event in the CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey Building this weekend, so I’m looking forward to checking that out and letting off some steam. I’m also really interested in checking out ‘NSF CRXSS PLATFXRM FESTIVAL’ the following weekend and will definitely be stopping by to see the future of street culture.

Can you talk us through a few of the Copeland Park illustrations?

I tried to really show how eclectic Copeland Park is, hence the multiple different drawings all coming together as a little community of illustrations. There is such a diverse range of activities and experiences to be had here, whether it’s to use a shared studio space/workshop, have a few drinks and a dance, go to band practice or attend a yoga class, to name a few. I was sitting in a comfy armchair in the corner of Social one afternoon doing some work, occasionally pausing to watch the young families that were coming in to sit down to some food and enjoy a day out with the kids, which is why I drew the illustration in the top right of the family having some lunch. Up until this point I had mostly been seeing adults about the space, possibly students and young professionals, socialising and working and it was nice to see yet another type of clientele, so I wanted to represent that in the work. It was a similar story with the middle illustration of the people holding hands in a circle. This idea came from when I was walking down Bussey Alley and heard choir singing that appeared to be coming from Christ Gospel Church and later noticed some children in robes playing together in Copeland Square after coming out of Holy Emmanuel Church. I felt it was important to illustrate that Copeland Park as a place isn’t just for work and play, there are also spaces for people to come together as a community through faith and prayer. On the other end of the spectrum, the drawing of the girl trying on clothes in the mirror is really just a comment on the retail that’s available there, whether it’s Khan’s Bargain Store, independent shops in Holdrons Arcade or a vintage clothes sale where 5 people are fighting for one mirror to check out their bum in a potential new purchase.

Do you draw on site or from photos / memory?

I have a mixture of approaches depending on the projects I’m working on. For this collection of illustrations they mostly came straight from my noggin/memory, however occasionally I will use photos for reference. I tend to take a lot of photos of everything and nothing when I’m out. I rarely draw on site, as I feel I get too distracted by everything around me, and if I do make sketches they’re usually just a reference for what I will later draw back in my home studio, or as the case is now that I live in London – my bedroom studio.

Are your illustrations for sale? Where can people see/buy them?

Because my illustrations are usually done for specific clients, I don’t often have my artwork for sale. However, I occasionally post on my Instagram channel if I have any prints or posters for sale. I think an online store will be my next step though, as I do have a couple of large framed artworks just sitting in my studio at home. Perhaps after my Masters I will get around to setting this up finally.

Do you have any advice for budding illustrators?

I’m not sure if I’m in a position yet to offer advice as I feel as though I’m still starting out and I still have a lot more to learn and accomplish myself. I think many creatives are their own worst enemy though and are often quite self critical of their work. I know this is the case for me anyway and so, this year, I have been working really hard on overcoming that and would advise anybody else who wants to get into this game to do the same. It’s good to question your concepts and techniques and constantly want to progress and make your work better, but be nice to yourself at the same time and be proud of what you do, show your work, exhibit, get your work seen by as many people as possible and apply for awards and opportunities. As my nanny Sue would say, “Send it in!” Sometimes it’s the people you least expect to get back to you that actually do.

You can stay up to date by following Paula on Instagram, or browse all of her projects from her website.