Exploring “the tension between the mechanical and the handmade” with illustrator Carolyn Hawkins
Carolyn's talent spirals through a variety of mediums, most noticeably in her fusion of handmade lettering and illustration.
- Joey Levenson
- 30 March 2022
Melbourne-based illustrator Carolyn Hawkins covers a broad spectrum. Her work presents a rich, artesanal feel; hand-crafted lettering mixes with printmaking, and animation and design work fuses together in spectacular fashion. “I always try to remain playful, bold and experimental in my approach,” Carolyn tells It’s Nice That. “And wherever possible, I try to embrace the idiosyncrasies of the medium, letting that guide my mark making or design concept.” It’s an admirable set of values, especially for an artist who has been plagued by the worry that their “aesthetic was too all over the place”. But now, Carolyn is steadfast in the kind of work she enjoys making – regardless of the pressure to present a ‘cohesive’ aesthetic trend in her portfolio. “I’ve always been interested in the tension between the mechanical and the handmade, repetition and inconsistency, playing with or referencing analogue processes to build layers of texture,” she adds. “And using collage to create wonky, and sometimes fractured images.”
Such a craft can only come about in a meticulous process, and Carolyn’s insight into her practice is incredibly helpful to those who may work in a similar vein. “If I’m having a bit of trouble thinking of visual ideas, I’ll turn to language and brainstorm lists of words or write down ideas and concepts, which will in turn usually loop back to some visual paths to follow,” she explains. “I also find getting away from the computer and looking through some of my art books is almost always a good move: I’m just looking at my shelf right now and some sure-fire favourites to get ideas flowing are David Hockney’s prints and drawings, Sister Corita Kent’s screenprinting workshop, a book of crayon drawings from Yirrkala in Arnhem Land, and a catalogue of Flying Nun posters and album art.” That, and of course “a lot of coffee,” she says. What results from this flurry of inspiration is often a mood board that crystallises all her ideas, and then “in the 11th hour all the good stuff comes out,” she tells us. “When it’s late at night, and I’m completely exhausted and almost just thinking ‘fuck it’, that’s when I’ve really let go and the floodgates can open a bit more.”
Carolyn got her start in illustration when she was playing in bands. Music and visual arts intertwining themselves to produce creativity in tenfold is a tale we often hear, and Carolyn is proof of the harmonious relationship the two mediums can have. “I would often be the go-to person for posters, album art, merch, that kind of thing, since I had been to art school doing printmaking,” she recalls. “Gig posters especially have been a great way to experiment with different ideas when I was still trying to find my voice with illustration and design. They only really circulate for a bit before they disappear into the ether, so I found I was more inclined to take creative risks with these kinds of jobs.”
Although Carolyn’s illustration is merely one part of what constitutes her marvellous creative output, it’s certainly a talent of hers we should be taking note of. Her latest stop-motion videos with Moontown TV for Moontown Records is a wonderful demonstration of how Carolyn’s work moulds into all kinds of mediums. “The animations were experimental, reconfiguring old imagery to work with some short synth tracks I’d put together,” she explains. She’s certainly humble, but Carolyn has her finger on the pulse of creative innovation. We’re excited to see where she next applies her talents in the Melbourne visual arts scene, including in a forthcoming zine.
Carolyn Hawkins: Thibault poster (Copyright © Carolyn Hawkins, 2019)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.