Drawing is a particular medium for its ability to observe yet augment. It allows creatives to document a moment with accuracy but add their interpretation of it, communicating much more than a photograph could, for example. While initially following a path to a career in graphic design, it was during her foundation year at Loughborough that Maisy Summer first felt the pull of the more narrative-led medium. “I began to realise I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of illustration,” she recalls to us. “I loved how drawing was a way to document things I’d observed and to communicate that to others.”
Today, Maisy is based in Manchester where she works as a freelance illustrator and animator, and as a teaching assistant on the illustration and animation course at Manchester School of Art. She also runs Small Fry, “a creative network putting on events, talks and workshops,” which recently “teamed up with the Association of Illustrators to become a Manchester AOI meet up group.”
There’s a naive quality to Maisy’s work which imbues the compositions with childlike joy. That’s not to say she is technically inept though, far from in fact, as she combines myriad techniques and media within her narrative-driven works. “I work with a range of traditional to digital media in my illustrations often using a combination of gouache, pencils and crayons, building up texture and interest,” she describes. “Sometimes I also incorporate paper cuts where I draw with scissors letting characters and objects evolve from this handcrafted process.” It’s a process of layering and building which she enjoys, and one which embodies her playful approach to creating.
Although a range of tools feature in Maisy’s practice, something which she particularly loves about illustration is its accessibility; that relatively little in terms of equipment is needed to get started. She’s also fond of its ability to document, especially when out and about. “You can very quickly on-the-go capture observations and later use them as part of your work,” she adds. “Whether it’s a shop front you saw that’s interesting, or people having ‘take out’ Shisha through the window of their car. Everything and anything can find its way into your work, and be used to make it more realistic and engaging by drawing from the world around you.”
This notion of drawing from the world is something that crops up again and again in Maisy’s projects, as she aims to tell stories of different communities, “looking into their spaces and histories to uncover narratives.” She’ll begin by drawing before interviewing and researching, all of which amalgamates to create well-informed and rich work, executed in her signature style as anything from publications to large scale installations. Maisy offers her projects Magma-Zine, which celebrates the self-publishing community behind book shop Magma, and Night & Day, which tells the history of the Manchester music venue of the same name, as examples of this. In both cases, she was able to delve into a topic in-depth, visualising her findings in printed form through drawings.
A recent project of Maisy’s is titled Cook & Grow, in which, instead of documenting a community, she attempts to support one. A book of recipes for and by students at Manchester Metropolitan University, it consists of playful illustrations and gifs which capture the fun of cooking and food, encouraging new students to “cook and grow”.
Food, in general, appears to be a general motif in Maisy’s portfolio and, after working on Cook & Grow, she went onto create a campaign #lentilswillsavetheworld for “Veganuary”, also in collaboration with MMU. “For the recipes I decided to create long illustrations that could go across three posts continuously, to show the ingredients, process and final dish in a fun intriguing format. These illustrations went alongside their live cook-a-longs of each dish,” she further explains. What’s more, during lockdown, Maisy co-directed a short animation with Sarah Wilson for Food for Heroes, a charity providing free meals to NHS workers. “We took the charity’s step-by-step process of how they source, make and distribute the food and turned it into an engaging and playful animation. Which they used to demonstrate their charity to people who were interested in getting involved,” she says.
Off the back of that work, Maisy has been “putting the wheels slowly in motion to do a longer-form animation project this year,” and is hoping to get back into a studio space in Manchester with her friends as soon as it’s safe to do so. “It will be lovely to get that shared creative buzz back and feedback from fellow illustrators,” she says, expressing something we can all relate to right now. Most importantly, on what lies ahead for her, Maisy answers: “I want to continue exploring my practice and methods of making, and hope to connect and work on more intriguing projects.”
Maisy Summer: Food Basket, from Cook and Grow (Copyright © Maisy Summer & MMU, 2020)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.