Molley May’s “lazy” illustrations are both therapeutic and utterly delightful
Somerset-based illustrator Molley May has returned back home after living in London during, as she describes, “a very intense 2020-pandemic-summer.” Now enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside, we speak to Molley about her equally idyllic illustrations.
- Harry Bennett
- 29 October 2020
Not fully understanding what lay in store within the world of illustration, Molley “fairly randomly,” decided to study the subject at university whilst doing her A-Levels. “I’m not sure that I had a huge understanding of what it was at the time,” Molley tells us, “but I think it felt more accessible to me than fine art or painting.” Growing up watching animated films and reading children’s books, Molley explains that “art galleries and art history just wasn’t part of my life at all,” hence finding a greater sense of creative influence from the former. “A thing I love about illustration is how broad it is and how it seems to have very few barriers as to what it can be,” she notes, demonstrating how the nature of illustration is more immediately approachable and understandable. Perhaps with less pretension than the realm of fine art, Molly revels in the diversity of the medium – “I see illustrators drawing with pencils and also illustrators making rugs,” adding “I think it has a playful and unstuffy nature and that feels so liberating.”
This ethereal, unrestricted and unpredictable spirit that Molley finds exciting seems to lie at the very core of her work, with candid spectacles that enclose a rich character and inherently gentle nature. “I would say that my practice is based in drawing and observation at the moment,” Molley explains. “I work traditionally and experiment a lot with materials and mark-making so it feels like it moves around quite a lot.” This is apparent in the energy and human presence of her illustrations, that indicate a personal, almost biographical truth to her work.
Within this, however, there is a humour and sense of joy that leaves a quiet and warm feeling in your chest. To this end, Molley has more recently found herself using a dip pen. Adoring the fluidity and simplicity of the tool, it has allowed her to produce exciting, stripped-down scenes that rely on instinct and feeling as much as skill, resulting in raw and delicate illustrations. “A person online told me this year that my work was lazy,” Molley explains, “and I think if anything this has spurred me on to try and make the laziest drawings possible.”
“I would say that most of what I do is non-commercial and comes from a personal place,” Molley adds, creating both individual drawings and foldable booklets, “I try and keep these slightly un-linear as I love the idea that people may look at it in a completely different way to me,” she tells us, highlighting the ambiguity of emotion instilled with her characters and still-life drawings. Beyond her personal practice, Molley’s work partners with the music she’s listening to, explaining that “I think often music is coming from an emotional place, and open to interpretation,” recalling that, “it feels like a good blend.” This relationship between her illustrations and music seems poetically fitting to the work itself; much like it is the case in music where the most important part is the spaces between the notes, so too is often the case with Molley’s work, whereby what is deliberately left out is reflective of what is left in.
Despite her work seeming initially “a bit disjointed sometimes,” Molley frequently returns to the same themes, often almost therapeutically using drawings to understand her own experiences and feelings. “I’m very interested in the idea of self and relationships,” she explains, “in understanding who we are/what other people understand about us.” The personal nature of her illustrative investigations means that although specific to Molley, the outcomes can appear quite abstract, taking joy in the fact others may “find their own strand to relate to,” within her work.
“I’ve recently been stuck on the idea of being overwhelmed and the feeling of being desperate to say or do something but not being able to make yourself get there,” Molley tells us, explaining the context of her latest project Say It, a large scale fold-out poster zine. Featuring extracts from her recent foray into oil pastels and accompanying poems, the project came into being after an experience of being intensely overwhelmed. “ It started about a year ago when I was walking around packed London and I was overwhelmed with the desire to tell the stranger next to me on the platform that I was in love with them,” Molley remarks. “I obviously wasn’t but I think it stemmed from a deeper need to be seen or a craving for love,” she explains.
“It’s a feeling I’ve felt frequently, a kind of scrambling inside for something, and I draw about it a lot,” expressing the accompanying feelings of “intensity and ambiguity,” creating an interactive zine that both subliminally overwhelms you and comforts you. Throughout the zine is the hidden phrase “Say It” repeated over 30 times, giving one a sense of unease, however, the nature of being able to read it however you please gives you a somewhat cozy feeling – “I want people to think about unwrapping things or blooming or kaleidoscopes!”
The future looks exciting for Molley, who’s currently working with an Italian hip-hop artist, interpreting a childhood photograph of him, playing with the themes of growth, the future and trust – thrilled to have been given a lot of creative freedom in the project. She is also working on more client work and looks to finally execute an idea that has been floating around her head for years; documenting the weird stuff her mum has collected – “we have the same maximalist style and there are strange little things and bits all over the house,” Molley explains. “I’ve toyed with the idea of making a collection of drawings around this for years but now might be the right time!”
Molley May: In Again (Copyright © Molley May, 2020)
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.