People in the graphic arts world have got an infernal problem with Pick Me Up. It’s the Taylor Swift of illustration events: everyone claims they’re not into it but when it comes on the radio they know all the words and are happily singing along. My opinion on it has undulated for years, but going to the private view last night made me realise that all this time I doubted it and listened sceptically to the rumours surrounding it, I was totally wrong.
How spoilt we were to look at a fantastic event full of young, talented, funny, engaging people and think “nah, it’s lame.” What other city has a huge, archaic establishment that each year puts on a two-week long celebration of visual and graphic arts? Who else rounds up people who work in bar jobs, shops, and for companies they don’t care about just so they can pursue their actual talent in their spare time, and says to them “hey, do you want to exhibit your work to the general public and make some cash and get noticed?”
And it’s not just some big pop up shop of cat drawings and crap doodles of superheroes on expensive postcards like the cynics say it is, it’s a celebratory show of hard work and good, talented people. The public once moaned about Frieze Art Fair being like a big supermarket, and yeah the art is for sale and you can browse it to your heart’s content, but it’s also a place to show off and champion what exactly is going on in the art world at that time. Pick Me Up is exactly the same. Sure, you get a few names coming back for a third or fourth year, but surrounding those inspiring, established people are the little guys just starting up who are hoping wildly that they might be able to make a living out of doing what they’re doing.
"Sure, you get a few names coming back for a third or fourth year, but surrounding those inspiring, established people are the little guys just starting up who are hoping wildly that they might be able to make a living out of doing what they’re doing."Liv Siddall
This year the enormous space is packed full of stuff you can buy, use, take selfies in front of, play with and wear. Everything’s worth a look, but I’ll try and rattle through a bunch of what I found to be the most impressive. This year the guys at Peckham Print Studio have taken over the big downstairs space, opening it up to the public as a live, working print studio which looks fantastic. I reckon you could take your grumpiest most art-hating relative along to do some screen printing with them and they’d leave smiling. Nice to see some London Terrariums bits and bobs and some fantastic prints and stationery for sale around that space too.
The Lazy Oaf store upstairs is also a really good addition to the line-up, selling a bunch of shirts designed by illustrators like Kyle Platts and Jack Sachs, prints by Gemma Shiel and Alexander Medel Calderòn, and loads of trinkets and socks with smiley faces and squiggly noses on, if you’re into that kind of thing. I am.
Also upstairs is the magnificent Hato Press store that is showcasing their new stationery range. If you haven’t seen Hato’s stationery before then I can tell you now it’s marbled, off-cut paper porn that should be bought immediately and never, ever used. They’re also running a series of fun and affordable Today I Learnt… events all through Pick Me Up like bookbinding, zine-making, cooking, screen-printing, coding and more which you can see over here.
Other areas to check out are Glasgow’s Risotto Studio (especially if you like neon Riso prints), the Pick Me Up Platform and all the talks, interviews and Blink Art stand just to ogle at how good the artists on their books are.
"What other city has a huge, archaic establishment that each year puts on a two-week long celebration of visual and graphic arts?"Liv Siddall
Also worth a look is the Pick Me Up Selects section which aims to champion some of the best up and coming artists and give them a big space to exhibit some of their best pieces which you can buy. Highlights include the astonishingly good Luke Evans and Gaurab Thakali (both It’s Nice That Graduates), Jack Cunningham and his beautiful 3D-printed dinosaurs, and Laura Callaghan’s witty, dark illustrations and comics.
I’ve barely even touched on the sheer amount of stuff in this space, and the events going on over the next fortnight, but go down for a look. You’ll come away with a couple of prints, a T-shirt covered with bananas and maybe a few terrariums. But most importantly you’ll leave with a fairly good idea of what people are up to in this corner of the world, and just how hard they’re working to make drawing and making a big part of their lives.