Stella Murphy’s unique illustrations hop from the 1800s to the 1960s for inspiration

Carving out her own stylistic approach to illustration over the past few years, Stella Murphy discusses her practice and a want to make work where you “aren’t sure if it’s hideous or appealing.”

9 September 2020

For London-based illustrator Stella Murphy, drawing has always been a natural extension of her creativity and a consistent habit. “I suppose drawing characters and having them saying or doing weird things is something I have done for as long as I can remember,” she tells It’s Nice That. As a result, over the past couple of years since we first met her, Stella’s been busy doing just that.

With plenty more projects and commissions under her belt, from magazine spreads to album covers, Stella has found herself feeling a lot more settled in the industry, making the work she wants to make, “and I feel like I’m no longer screaming into the abyss of unanswered emails to art directors post-uni, so that’s nice.” In terms of change to her practice, stylistically, Stella still works with the same components that drew us to her work in the first place. Character-led in her compositions, her work imbues wit via expression and extra personality via pattern. From a technical point of view however she adds that “the drawings have improved a bit, which I would hope for after two years of doing this constantly!”

Now taking her time in considering those extra details – “like where shadows should fall and how perspectives should work more carefully” – a surreal element can always be found in Stella’s illustrative approach. Describing her work as an example of a distorted reality, “where things are just slightly off”, her influences are a jumble of eras. Experimenting with illustration after graduating from university it was immediately the 60s and 70s she felt attracted to, “because the imagery feels so liberated and surreal,” which led to Stella’s “art cartoon” style. More recently however it’s as far back as the 1800s she’s been looking, “obsessed” with caricature etching art, in turn, applying this to her line drawing approach.


Stella Murphy: Courage (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)

Utilising these approaches in her illustrations, it’s a bold – even Stella herself describes it as garish – colour palette that makes her work immediately recognisable. In being vibrant in her use of colour the illustrator separates herself from many of her contemporaries by working with a much darker palette tonally. Often picking up darker yellow hues, brown or deep shades of red, Stella explains that it’s natural to her to turn to these palettes, adding: “I can’t really do subtle,” she says. “I like to have really clashing colours next to each other, and I quite like making work that you aren’t sure if it’s hideous or appealing.”

After taking the quieter period of early 2020 as an opportunity to focus on personal work, the illustrator is now keen to take her work into the physical, more namely, a gallery space. “I’m really keen to explore how my work can exist in an exhibition setting and making work purely for this purpose,” she says of this departure from the digital. This is also inspired by how Stella’s pieces are often housed in interiors too, “so it would be great to take this further and make work that interacts with a specific space with a considered space” – a sight we'd love to see.


Stella Murphy: Reading (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Cooking (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Mmm Cereal (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Hometime (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Go Fever – Daydream Hawker (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Dining (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Boojum (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Blues (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)


Stella Murphy: Equality Poster (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)

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Stella Murphy: RY Comic panel (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2020)

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.

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