Stella Murphy’s comic-style illustrations capture busy scenes and characters from her local community
The illustrator is working on more commissions than ever before, but she still creates from a personal place and reacts to all that is around her.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 13 September 2023
Over the years, Stella Murphy’s growing oeuvre has shown us that she is a comics aficionado. We first spoke to her in 2018, when she was creating psychedelic illustrations inspired by the feature-contorting style of the Chicago Imagists, making characters that weren’t so easily associated with reality. And in 2020, as she started to morph into a more scene-like approach with similar characters in-situ – kitchens, front rooms and in one commission, the doctor’s office – her work began to take on a more conversational tone. “I always want to try and experiment or feed what I’m currently excited about into the work,” she tells us. And although she has a similar approach to commissions as before, she is now ready for her voice and unique perspective to shine through in the work. “There’s usually a retro flavour that I was recognised for originally and now I’m really keen that my work has a fresh voice and feels authentic to me,” she adds.
One thing that is noticeable in Stella’s current work is an increased interest in busier scenes, characters and movement. “I think a lot of the work I was developing was made during lockdown, where there wasn’t much stimulus, so I was turning inward, leaning into those single room interior scenes with those little characters on the brink of crisis,” she tells us. “Now that I’m a lot more sociable there is something weirdly appealing to me about a packed-out club or a bustling space.”
In a recent commission for Raine Allen Miller’s rom-com Rye Lane, we notice a new turn for the illustrator, as she maps the geography of an area close to her, tackling the architecture of buildings as opposed to her commonly featured characters and interiors. “She [Raine Allen Miller] ended up featuring a lot more places than I originally thought but you can tell this was a way to celebrate south London and more specifically Brixton and Peckham, and their local businesses. It felt pretty natural to move away from the character stuff and drawing places that I either go to or pass by all the time was surreal,” she adds.
With a process that includes drawing out perspective grids, Stella admits to a slower pace of working. “I’m always eating into my fee and the time I’ve spent on drawing can be at odds with what I’m getting for the commission,” she tells us. But, she’s had a crack at moving over to digital, and realised that nothing can replicate the feel of the pen. “I’m mostly colouring everything digitally, but if I had all the time in the world I’d prefer to get fully stuck into marker pens and lots of experiments with airbrush and scanned textures.” Recently starting on one of her dream jobs, which involves creating the identity for the new night Private Worlds at Spanners in South London, she lends her beloved style to a project that merges her love of music – which is fitting as she often has techno blasting in the background while working on commissions and personal work. “Ruby and Mali (the people behind the night) give me complete creative freedom to do what I want, and I’m enjoying doing some detailed line work while playing around with the concept.”
It is clear that the illustrator is edging ever nearer to a practice that allows her creativity to flourish. Working on her biggest ever projects this year, such as The New York Times Book Review cover, and creating for music and film projects within her community, she shows us that mastering your style comes from within.
GalleryCopyright © Stella Murphy
Intermission Film: Rye Lane Movie Map (Copyright © Stella Murphy, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is an editorial assistant at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.