Features / Workwear

Illustrator Camilla Perkins on wearing pattern vs. all black


Jack Johnstone

Looking at Camilla Perkins’ vivid, heavily patterned illustrations, it’s perhaps unsurprising that her wardrobe should offer an equally impressive sweep of colours. Her clothes, like her work, are bright, maximal and draw on inspirations both at home and far-off, whether it’s growing up as the child of a knitwear designer or finding inspiration in African prints.

Having recently made the transition to full-time illustrator, Camilla’s Brighton flat – another trove of curiosities – doubles as her workspace. Here, she has turned out distinctive work for BBC Good Food and Penguin and a score of well-dressed personal work that has tapped her as one of this year’s Pick Me Up Selects. Here, she talks about the challenges of working from home, finding pattern irresistible and the new work she is busy making for Pick Me Up.


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins

Tell me a little bit about what you do.

I’m an illustrator. I mostly do lots of brightly coloured, patterned guys and girls for surface design, editorial stuff, just a bit of everything really. The new work I’m doing for Pick Me Up is based on the clothing and style of various different African subcultures. I’m doing a combination of limited edition prints and two original paintings inspired by barbershop signs.

I really feel lucky that I’ve just quit my other part time job and I’m actually doing this full time now, which is just amazing. I graduated in 2012 and when I first finished uni I had a full time job and I had to do it all on the side and it was crazy. I look back and I remember being like “rush, rush, rush!” and trying to get things done on my days off. The quality of my work is a lot better now because I have more time to spend doing it properly.

What are you wearing today?

I’m wearing almost all black!

Is that unusual for you?

No it’s not! Half the time I wear these mad clothes and my friends are like, “Are you alright?” Then I went to Copenhagen over the summer and everyone wears black and I thought everyone looked amazing. But I can’t really help myself, so I’ve usually got a bit of pattern. I think because the work I do is so pattern-based that’s something that I’m naturally attracted to in what I wear.

Anyway today I’m wearing this jumper from Être Cécile, this skirt is actually from Marks & Spencer, my necklace is from my friend’s shop in Lewes called Popsicle, these earrings are from Jenny Sweetnam and my shoes are from & Other Stories.


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins


How do you find working from home?

That is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I turn into a mad person if I haven’t seen anyone for four days, but the good side is that obviously I’m my own boss. I still make sure I get up early otherwise I’ll just procrastinate all day. You have to be disciplined, even on a Monday on the two day hangover… My boyfriend leaves for work at seven every morning and I try to be up by then, get ready as if I was going to work and be at my computer by nine on the dot. That’s what I try and do anyway.

“I think because the work I do is so pattern-based that’s something that I’m naturally attracted to in what I wear.”

Camilla Perkins

Do you dress any differently when you’re working and when you’re not working?

Not really. The main thing is that when I’m working I try and make sure that I actually get dressed. That’s a big part of feeling like I’m at work. I need to be properly dressed and in clothes, not just pyjamas with my hair on top of my head looking like shit. You have to be in work mode.


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins

What’s an average work day for you?

I have quite a lot on at the moment and I’ve got Pick Me Up coming up, so that’s good. I basically get up, I get dressed and I just start making. If it’s something new that I’m working on, I’ll make a colour palette first and I spend a while doing that because that’s the most important starting point for me, and then just look around for inspiration. I have certain things that I’m into, like bright clothes and lots of clashing patterns but the people are often just made up. I usually just look on the internet to find references for the poses.

Then sometimes when it gets too much and if it’s a nice day go and walk on the beach for a while, or there’s a park up the road that I go and walk around in talking to myself like a mad person. I find that at some point in the day I just need to give myself a break. I think I work surprisingly quickly. People have said that to me before. I think I’m quite a manic person!


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins

Where do you find most of you clothes?

I buy a lot of stuff from Cos and apparently have a bit of an obsession with buying lots of different coloured jumpers. Lots of them are from YMC – if I’ve got the money I love a YMC jumper but they’re fucking expensive. That’s fine though isn’t it? When you’ve done a big project you’ve got to treat yourself sometimes for crying out loud!

I do like to look for things with bright patterns. I’ve got this skirt that I love from Whistles that’s bright orange and mad, and I’ve got a few Pakistani dresses from a shop that I used to work in because I liked the fabrics.

Does living in Brighton have an influence on how you dress?

There’s so many of us from Brighton that all moved up to London at the same time to do art foundation, so if I go to Peckham it’s like everyone I know from home. I think there is Brighton style. There aren’t as many good shops in Brighton as there are in London obviously but there are so many vintage shops here. When I was younger that was what I was really into, but not so much anymore. I don’t really have the patience. It just takes so long.


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins

Has your dress sense changed much as you’ve got older?

When I was like 11 I had braces and plaits and huge cord flares. I didn’t even get the black ones, I always got the bright turquoise or bright pink, so it was even worse. Then later I had a half-shaved head. That was a bad choice.

I also had this old leather jacket that I used to wear every single day that I recently had to throw away. I had since I was like 16 and I would wear it on every night out, but I just had to get rid of it. That was something that I really did love.

I’ve got a few things at my mum’s house, like old jumpers and stuff. My mum’s a knitwear designer so that’s why I’ve got so much knitted stuff. It’s not my fault, she just keeps bringing these things to my house. Every time she comes round I swear she brings another knitted blanket.

Has that played a part in your style?

I’ve always been doing stuff with her, like helping styling on shoots and working on books and actually picking up the colours she’s used. So yeah it probably has had quite a big influence. She uses a lot of bright colours as well. Sometimes I try and steal her clothes but she never lets me. She’s got this leopard print hat that I want so much, I’ve wanted it for 10 years and she won’t let me have it!


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins


Do you think it helps creatives to have a style that reflects their work?

I think it just often can’t be helped really. My work is a kind of extension of myself but I don’t think clothes matter that much. I think a lot of people do have their own sense of style and their work often reflects that.

If you weren’t an illustrator do you think you would dress any differently?

I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t an illustrator. I think I’d still be doing something creative, or I’d be a vet and wear crazy scrubs. Either way, I’d be the same.


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins


Jack Johnstone: Camilla Perkins