Talya Baldwin is an artist and illustrator who loves drawing things that “cling to life against the odds.” Her subjects often include birds as well as “unloved, forgotten or unpopular things” like sideshow performers, feral pigeons, weeds, and even rats — imbuing them with a quite dignity through her drawing process. Talya does all her illustrations by hand with inks, paints, biros, coloured pencils, pastels, wax crayons, and felt tips. Her work has been commissioned by companies including Canon, Creative Partnerships, Waterstones, Random House, and British Airways as well as many others. Talya has recently launched a new company, Dunnock and Teal, selling lovely wall stickers for children’s rooms. I hope you love Talya’s interview as much as I do…she has an amazing sense of humor! Thank you Talya! -eden
Where are you based?
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, U.K.
Has your childhood had a significant effect on your work? If so, paint us a picture of what your childhood was like in words? (If you have an image you would like to share, please do.)
We moved around when I was little, so I was quite often the new kid. Although I had a lovely, happy childhood, I know how it feels to be an outsider, and somehow (in what I hope is a positive way) I’ve held on to this feeling. I don’t mean that I’m lonely, it’s just that I’m drawn to things that don’t sit comfortably in the mainstream.
As a child I was also a voracious reader. I used to spend a lot of time wondering about the uncelebrated characters in fairy tales: What happened, for example, if you were only the third-most-beautiful princess in all the land? Or if you were one of the many knights who failed to kill the dragon? In one way or another, these characters turn up in my work — I like the fact that drawing is a form of acknowledgement, and can be a way of bringing small, quiet or un-noticed things into the light.
Have you had a formal art education?
Yep. I did BTEC foundation at Wimbledon School of Art, BA Drawing and Painting in Edinburgh, and an MA in Illustration at Saint Martins in London. I’d be an eternal student if I could.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
No – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. When I was two, my dad made me a tiny little wooden table and chair, and I had my pens and paper on it, and I used to sit and draw for hours. My dad is an engineer, and even before I could draw he used to sit down and draw me meticulous little diagrams of planes and submarines, with all the parts labelled. I still say them to myself sometimes, like some kind of weird mantra: hydroplane, ballast tanks, conning tower, propeller, periscope. The words are strangely comforting.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? How did the sale come about?
Ummm… I think it was a life drawing I did in college. A gallery took some work from my graduation show; I remember getting the cheque and thinking all my birthdays had come at once.
Tell us about what inspires your work.
Birds, books, maps, fairy tales, found objects, toys, medieval illuminated manuscripts, Victorian museums, old postcards, circuses, sideshows, black and white photographs, wallpaper.
When you feel a lack of inspiration, how do you find it again?
A bigger problem for me is being realistic about what I can achieve — I wake up in the middle of the night with four different ideas bouncing about in my head, and the fear that I will die before I can put them all down on paper, and that even if I do they will be poor imitations of the way they appear in my mind’s eye. I go running a lot — it helps clear my head. I also do loads of boxing — when your drawing is going badly, hitting something can help!
How do you make money through your art? Please explain what works for you and why. (For example: selling originals or prints online or in galleries, doing commissions, working with major brands, etc.)
I exhibit where I can, but most of my work is on commission. I do sell prints and original drawings, and I’ve just set up a business making vinyl wall stickers for children’s bedrooms at dunnockandteal.com. I also teach drawing to university students part-time.
Do you “make a living” as an artist? If not, how do you primarily support yourself?
The pay isn’t my main motivation, and a good thing, too! I know maybe two artists who make great money from art alone — for the rest of us, creative freedom comes at a pretty high price. I’m hoping to run Dunnock & Teal as a much more commercial side of my business in the hope that it’ll pay for me to do other drawing projects. Ask me again in a year or two!
What have you found to be the most successful way(s) to market your art? Do you have any tips to share?
Facebook, oddly. If you post an image that people like, it will become exponentially more visible as people share it, which is obviously a good thing.
How would you describe the “business” of being an artist?
Top drawing skills aren’t enough on their own. You need to be your own agent, PR machine, social networker, accountant, secretary and salesperson. Some people honestly think artists just sit around doodling, but if that’s all you did, you’d soon starve.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
Sitting around all day doodling.
Who have been your biggest supporters?
My husband is the one who tells me not to give up. About twice a year I have a meltdown and say I’ve had enough, and that I can’t deal with it anymore, and that I’m giving it all up to become a pilates instructor. He knows it’s bad if I mention pilates.
If you could collaborate with anyone (a person or a company) who would it be?
I’m looking for an amazing writer to work with at the moment. I want to do three giant drawings illustrating a bespoke piece of storytelling full of lost and unconventional characters. As for a company, it’d have to be one with an ecological agenda — Greenpeace or something similar. My absolute dream is to go to the Arctic Circle to draw things that survive in one of the harshest climates on earth.
Do you have any current obsessions, art or non-art related?
I’m obsessed with hats. If I see a beautiful one, I have to buy it, and I imagine myself looking effortlessly urbane and chic in it. Then I try it on at home and realize I look stupid and give it away. The same goes for vintage shoes.
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing careers in art?
Acknowledge that the playing field is not always level, and then move on! Rare is the woman who has no responsibilities other than her career; if you’re raising kids, running a business, keeping your home together and trying to make work you’re really passionate about, don’t expect to have the same creative output as someone (whether male or female) who only has themselves to support. And don’t waste time comparing yourself to artists you feel are more successful — so much of what we see in the media is just hype. I get loads of emails from students saying ‘Do you need any more staff in your atelier?’ And I have to reply saying that although I love the idea of me in a waterfront studio surrounded by assistants and freshly brewed coffee, in actual fact it’s just my desk, my pens and paper, and the odd phone call from someone trying to sell me home insurance. I always feel guilty for disappointing them!
Do you have any upcoming shows, news, or things you’d like to let us know about?
I have a new range of wall stickers nearly finished – they’ll be on the site soon. I’m meeting someone next week about illustrating a children’s book, too.
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