Illustrator Alice Skinner on female friendships and turning mortifying situations into art.
Alice Skinner draws you in with a palette of hot pinks and pastels, bold typefaces and a distinctive, eye-catching aesthetic. Her illustrations are pretty much made for screen-grabbing and sharing online, or ordering in high res for your bedroom wall. But while they look fabulous, the London College of Communication grad has described their initial appeal as a kind of pretty pink packaging, which captures your attention long enough to consider her underlying message.
Then, you’ll recognise yourself in Alice’s work. Some depict instantly relatable scenes, like afterparty drinks or chilling with a mate and McDonald’s watching Netflix’s Fyre documentary. But many also deal with issues including the gender pay gap, racial inequality, sexual harassment, consent and the commodification of female bodies, using digestible images to call for social change.
We caught up to talk through her aims and inspirations, why she’ll always champion her friends and how she turns “mortifying” situations into art…
How did you develop your style and aesthetic?
I think I always knew what I wanted my style to look like in my head, but it’s only now, after putting in these hours and hours of practise, that I’m able to actually deliver it. I think it’s probably a mash-up of artists, illustrators, photographers and fashion that have culminated in me creating my own style.
You’ve said before that your illustrations look like a “pretty pink packaging”, which allows you to deliver important messages in a more disarming and shareable way. Why do you think this formula is so effective?
I think it’s because if things are boring we switch off, especially young people who need everything to be visually stimulating within one second before we swipe it away. There’s obviously so much wild stuff happening in the world right now that we’re engaging with and talking about, and we’re more likely to stop and take note of a pastel coloured graphic than a broadsheet.
What do you think the pros are of using social media platforms for social activism?
The main thing is the ability to reach people who may have never had access to movements previously. I also think another key element is breaking it down and making things less daunting to get involved in. Activism can feel like something that’s so removed from people’s lives when in fact it isn’t; anyone can get involved, even if that just means sharing things on the internet. You’re still using your voice.
Is it annoying when people call your diverse depiction of female bodies “radical” when it should just be normal?
Yes! It’s something I find really annoying. It’s such a non-question to me when people ask “Why do you use different shapes of women in your art?” Because that’s what women look like yo! Step outside and take a peek at all the amazing shapes and sizes we behold. I can’t wait ’til this isn’t even a topic anymore.
Do you take inspiration from your own life?
Yes, so many moments are plucked straight from my life. But also, I have the most amazing, diverse and hilarious group of girlfriends and honestly, every Sunday morning one of them has a tale that could inspire my next piece. I find power in turning situations that I have found mortifying into art.
Friendship feels like a key theme – female friendship in particular. Why’s this something you want to celebrate?
I think even now women are seen as competitive and are being pitted against each other, which could not be further from the truth in my life. My friends mould and shape my life and I think it’s so important to celebrate and praise them.
We saw your illustrations of Ramla Ali – what was it about her journey and persona that inspired you?
I think its that she is breaking the mould of what people think a boxer is and is paving the way for so many young girls. A true role model – which are hard to come across these days.
Do you want people to relate to the details in your work?
I love to add little details of things that I’m watching, reading or engaging with because that’s just my life! I love that people always pick up on them and are like “Omg, that’s what I’m watching right this second.” I think the need to feel related to is higher than ever. Especially as I found the art world so exclusive, it’s important that people never feel like that about my work.
You’ve worked with some huge brands – from Virgin to Frieze and Benefit. What’s been the highlight moment for you?
Working with Benefit was definitely the highlight of working with brands so far. It just made so much sense in the pairing – they’re a female-focused, tongue-in-cheek and visually pastel popping brand. I have loved them since I was a teenager, so it really was a heavenly experience. Plus getting to work with a near all-female team of angels, who supported and guided me the whole way whilst allowing me to do whatever I wanted.
What do you stand for and want your legacy as an artist to be?
I stand for ‘normal’ women. Women who may have never seen themselves within pop culture or the art world, and felt not good enough because of that. Women who never had a leg up or contacts and have had to build things completely by themselves. I guess my legacy would be that I hope I’ve made other women and young girls feel the power of these things through my work.