Grrrlizm meets with Jessie Keogh, weight-loss and lifestyle blogger, graphic designer, illustrator and creator of Artists of Instagram, to discuss Blue Vxlvet Illustrations, using Instagram as a marketing tool and working in the art industry.
Hey Jess, tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey! I’m a 20-year-old graphic designer living in a little seaside town with my fiancé. When I’m not working I’m either illustrating, blogging, or watching trashy TV. I took A-levels in Maths, Physics, Art and Graphics with the original intention of going to Uni and becoming an architect, but things didn’t pan out that way and I ended up in a graphic design apprenticeship with the same digital agency I currently work for, and I couldn’t be happier.
Describe the most common theme(s) presented in your illustrations and why?
I love drawing women. Big, voluptuous women with curves for your nerves and overly exaggerated features and proportions. I started drawing them because I enjoyed it and I just loved looking at them, but they quickly caught on with followers of the body positive movement as a celebration of women of a fuller figure which was awesome too. When I illustrate now it’s mostly commissions of couples, pets and families, but if I get any down time I’ll always go back to what I know and love: big, beautiful babes. Would you categorise your work as feminist art or not?
Rolling Stone did an interview with Lana Del Rey once where they asked her how she wants people to hear and perceive her music, and she responds with: ‘I’m very selfish. I make everything for me, kind of.’ and this resonated with me so much. When you share something you make with thousands of people you are under so much scrutiny. I’ve drawn white women and been called a racist, I’ve drawn fat women and been told I’m romanticising obesity, so I’m hesitant to categorise my illustrations as feminist art, because I don’t need people telling me what my art does or does not do. I, personally, believe in equal rights for everyone, but there are men, women and people in between who actively do so much to actually, really improve the rights of women, POC, and the LGBTQ community that I don’t think it would be fair to put what I do at the same level as them, you know? If feminists enjoy what I do then that’s great, but there are so many people out there doing more for the cause than I am that deserve that title. I’m just here to show off what I think is beautiful.
What inspired you to create a weight-loss and lifestyle blog?
For possibly longer than I’ve been into making art, I’ve been into creative writing, so a blog has been a fantastic creative outlet for me. I’ve always been a big girl, and like so many others I’ve felt the pressure to lose weight. But what I found growing up is that in order to want to lose a whole load of weight, there seems to be this weird consensus that says you must be really unhappy with who you are as a person. And part of me thinks that that’s a proper unhealthy way of thinking. Why should you have to be at your lowest point to want to change things up? I never saw anyone going through a dramatic weight loss that wasn’t ashamed of their ‘before body’, and I felt that there was a me-shaped gap in the market for someone to talk about changing a number of aspects of their life without being apologetic for a single part of it. I’m currently on a journey to lose 100lbs, and I’m trying to document my journey whilst wholeheartedly loving myself throughout the entire process. My body has carried me through 20 years of life; I owe it a lot of gratitude.
How did you gain popularity on social media? Any tips for other artists?
My main social media platform is Instagram. I don’t use my Instagram account just for my artwork as I also share a lot of weight loss and interior design posts, but I’ve seen a lot of other artists who have a page dedicated just to their art as opposed to sharing work on their personal account. My biggest piece of advice for artists or other creatives using Instagram in particular to share and promote their work is this: Instagram is visual, so make sure what you’re posting is something that people want to look at. Invest the time into finding a good back drop for your photos, with lots of natural lighting and with as little clutter as possible. You have to think about what people immediately see when they click on your profile; if that grid of nine-or-so images at the top of your page doesn’t make them want to follow you, you’re doing something wrong.
Tell us about your ‘Artists of Instagram’ group.
Artists of Instagram is a group of girls from all corners of the Earth who use Instagram as a platform to promote, advertise and sell their artwork. I created the group because I thought it would be a really useful resource for these girls to have a place where they can ask for and share advice on anything from developing their artistic style to dealing with difficult customers. We also organise monthly trades where we each send another person in the group a piece of artwork for them to keep, as long as they promote the artist they receive something from on their own Instagram page. It’s become a great little community and one that I’m really proud to be a part of.
Tell us about your job as a graphic designer and about Blue Vxlvet Illustrations.
Ever since I started sixth form I knew I wanted to do something creative, but exactly what creative career I chose was undecided until I actually left school. I didn’t get the grades or have the enthusiasm to go to a university that I thought was worth my time, and opportunities for tattooing apprenticeships, something I always wanted to do, kept falling through. I applied for a graphic design job and was contacted by an apprenticeship agency who offered to help me get my foot in the door of a company that could potentially offer me a career in something creative, so I decided to go for it. Two years later I’m still working for the same company, except now I’m the Head of Graphics instead of just an apprentice. Day-to-day life as a graphic designer involves designing websites, logos and printed media for all different kinds of companies, using primarily Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator (two programs I had absolutely zero experience with until I started my apprenticeship), which allows me to be creative but not in as much of a ‘hands-on’ way as I’m used to. This is where Blue Vxlvet Illustrations became a part of my life. Although I’m in a creative career, I still have the burning desire inside of me to go back to basics every now and then and create something out of nothing more than pen and paper, so my illustrations became a huge stress-buster and form of therapy for me. I’m pretty active on Instagram, and when I began sharing my illustrations on social media I got a lot of support for what I was doing. After a few years of developing my personal style I now incorporate both my hand drawings and the use of Adobe products to create the illustrations I’m most proud of.
Are you working on any new projects right now?
My busiest time for illustrating is the month leading up to Christmas, so now January is upon us I’m relieved to be able to take some time to work on my own stuff. I’ll be continuing my weight loss journey and documenting it each step of the way, as well as making more and more additions to our new little place and posting about that too. In regards to my art; I’m going to try and get back to my roots a bit; which means a lot more butts, boobs and beautiful faces blessing my followers’ feeds.
Do you have any advice for creatives who wish to start a career in the art industry?
Be smart about it. In an ideal world, we’d all love to paint or draw all day for a job. I know I would. But the opportunities to be able to do that are few and far between, so try to combine your passion with something that is realistic, or viable. Being a graphic designer means that I still get to be creative, but I combine my artistic skills with an industry that is constantly growing and becoming more and more influential everyday: technology. And if you’re not at the point where you’re starting your career yet, whether you still be studying at school or just in a job that’s paying the bills right now, never stop doing what you love. Make time for it. Treat your passion like it’s the love of your life. It’s okay to cancel friends for it, and it’s fine to stay home because of it. Nurture your skills or talents and they’ll be there for you when nobody else is.
Interview by Amy Smithers @photogrrrlx