'The most successful illustrations say what hasn't been said' - an interview with Isobel Mehta

"With a lot of illustration work solely existing online, I think it would be amazing if more illustrators could be shown in a gallery space because it would challenge the forms that work takes to a new level."

- Isobel Mehta

Get to know Isobel Mehta, a twenty-three year-old London-based visual artist. Strongly inspired by Japanese imagery, her work explores themes of identity, memory and documentation. We asked her a few questions...

How did you first begin to get into illustration? And what was it about illustration above other mediums that attracted you? I grew up studying painting and very much thinking I was a Fine Artist. I had no idea really what Illustration was until I made friends with illustrators and it all clicked. I’m drawn to the part of illustration that explains something else. For me, the most successful illustrations say what hasn’t been said. I love how creatively you can push this area in so many possible mediums but still have the limitations of having a message to convey.​​

Do you begin illustrations with a preconceived idea of the end result? Or are there elements of spontaneity throughout the making of your artwork? Since I’ve been making a lot of my work digitally, it constantly evolves as the minutes go by. I love being able to change colour, or a line a hundred times and still not lose the original. I don’t know what I’d do without Adobe! I’ll draw something with the intent of the illustration going on a t-shirt and end up spending hours trying to animate it, then returning back to making it an image for the t-shirt. Sometimes it has to go on a journey somewhere else for me to realise what it’s final form should be. So there isn’t a concrete plan from the start.​

In the past you’ve worked around the themes of “identity, memory and documentation”. What inspired your interest in exploring these ideas? I’m completely inspired by photo essays, movies and graphic novels that tell the lives of other people, specifically within the context of socio-political change. Newsha Tavakolian, Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, Mehdi Rivandi just to name a few. I try as best I can to use research and drawing as a way of learning about the world.

How did you arrive at the decision to use of family photographs as a stimulus for some of your illustrations? For that specific project, I wanted to record one person’s (my grandfather’s) life story, focusing on his early years growing up in India. I’d never seen these photographs before, and once I had I knew straight away that I couldn’t just take inspiration from them, I had to directly draw them as to keep it super personal for him and for me also.​

Illustration is an intimate and inspiring craft, yet many major galleries tend to exhibit paintings and sculpture, why do you think that is? I think traditionally people view illustration as a means to achieve another person’s message. Perhaps people doubt the authenticity of a piece if it’s not been created with the sole purpose of existing in a gallery space. With a lot of illustration work solely existing online, I think it would be amazing if more illustrators could be shown in a gallery space because it would challenge the forms that work takes to a new level. This is partly why I’d love to do to the Design Museum, because design, much like illustration, isn’t intended for that space but of course there are cross-overs.

What’s been the biggest set back you’ve faced so far in your artistic journey? Time. How do you see your work evolving in the future? I’d definitely like to print more of my drawings onto fabrics and I think I’d like to work with animators on something that moves. Finally, what are your unrealised projects, your dreams? My biggest dream is for Tottenham Hotspur to win the Premier League next season.

You can enjoy more of Isobel's work on her website:

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