An Interview with Phoebe Atkey: Artist, Illustrator, Businesswoman
We would like our readers to meet Phoebe Atkey, a self-taught artist from Bournemouth who specialises in illustration. With her subject matter ranging from architectural landscapes to botanical studies, Phoebe’s oeuvre demonstrates the artist’s ability to render intricate details and breathe life into imagery.
Although still in her early twenties, Phoebe has achieved an amazing amount in her artistic career. Having established a presence online (check out her website!) and a follower count on Instagram of over 111,000, as well as having released two books showcasing her illustrative work, Phoebe is a prime example of how young people are starting to solidify their role in an ever-evolving art market.
Get to know Phoebe and learn about her experiences as an artist below!
What made you interested in art and how did this hobby turn into a career?
Since a very young age, I have always loved drawing. In late 2013 I began sharing my drawings on social media just for fun. It was still a hobby at this point and I had no intention of pursuing art as a career. After a few months of posting my work online I was already receiving requests for private and commercial commissions. This was when I realised I could perhaps make a living from my art. Being self-taught and having not been to university (I was only 16 at the time), I was a bit wary of whether this was a viable option for me, but I decided to at least try.
What or who would you say are your main artistic influences?
When I was really young, I loved to read books, especially those filled with illustrations. Illustrators like Beatrix Potter, Ernest Shepherd, and Raymond Briggs were my first inspiration. Since then, I was brought up to appreciate many styles of art, especially architecture, graphic, and product design. My parents introduced me to 20th Century film and advertising posters which solidified particular favourites such as graphic designers Saul Bass, Paul Rand, and Herbert Leupin, as well as designers Dieter Rams and Charles Eames. Alongside this, I have a huge passion for architecture and interior design, with a particular interest in the mid-century style; Albert Frey, Pierre Koenig and Richard Neutra to name just a few.I wouldn’t say that my art is necessarily influenced by these artists and designers, but they certainly sparked my interest in art, illustration and drawing.
Whilst researching for my last book Herbarium Vitae, I discovered the Belgian painter and botanist Pierre-Joseph Redouté. He inspired my series of rose and peony illustrations. My aspiration was to produce floral illustrations in the style of a traditional Victorian herbarium but re-imagined with a modern twist and I hope I achieved this.
Your work encompasses a wide-range of subjects from cityscapes and architecture to natural landscapes, flowers and insects. There appears to be a dichotomy between what is organic/natural and that which is manufactured/designed within your work. Has this dynamic ever occurred to you? What made you interested in these motifs?
I recognise there might appear to be a dichotomy between my urban landscapes and buildings and the flora and fauna illustrations. I have always strived to improve and broaden my skills and I do like to try new subjects. By far my favourite subjects are cities, and architecture in general. For me, these require more concentration and I find them more interesting and enjoyable to work on. However, as I run my own business, I do need to be commercially aware and have become more open to trying new subjects.
A lot of my cityscape and architecture work consists of places from real life. I wish to capture particular memories for myself and for others who may be looking at my artwork. Because of my attention to detail and sometimes choice of perspective, I hope the viewer can see views of a city or a building that they might not have noticed otherwise. With flowers, insects and landscapes, I just enjoy trying to capture the beauty of the natural world. Taking time to study flowers and insects has made me realise just how delicate, intricate, and detailed these can be.
Principally you’re an artist, but you are also a businesswoman. How have you managed to balance these two different aspects of your practice?
To be honest, it is really hard. I started off managing both drawing and dealing with business-related tasks. As I became busier, I didn’t have time to do both and chose to concentrate on my art. I now have someone who deals with all business aspects, in particular, dealing with publishers, printers, accountants, sales etc.
For anyone, let alone an independent artist, your Instagram audience is massive. How did you manage to gain such a large following on this platform? Do you think this has been one of the keys to your success?
I still don’t know how my Instagram following became so high. I never set out for this to happen when I first started sharing my artwork, but I am incredibly grateful for all the support I have received over the past seven years.
Yes, Instagram has certainly helped me showcase my art and has become my own personal gallery; without Instagram I would not have been able to share my work or receive commissions from my clients. I have been lucky enough to have sold my work worldwide and it has been a wonderful medium for marketing my illustrations.
You’ve produced two books. In 2017 you released Wish You Were Here, a colouring book, and in 2019 Herbarium Vitae, a collection of your illustrations focused on roses and peonies. How did the ideas for these books come about? As an independent artist how did you find the process of making and publishing your works?
I always liked the idea of producing a colouring book and wanted to publish one that was a little different from others using my cityscapes. I wanted a book that could be used for colouring but equally could be used as a coffee table book of artworks. I decided to self-published Wish You Were Here as I like to have control over my work. I know how I want my books to look and in order to achieve this I wanted to be in control of the whole process. It was also interesting to see how the process of making a book works first hand.
Herbarium Vitae was different as I was commissioned by a publisher. Naturally, apart from the actual drawings, I had less control over the book design and print stages, although I was particular how I wanted the book to look. It also allowed me to experience working closely with other creatives.
Comparing the two methods, self-publication versus using an established publisher, I personally preferred self-publishing as it was a more streamlined and stress-free process; I had more control and the process was simpler and quicker. I was also able to employ local businesses for scanning, book design and printing and that appealed to me. The principal downside to self-publishing is distribution; access to worldwide book distributors and retailers should be what publishers really bring to the table, but this isn’t always the case.
You’ve been featured in several publications and galleries. Could you discuss some of the other projects you have taken part in?
As I’ve already mentioned, I have done a lot of private commissions and published a couple of my own books as well as producing a couple of small series of works which I have sold for charities that I support. Through Instagram, I have also received commercial commissions from various worldwide companies for use of my illustrations on product packaging and for advertising and marketing purposes. including companies from the horology, beauty, and hotel sectors.
Have you got any big projects you are currently working on, or are planning to start over the next year?
Not at the moment. Currently, I have decided to take some time off to explore other activities. As well as drawing, I play music and would like to make more time for this; I also want to begin writing for myself. I find the publishing route appealing and would love to work on graphic novels and illustrate my own stories. To do this I have decided to use this time to look for inspiration. The past 6 months have been strange and challenging for everyone with all industries, especially the arts industry, needing to adapt and change to new ways of working. Having a break will allow me to adjust as an artist and hopefully work out exactly what route I want to go down in the future, whether it’s art related or something else.
Considering your wealth of experience creating, publishing, and promoting your artworks, what advice could you give to anyone who wishes to turn their artistic passion into a career?
I don’t think I’m yet qualified or experienced enough to provide advice as I am still working it out myself! However, one bit of advice I can give is enjoy what you do. If you don’t, it won’t work and the whole process will be unenjoyable and unfulfilling. Don’t be afraid to say yes, but equally don’t be afraid to say no. It is okay to say no if it’s something you don’t want to do. From experience, there are a couple of instances where I regret not standing my ground. I knew I wanted to say no, but said yes, and in hindsight I should have stayed true to my beliefs.