The Superheroines series started when Smithsonian Institute in the US commissioned me to create an illustration of Wonder Woman for their magazine. The article was called The Origin Story of Wonder Woman, and delved into the early comics and their creator and his rather interesting personal life (he had both a wife and a live in girlfriend and 2 sets of children all under one roof in 1930s America!) For the illustration itself, I drew inspiration from the original comic art and its limited colour pallette, but also from my favourite Wonder Woman, Linda Carter (who I used to imitate as a child by tying my mums red cape around my shoulders and jumping off my paremts bed attempting to fly?!) plus the opening credits from the early 80s TV show. The artwork was so well received, both by the magazine’s readership and WW fans – I got so many print orders and even a request to paint an original for a San Francisco Superfan! Then Roadshow AU approached me to create art for the release of Batman: The Killing Joke animated film and then for Suicide Squad, which is how I came to draw Batgirl and Harley Quinn. Supergirl I created as a personal piece as I was on a roll, and a new US TV series in her name was timely, and I added Jem to my collection as she was a childhood heroine (I now watch the cartoon re-runs via Netflix with my niece Etta, 3, who is obsessed and belts out the theme tune on demand!) When I next have a window, I’d love to add Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and cartoon heroines She-Ra and Rainbow Brite.
Among artists exhibiting at Illustrated 2017, it’s fair to say you’re one of the most colourful! You’re style is very recognisable, does the flamboyant artwork reflect an equally eccentric personality?!
Tell us a little bit about your journey from mere-mortal to pro-artist and self styled nomad?! Has this always been your ambition or have you previously experienced a more traditional lifestyle?
Phew, it’s been a crazy one! So I left Falmouth upon graduation for London, where I spent 4 years before moving to Australia. The first couple were really hard – I did full time internships with Yellowdoor (Mary Portas), Pop Magazine and Stella McCartney, whilst also working in an Irish pub and a punk club to scrape together rent. I slept 3 hours a night on average, ate only what was offered free at my jobs, took the tube only if I made enough tips to cover the fare (bus or walking were all I could afford), before I got an agent and began to very slowly build a freelance illustration career. I was in so much student debt and had so little money I couldn’t afford rent, and fell in with a creative gang of squatters – this was the aerly naughties and squatting was still technically legal. We transformed an abandoned halls of residence in Kentish Town and an old print factory in Stoke Newington and lived out of skips, pooling our food and taking it in turns top cook dinner for 45! There was space for studios and it was the first time living in london where I could work on big paintings and my desk was no longer a wooden board on my bed! Some really successful artists, musicians, film makers, fashion designers, burlesque performers, actors etc came out of that squatting scene and it was the making of their respective businesses – not having to find London rent for a year or so was the only way I could start to build a career in illustration. I followed some of those ex-squatter artists back to Australia, seeing how much more affordable an alternative Melbourne was to London in terms of living costs. I know live with my boyfriend on his family farm where we have converted a little dairy shed into a house, and he built me a big studio. It’s really economical to live out here and means I can afford to travel overseas annually – so I can still dip my toes into all that is happening in London and NYC as well as in Sydney and Melbourne. When I travel, I carry a suitcase full of art materials, A4 scanner and laptop -so I can still take on projects wherever I go.
In addition to your 2D artworks, Beetson fans can get their hands on various merch – everything from Iphone cases & playing cards to beakers & Tees, what tips can you offer for other artists looking to build-out their merch offering?
It can be really expensive and quite a lot of outlay to make merch. I would recommend looking for printers and solutions where you can order on demand – make up prototypes of each item and then have the company produce a custom order for you each time you get a sale. I do this with my digital print illustrated clothing. If you have to order in small batches – test the market first and order small runs of something cheap – badges, postcards etc – before building to larger, more expensive items. I’ve used crowdfunding to source cash to print things in the past – I’m currently using indiegogo to back turning my garbage pail politics series into stickers Indiegogo is great as it lets you keep the funds you raise even if you don’t meet your target. I think ultimately though, if you really want to make a great merch item, you really believe in it and have evidence you following would be keen to buy it – then just take the leap and invest in it. Sometimes I will print a run of tshirts or something that takes 5 years to sell out – but it always does in the end. Ultimately it’s an investment in your brand.
Your Garbage Pail Politics series attaches powerful narrative to various political figures, undoubtedly your artwork reflects your political persuasions, are you quite politically involved?
I wouldn’t have said so prior to Trump and Brexit! I always vote – my maternal great grandmother, who lived in a Yorkshire workhouse and had 5 children out of wedlock – was involved in the Women’s suffrage movement in the North of England – so I feel I owe it to her for having helped us get the vote in the first place. I feel like what is going on in global politics curently is almost a battle cry to artists – if you look at great subcultural movements of the past, Punk being an obvious example, a lot of them where born into far right politics and public unrest. I do feel there is an issue nowadays of people descending into apathy, and feeling like there isn’t an awful lot they can do about what’s going on. For me, that started with the Stop The War March in 2003, when millions took to the streets of London to protest the imminent war in Iraq, and despite 1.25 people per London household joining the protest, Tony Blair claimed it was an insignicant number and the action went ahead. I did create the odd illustration around that time like this one inspired by Vivienne Westwood’s famous SEX tshirt and this one commission for YRB magazine in NYC, and I think allowing politics to seep into my art has been simmering for some time. It feels like my own small way of opening up conversations and provoking thought.
Don’t miss this year’s event – Workshops, Performance, UK Illustration Championship Finals, Graffiti Battles + more: http://www.illustrated.co.uk/