Alyce Brown is a forensic science graduate who became a self employed artist after discovering her passion for wearable art and statement designs. She is an activist, and much of her work deals with feminism, beauty standards and mental health. We discussed why wearable art is a great way to promote a cause, how she creates her pieces, and why she chose to leave full-time employment to pursue her passion.
Tell us a little about your work?
I am a full-time artist, but that wasn’t always the case. I have both a BSc and an MSc in forensic science and forensic anthropology respectively. However, there are no jobs in forensic anthropology. I taught for approximately three months and it really wasn’t for me, so I decided to take the leap and be self-employed. I started with prints of my illustrations but didn’t get very far. When I made my Smile painting and print, it instantly became a bestseller and I realised that instead of making ‘pretty for the sake of pretty’ illustrations (not that I believe they do not have their place), I could make art that has a purpose and can make a difference. This evolved into wearable art when I bought my badge machine (Betty) and started making acetate stencil patches.
What materials do you like to use?
My most frequently used materials are my Huion tablet to design all of my badge designs; Betty my badge maker to actually make the designs into badges; Speedball, Vallejo and Permaset screenprinting inks, acetate, a sharpie, a scalpel, sponges, the lid of a jar (as a palette for the ink – see, you don’t need fancy equipment!) and various canvas and floral craft cotton fabrics to make patches. I also work with markers for my illustrations and work with oil paint for commissions and for my own enjoyment. I love to try new things, but making badges and patches seems to have stuck pretty well in my restless brain. If I won the lottery tonight, I’d still go to work on Monday making badges and patches.
What inspired you to start to create feminist and activist art?
My first feminist print was “Smile” which sports the slogan “It’s my face and I’ll smile if I want to” became an immediate bestseller as soon as I listed it. I’m a feminist, I’m an activist, I suffer with my mental health and I’m a chronic illness warrior. There are a lot of things in the world that need awareness raising for them. In a day and age where women are still hesitant to refer to themselves as feminists (I know because I used to be one of them), because of the negative connotations the word has picked up, I feel that feminism and the promotion of feminism and social activism is more important than ever. I don’t mean to imply that my work is doing grand things; but I like to think that it at least makes a small difference, whether that be providing a ‘he him’ pin for someone who is sick of people referring to them with the wrong pronouns, or just someone who wants a quirky neon witch patch.
What do you like about making wearable art, compared to making art on paper?
I’d wanted a badge machine for ages because I had loads of ideas that I felt would work best on pins and the like, quick slogans and small images. I like making wearable art because whilst people may not have room on a wall for a large painting exploring issues of feminism and social activism, they usually have a garment to which they can affix a cute pin or patch.
What themes and motifs are most often present in your work?
My most consistent themes are feminism, activism and chronic/invisible and mental illness awareness. I don’t have any particularly consistent colours or motifs but I do tend to go with pastel colours rather than anything particularly bold or bright (though some of my work is very bright or dark or both!)
What is your creative process like?
I have sketchbooks lying around that are filled with ideas, or I have ideas that I’ve scribbled on pieces of paper or the notes section of my phone. If I want to create, I go to those first if I don’t have anything firmly in mind. Sometimes my other half and friends makes suggestions to me as well, sometimes I ask my audience what they’d like to see on a pin, a patch, a mirror.
How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?
It’s kind of hard to explain how, exactly. For pins; I colour the background, I add imagery or text, I remove the bleed lines, I print the inserts, I run them through Betty and press them into pins. For patches I rough the design onto the acetate using a sharpie then I cut it out by hand with a scalpel, then I tape them to the fabric (also hand cut, but with scissors) and I use a sponge to blot the ink on; I peel the tape away and then I peel the acetate away and voila! Sometimes patches need touching up a bit with black ink to crisp up the lines, or if it’s on floral fabric and it’s been smudged it is destined to become a misfit (essentially, an imperfect patch sold as a second). Whilst I’m working I usually listen to music or watch YouTube videos (I’m a big fan of Minecraft let’s play videos) or The Simpsons.
Where do you create your work?
I have a studio in my home. I work mostly at my desk and generally I spend most of my time in my studio. I have it set up so that everything I need is within easy reach (badge maker on the desk, badge parts in the drawers by the desk, saxophone for stress relief, and so on).
What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?
I think one of the most challenging aspects as working as a self-employed person in general, let alone an artist, is dealing with the uncertainty. Mostly it’s financial uncertainty, but sometimes it’s the uncertainty that you’re going to be able to create anything worthwhile that day. But that’s okay. As long as you’re creating that’s fine. Your tastes will overtake your skills frequently, you just have to try and keep up. With being an artist comes the necessity for a willingness to live with those uncertainties.
And what are the best parts?
Being able to get up every day and do what I love. I love creating, I love making feminist and activist art because it has a purpose, it furthers a cause. As I said previously, even if I won the lottery tonight, I would still get up on Monday morning, go to work and make pins and patches. It is a passion and it is unceasing, so I have to be unceasing too.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
All you have to do is never give up. It is not easy, but it is simple. My dad (very successfully self-employed) has wise words on this subject. This is a message he sent me when I was having a bad day, early in my self-employed journey:
“Keep going! I know you think you aren’t getting anything back, but you’re wrong. You are. You just have not seen it. But it’s there, waiting for you and it’s yours for the taking. But, only those who REFUSE to give up will get there. I am one of those few people. You are too.”
What are you currently working on?
I’m always working on new badge designs but I’m currently, at the time of responding to these questions, working on a collaboration with a wonderful artist called Emily from KittyCraftsCo on some moon phase pins. I’ve wanted to make moon phase pins for ages and Emily recently made a watercolour painting of moon phases – so it seemed perfect!
What will you be working on next?
I got a laser cutting machine for my birthday but unfortunately the CO2 laser tube was broken so the laser was not firing and the machine didn’t work. I’ve just ordered a replacement machine so I’m really excited to make some acrylic jewellery, wooden and acrylic charms and badges and other awesome things!
All images copyright of Alyce Brown.
You can find Alyce’s work at www.doodlepeople.etsy.com, www.doodlepeople.co.uk, and on Instagram and Facebook at @doodlepeoplexo.