‘It’s all about capturing the feel of the place – a way of exploring the city.’ This is how Lizzie Mary Cullen describes the psychogeographical principles than define her illustration.
It sounds simple enough, but her extraordinary drawings show a singular eye for detail many might miss. London’s Tower Bridge is foreshortened to make it the stuff of science fiction, while New York’s St Patrick’s Cathedral explodes from the city block as a faceted geometric study in orange and green. Both are instantly recognisable, once you know what they are.
Cullen developed her passion for places on a mapping project in her third year at London’s Goldsmiths college. ‘I started to map places on the bus route,’ she says, saying she often gets up at 5am to follow a bus journey, sketching on the top deck.
Her work is largely in black and white – and most of it completed in situ – but each city demands its own style, she maintains. New York brought out colour. ‘It was hot day,’ she says to explain the flaming orange of her Brooklyn Bridge. ‘I tried to introduce colour in Paris,’ she says. ‘But it requires a gentler hand, being spindly. It is too delicate to hold colour.’
The rural landscape is, meanwhile, ‘too textural’ for Cullen’s treatment. ‘It doesn’t translate,’ she says.
She is particular about the media she uses, preferring hand-drawing and dip pens. ‘It reflects what I do, she says, adding that she had originally wanted to study fine art. ‘But I do use digital colour as it’s easy to experiment. I’m thinking of trying acrylics – they dry so fast – but I’m not sure.’
A year after leaving college, Cullen’s passion for psycho-geography is paying off, as is the persistence that got her a placement with production designer Stuart Craig on the set of the latest Harry Potter movie. Though she has a ‘proper’ job, working as a graphic designer at Aerospace Publishing, she has two agents/ Catriona Wydmanski at Phosphor Art for illustration and Cynthia Corbett, who runs an art gallery in Wimbledon. She published a book as part of her degree show – helped by tutor Belinda Magee – and has another in the offing. She is working for restaurant chain Zizzi on its Marlow and Brighton branches (News, DW 20 August) and is selling work – Tower Bridge went for £3000 and was ten hours’ work.
She has also enjoyed awards success. Winner of the top prize in One Year On’s second-week contest at New Designers in July, she went on to win the Association of Illustrators’ silver award for new talent. Exhibiting at the One Year On show resulted in the Zizzi commission, while the £250 that came with the AOI prize will fund a trip to Edinburgh, she hopes, and a chance to draw that city.
There is a relevance to the Edinburgh trip as The Magical Parkhouse Family, her unpublished book, focuses on urban fairies in London – their conventional Scottish grandmother travels south to show them the error of their ways. She is converted to theirs and creates mischief on the London Eye, at the Natural History Museum and so on. The book took seven months and includes about 100 illustrations. Cullen also wrote it, but ‘the illustrations should tell the story’, she maintains.
What happens next will depend on Cullen. She is open to commercial approaches, while the Parkhouse Family shows her keenness to develop her own projects. She produces postcards and isn’t against the idea of merchandising. ‘The only thing I’d worry about is it ending up in a pound shop,’ she says. ‘That’s my nightmare.’
‘Ideally, I’d love to illustrate,’ says Cullen, ‘but not full time as I might go a bit funny. I like going somewhere else to work.’