#NoBrief: Alice Tye in Lockdown

Tuesday 13 October 2020

We catch up with Alice, and ask her about her recent self-initiated project in the next instalment of our #NoBrief series.

The #NoBrief series is an ongoing look into our talented illustrators, animators, lettering and type artists’ minds – focusing on the passion projects that they create when they become their own client. What happens when they are free to let their imagination and creativity run wild and when there’s no client brief to stick to.

Our #NoBrief series has seen Animation Director, Neil Stubbings and 3D illustrator and Animation Director, Design Lad chatting to us all about the highs and lows of creating (and finishing) a passion project and the benefits it reaps.

Now continuing the series is illustrator Alice Tye whose sophisticated and atmospheric work has gained her an impressive client list, ranging from It’s Nice That to Moet Hennessey.

When looking at any one of Alice Tye‘s illustrations, it’s hard not to be intrigued by both its realism and the textured quality that working in oils can achieve. Each and every one of Alice’s illustrations have undergone a process of careful research and close attention to detail.

Alice’s most recent self-initiated project ‘Street View Road Trip’ explores a variety of American landscapes, starting in Miami and travelling through the southern states before ending in Palm Desert, California. “”It feels like a very fitting project for 2020, the year of lockdown and quarantine but funnily enough I started it way back in January. It’s become a strange coincidence that travelling via street view feels as close to a holiday abroad as many of us will get this year. It’s a fun bit of escapism after being cooped up in a London flat all year.”

When did you start this project? And what inspired you to create a project like this?

I started the project in January this year (2020) but I was working on it alongside other projects, so it didn’t get my full attention until lockdown. I was inspired to work using Google Street View because I wasn’t able to travel to the places that I wanted to make work about, so I decided to use Street View as a tool to explore other places. I used Street View for a previous project ‘La Jolla Road, Palm Springs’ in 2013 for similar reasons and later visited the location in real life as part of the project ‘La Jolla Road Revisited’ in 2015.

Many of your collections are illustrated by places you have travelled to, pre-pandemic, do you start planning your art whilst you are there, or do you take time to absorb a place before you start painting?

I love the mystery of new places so I like to keep an open mind. It’s the surprising and spontaneous that inspires me the most. I don’t like to have any preconceived ideas about a project before the trip, so I don’t tend to plan the specifics of a project in advance. I prefer to experience a place fully and then document the details that interest me. From the collection of photos I take whilst I’m there I will then edit them down to a more cohesive project to paint from once I’m back in London.

How would you describe your style?

I work with oils and paint in a realistic way. I like to over-saturate colours and use a lot of contrast and shadow to create a sense of atmosphere

What’s your favourite project to date & what’s your favourite type of project to work on.

I struggle to choose a favourite! I love travel inspired projects like ‘Mono No Aware’, which was based on my time exploring Japan in 2017. But I also really enjoy working on more dynamic projects like ‘Cinematic Still Life’ which involved me creating all of the elements for still life compositions based on numerous films and television shows. The research element for this project interested me a lot, I’ve always been excited about cinema and pop culture so creating pieces that suggested the moods and aesthetics of my favourites was a highlight. Some of the still life’s also involved me cooking – making jelly and blancmanges for example – which brought in a different type of creativity that I don’t normally get to use in my paintings.

How important is it to create personal work? Have you struggled at all creatively during lockdown?

For me, having a personal project going is incredibly important. I try to always have my own projects going alongside commissioned work, it’s good to have a constant since illustration is very erratic in terms of how much work you have and when. I find it’s good for my mental health to have a creative focus, even if I’m in-between commissioned work. That being said it’s not always easy to find inspiration or motivation to work, this year in particular has been very challenging because of Covid and the anxiety that comes along with that.

What advice would you give to people creating passion projects?

Just do it! Don’t put it off, there is never a great time to start personal projects and managing your time can be challenging but ultimately, I think it helps you to push your practice and explore new ideas, materials, themes.

Talk us through your Street View Road Trip series.

I started the project with the idea that I wanted to do a long road trip across the southern states of America – something I’ve wanted to do since I first visited and made the series ‘USA IRL’ in 2015. But it obviously wasn’t feasible for me to take such a big trip this year, so I started exploring areas I wanted to visit using Google Street View.

I was enjoying the process and the amazing landscapes so much that I started to screenshot a lot of the route to paint from. Starting in Miami, travelling through the Everglades and Sanibel Island, across Alabama and Mississippi, through to New Orleans, onwards through Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and ending in Palm Desert, California, ’Street View Road Trip’ depicts a variety of American landscapes.

I wanted to make use of the distorted perspective created by the revolving Street View camera and used this to create scenes that are both vivid and detailed yet eerily still. The streets are empty, a parked car sits outside a motel, a single car follows in the distance. The paintings capture the iconic American tropes – the cars, the motels, the wide roads. They are single moments captured in a (virtual) trip.

When you started this series, did you have an idea of the places/locations you were going to illustrate? How did you choose these?

I had a vague route in mind. I knew I wanted to start in Florida as I’ve had a feeling for a while now that there is a project for me there, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take. I’ve read quite a few novels, essays and short stories set there in the past year – ‘Florida’ by Lauren Groff, ‘Miami’ by Joan Didion, ‘Visible Empire’ by Hannah Pittard – so I decided to begin the trip in Miami, meandering south to the Everglades to explore the swampy landscapes before heading northwest to Sanibel Island and Fort Myers.

Some of the locations I ‘visit’ on the trip I discovered by accident, some I found through searching for best small towns to visit in whichever state I was looking at and some I had read about or seen in films, so I explored the different neighbourhoods via Street View until I found spots that captured my attention.

The plan was always to go west and end up in California as it felt like taking it full circle, back to the mid-century modern architecture of the Californian desert that inspired my original Street View project ‘La Jolla Road, Palm Springs’.

Does this project make you nostalgic/ tempt you to revisit the USA (when we’re allowed!)?

100%! I can’t wait to go back to the States and do another road trip! There are so many places I want to visit and so many to revisit. As soon as it feels safe to travel again, I will be plotting my next trip.

In your Nicer Tuesdays talk, you discussed your obsession with car parks (100% with you there!!) There are a lot of driveways and gas stations in this project. What is it about car parks that draws you in?

I think it’s a combination of the graphic grid of parking lots alongside the connotations of Americana and suburbia. I don’t consciously seek out car parks or driveways, I just always seem to be drawn to them. I think in the back of my mind there’s always Ed Ruscha’s book ‘Twenty-six Gas Stations’ – I was very influenced by his work whilst I was studying for my BA and have been ever since.

What drew you in most about the USA? / What did you find most interesting to draw?

I have been fascinated with everything and anything American since I was a kid! I think it started with growing up watching American television shows and films and then grew into an interest in pop culture, mid-century architecture and the American landscape. My dissertation question was ‘Is Modernist Architecture used as visual shorthand for malevolent characters in popular films?’ The focus was mainly on Hollywood films and modernist west coast architecture, which heavily influenced the work I was making at the time and many projects since then.

When I visited the US in 2015, not for the first time but it was the first extended period of time I’d spent there, I was incredibly interested in the idea of the reality of my experience there contrasted with the view I’d had of these iconic places through the filter of pop culture.