There is a beautifully uncanny feeling felt in the presence of Charlotte Mei's work. A pastoral, heartfelt delicacy that warms and humours you with artistry achieved through her incredible command of colour, the prominence of distinct texture, the prevalence of human touch, and something special that we just can't put our finger on.
Creating wonderful work unique to her practice, Charlotte explores an odd and idyllic world of her own making, grounded by a sense of nostalgia, wonder and earnestness. Speaking with Charlotte from her London home, we discuss her masterful creative process, her recent collaborations with Lazy Oaf and her long-standing muse, Monkey, the dog.
Hello Charlotte, it's so lovely to speak to you! How are you doing?
Hi Creative Boom! I'm doing very well, thank you. I'm sitting at my window at home. My dog has slotted herself next to me on the chair and out of the window while I watch a man singing and building a fence.
We're such enormous fans of your work here at Creative Boom! It's amazing to see the projects, mediums, and topics you put your mind to and how your work has evolved. How would you define your practice now, and how has it changed over the last few years
Thank you for your very kind words! I work mostly in paint, but my practice spans quite a lot of contexts – illustration for books and magazines, fashion, and some larger scale, self-led pieces. I also dabble in animation and comics and have been making ceramics as a hobby for ten years.
Your latest collaboration with Lazy Oaf is amazing! How did this come about, and how long were you working on it?
The Lazy Oaf collaboration started more than a year before it was released. The time it takes from design to production to release is pretty long! I couldn't wait to show everyone. I have worked with Lazy Oaf a few times over the years; they are such an open-minded and playful company. When they got in touch last year asking me to collaborate on some designs, I was so excited because I knew they would give me free rein and let my ideas come to life. I don't think many brands would take a risk on me as Lazy Oaf did!
What was the idea behind the collection, and what is your process like in tackling a brief like this?
The overarching concept for their collection was "Lazy Hotel ". My drop would be a capsule within the wider collection. And I wanted to capture the feeling of walking through a garden, taking in the scenery, visiting a picturesque lake or Hot Spring, and then buying a souvenir T-shirt at the end! I also wanted to design an eye mask and socks set, my pyjama concept!
First, I drew sketches; these were sent to Lazy Oaf's design team. Some of the sketches were passed straight onto production, and some of them went back and forth a little before we decided on final designs.
The collection truly showcases the unparalleled command of colour you have, as seen across all of your other work! Where did you find the inspiration for the colours within this collection, and where do you look for colours in the rest of your practice?
Wow, that's very generous! Well, I love colour, it plays a very important part in my practice. It's usually one of the first, if not the first, things I think about when I'm creating a new piece. I like colour combinations that are slightly off and maybe a little bit discordant. I like to combine neutral and earthy colours with surprising, bold colours like bright pink or red. I often find colour combinations in nature. For example, I can see some weeds from my window with quite a surprising shade of purple flowers. It looks so nice with the browns and greens of the garden. The colour palette sets the tone and mood. I think that's what makes it so important to me.
It must have been very satisfying to collaborate with a lovely company, the likes of Lazy Oaf. How important is collaboration in your practice, and who would be someone you'd love to work with that you haven't yet?
I collaborate a lot. I love to work with friends on self-led, fun projects and with brands. So together, we can create amazing things to a different scale and finish than what I would do alone. Collaboration means bringing your skills and strengths and matching them with those of others. It's the best way to grow and generate new ideas!
You've previously worked with clothes, including your amazing knitwear with Little Sunny Bite and Lulu Guinness collection. What draws you to working with fashion, and what other mediums have you not tried yet but would like to?
I love working with fashion because you can wear your art! I enjoy seeing my artwork, which is very textured and has incidental elements, committed to garments, which are meticulously crafted and very complete. It creates a nice contrast.
The natural world seems to pop up a lot in your work. What significance do landscape and nature have in the work you make?
I often come back to the natural world. I am seeking to anchor myself to the world by observing it, looking at what grows out of it and how it changes constantly. I love that the natural world is unexpected. It is beautiful but not in a neat way. That's the feeling I want to record in my paintings.
If you are making art for fun, you can make it about whatever you want and care about, and it doesn't need to exist to please any person, organisation or algorithm.
You've also created some amazing work concerning The Lord of the Rings! Do you often find inspiration in films and television?
Haha, yes, I'm a big fantasy and sci-fi fan. Making fan art brings me joy, and I've done it since I was a child. Fanart and nature don't seem to go together, do they? I'm not sure, but they do in my head.
What're you watching at the moment?
I watched the Green Knight with Dev Patel last night. I feel like it's a spiritual progeny of Lord of the rings. It's a very human fantasy film. It felt like playing Skyrim, but also funny and also pretty sexy. I also just watched Holy Motors by Leos Carax for the first time. It was straight up one of the best films I've ever seen! It makes you think about the performance of existing, the many roles each person plays in life and the subtle realities of the human condition. It's beautifully acted and playful. It also has Kylie Minogue in it.
How does your process differ when working on commercial work compared to personal projects?
The main difference is I need to be organised and keep a good schedule! But I try not to lose the freedom and immediacy of my personal work. It's a challenge, but I love being given a brief or a problem to answer. It feels a bit like making fan art. I find the things that excite me and respond to them, make them new.
You've had a very busy few years! What are a few of the highlights from recent work, and what's been most rewarding?
Haha, I feel like I've been busy for a few years. But because I'm doing something that I love, it's hard to take time to pause. There are so many highlights, But taking an art residency in Portugal was a big one. It felt like a reset in my work. And I've enjoyed my fashion collaborations. It is so so so much fun to design wearable pieces. It's kind of a childhood fantasy. My recent collaborations with Lazy Oaf, Lulu Guinness and Little Sunny Bite were exciting and surreal.
Written typography often appears in the work you make. How significant is the written word in your art, and does it feel important to be in your own writing?
It's not something I've given much conscious thought to, but the tradition of illustration is deeply connected to words. I've always loved reading poetry and fiction, and I feel art and words go hand in hand.
Going back to Lazy Oaf, you created a wonderful t-shirt this year that saw all the proceeds going to the Hackney Chinese Community Service in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate. How did you tackle that project?
The rise in anti-Asian hate this year made me feel scared, angry, and quite helpless. I experienced that increased violence first hand. But one thought that kept coming back was that this was not something new. I was bullied for being Asian as a kid, and as an adult, I still receive comments about my race from strangers every week. The pandemic and misinformation about the virus merely justified turning the othering of Asian people (which is evident in the way the media represents us) into violence.
After reflecting on this, I realised that one of the best ways to counter this hatred is to support the community and celebrate our cultures. Hackney Chinese centre has supported the Asian diaspora in London since the '80s through legal work, language services, community and food. It's such an amazing organisation. I chose to donate the funds from the Lazy Oaf tee to the HCCS because you can see the positive effect the organisation has on the community clearly and tangibly. They host Asian film nights and supper clubs too! I highly recommend visiting and supporting them.
On a more progressive note, what do you want to see more and less of in the creative industry?
I think as an industry, there is a lot of progress being made. For the most part, creative individuals are among those most likely to advocate for progress, be that social, political or economic. I'm not sure what I would like to see less of… but I would like to see more community-led and grassroots projects, exhibitions, book clubs, and drawing groups. Because I think they are very important soul-nourishing. We often talk about 'industry', but there is more to life than that. I am also making art for fun. If you are making art for fun, you can make it about whatever you want and care about, and it doesn't need to exist to please any person, organisation or algorithm.
We have to say, your dog Monkey is potentially the cutest fluff-ball we've ever seen… What are they like, how long have you had them, and do they influence the work you do?
Monkey is a sweet four-year-old mixed breed dog. She is the opposite of photogenic – the most common comment she gets is, "Oh, you are actually cute in real life!" She makes a lot of funny faces on camera. She has a brother called Pippin, who belongs to my friend Brydie.
I guess they do influence my work. As I am about to release my first children's book called 'Pippin Paints a Portrait'. It's about Pippin learning about different art movements and art styles and the quest to find his own.
If you were to give one piece of creative advice, what would it be?
Make art that you love and is true to you. The joy and authenticity shine through. Make some time to occasionally draw from life, whether with a model or still life or nature. I think it's such a great practice to keep.