Touching on topics such as periods, female sexuality, humanity, and inclusivity, illustrator Hazel Mead's digital, often feminist artworks are cute and playful with a cheeky sense of humour that makes them "a little more palatable for British sensibilities," so she says.
"I am mostly known for my taboo-tackling art around female masturbation, sex, mental health, and postpartum bodies," Hazel says. "I draw in a cute, playful way with plenty of colours and contented-looking characters which I feel makes the subject matter easier to digest."
Interestingly, schools often buy her prints because of this quality, which she doubt would happen if she drew in a more realistic or pornographic manner. "I rarely include backgrounds, as it was my least favourite part of drawing. A lecturer once suggested I make it a stylistic choice, and I have never looked back. I am much more fascinated with creating characters and stories between them."
Why the honest approach? "There is something so freeing in revealing and sharing your innermost thoughts that are often too taboo to discuss in polite society," she explains. "At school, I was always too shy to talk about masturbation – it wasn't discussed, it wasn't acceptable. At university, however, I started to talk about this with close friends and realised it wasn't just me, I wasn't the only one doing this. We could talk and laugh, and an even closer bond was created. I've found that art can be a great mechanism to start conversations and bring people together in a similar way."
Hazel believes it's why her illustration, Things You Don't See in Mainstream Porn, was so popular: "They related to the awkward, funny, human aspects of sex that I depicted and the piece gives the opportunity to be open about things that perhaps they've never spoken about before. People I've met have told me that they talked about this piece with friends. It's so humbling."
One of her favourite pieces, however, was What We're Not Told About Postpartum Bodies for Elvie. She says: "I couldn't draw on personal experience so I turned to wives of cousins and friends who had had children and I came away with plenty of emotional stories to inspire this piece. Again, I realised how much people go through yet keep it to themselves. We don't talk about how the mother is really feeling, we are cooing over the newborn baby.
"My favourite commissions to work on are the ones where I learn about others' experiences – I think it makes me a more empathetic person and I am able to create more rounded characters in my pieces."
Hazel studied fine art and illustration at Coventry University and graduated in 2017. It's only been the last 12 months that she's been a freelance illustrator full-time. Alongside her personal illustrations, she also works on commercial projects for a variety of clients including Netflix, Adobe, Amnesty and Ann Summers.
"I love making people laugh," she continues. "It's not the quality I'm known for as a person, but with art, you can take your time to craft some humour and wit into a piece. I love an awful pun too. I add the humour more for myself, but I do like to evoke some sort of reaction in people. I had so much fun with The Bus Stop. Whereas sometimes my work can have quite a woman-focused angle, this illustration applied to everyone because it was specifically about human existence.
"I enjoyed taking people on an emotional journey through the highs, lows and mundanities of life while and adding tiny details that keep you looking and discovering. I made the man at the front of the line go on a blind date with the lady at the back of the line, so the viewer would discover that as they made their way along the illustration.
"This illustration, in particular, I wanted to ensure there was some humour to alleviate some of the quite hard-hitting death, loss and illness stories. The pigeon's thought bubble of Where The Food At? was one of my humour attempts here. I do have a cheeky fun side, so I hope that comes out in my illustrations."
Hazel Mead is one of three UK illustrators, including Octavia Bromell and Martina Martian, to team up with Adobe and create a collection of designs, downloadable as colouring templates, for use in Adobe Fresco and Adobe Photoshop, to encourage moments of mindful creativity amid the current chaos.
There are also several other templates available to download on Adobe Stock and even an opportunity to create your own bespoke artwork by turning your favourite photos into colouring templates.
Once your designs are complete, Adobe is encouraging people to share their finished templates on Instagram using the hashtag #ColourwithAdobe.