Holly St Clair on honesty, mental health and their cathartic admission of failure
The practice of Holly St Clair straddles three areas: their teaching, their online shop, and their beautiful, innocuous and unavoidably lovable illustration.
"This is changing though," the London-based illustrator tells us, "I'm in one of those weird periods where I don't really know what I'm doing or how to define it," simply stating, "everything is quite wobbly." Looking to be defined by their goals and not their current situation, however, Holly explains, "At this moment my goal is to connect with people more meaningfully," adding, "whether that's through teaching or posting or tattooing or something else I haven't discovered yet is hard to say."
Forever open-minded and candid in conversation, here we see both the genius and the captivation of Holly – their relentless honesty and the ability to succinctly summarise emotions and situations through the smallest of drawn expressions, or simply with a few words. This often manifests in work that focuses on and around mental health, another personal subject that Holly is frank in discussion of. "I think my candidness comes from just not being able to lie," Holly explains, feeling obliged to tell the truth when asked how they feel.
"Sometimes my mental health wobbles are a source of inspiration," they add, feeling compelled to put pen to paper and "get the demons out, so to speak." Having found the sharing of their experiences validating, Holly tells us, "I'll quite often get messages from people saying they relate to my work," remarking, "it's always nice to be reminded that you're not the only one feeling a bit nutty." The strength of these vulnerabilities, however, is the mindfulness brought to them, appearing as thoughtful, considered and impassioned scenes rather than mindless scribblings. "I try not to editorialise in those moments," they add, "and focus on the feeling more than the technique."
This openness is being truly, and kindly utilised in a recent interview with Intern's new series 'The F Word,' a series about failure and the relationship creatives have with it. "It was an almost cathartic experience," Holly describes, taking a step beyond simply being open online. "It's not easy to admit you're feeling like a failure, struggling with money, and having an increasingly unsuccessful job hunt," Holly explains, noting how so many people go through it, yet people so rarely admit it. "I'm really looking forward to hearing how others reacted to the prompt in this series," Holly adds.
Sensitively finding a balance between charming crudeness and unequivocal articulation in the work they produce, there is an innate quality of playfulness abundant throughout – remarkably presented in a style that is fundamentally elementary in its mark-making but correspondingly effortless in its impact.
Discussing the role of playfulness, Holly remarks on the importance of it to their work and process. "It's always been about creating empathy," they explain, something that is incredibly significant to them. "We first learn how to communicate with each other through play," Holly adds, "so I think the whimsical elements of my work are my attempt to recapture that." Similarly, Holly is also renowned for weaponising humour as a defence mechanism. "A part of it is not wanting to take things too seriously," Holly remarks, "there are enough serious people in the world; we need more clowns!" simply focusing on the joy of making people laugh.
A recent project of Holly's that achieves just that is their window display for Vans, celebrating this year's Pride. In their first Pride project, Holly tells us how nice it was to create something so totally joyful and incredibly colourful. "It feels like a step closer to presenting myself more authentically," Holly explains, "on top of that, it was my first gig back in a real-life non-digital place in over a year!" adding, "that alone felt like cause for celebration."
With the past year being so difficult for everyone, with projects like the latter only just coming to the surface, we couldn't help but ask Holly what they want to come from the creative industry, following a year of reflection for us all. Asking in return, "Can I swear?" Holly explains that they want "less bullshit" and "more honesty", concluding, "more money too please… and more time! I always want more time."