Norwich-based illustrator Lily Lambie-Kiernan combines surrealism and expressionism in her colourful artwork centred around food and larger-than-life characters.
For some people, food is just fuel. But for digital artist and illustration graduate Lily Lambie-Kiernan, food is an immensely rich source of broader cultural imagery. And she explores these meanings in her lurid yet softly textured editorial work for magazines and websites.
"I enjoy pulling the rich tones and textures out of the food I’m drawing," she tells Creative Boom. "I like the huge opportunities food presents in terms of metaphor and historical meaning and references." These associations are evident in her vivid portfolio, which includes an ice lolly crawling with ants and cucumbers laid across the eyes of a surgery patient.
"Food allows me to explore subtle visual signals and human intervention. I think, as a topic, it's snowballed from the first food commissions I did."
The first commissions in question include work for the likes of NBC News, Vice, and The Washington Post. And her latest project sees Lily working on a fun series of illustrations with Gist exploring another of her interests: the future of food.
Describing her style as "surreal", "light", and "not tied to a single environment or world", Lily's illustrations are perfectly suited to these sideways glances of everyday objects. "Sometimes the colours and textures take the lead on a food illustration project," she adds. "Other times, I see characters in my day-to-day life that need to be immortalised.
"I would still consider myself a beginner. I'm nearly there with a recognisable story or message in my work but not quite. I am still gathering info and refining."
Despite claiming to still be a beginner, Lily has already honed a keen artistic eye. Among her many inspirations, she singles out cartoonist Gerald Scarfe - "his loose inky portrayals of real people in the public eye are just gross and striking. He made political illustrations interesting to me" - and illustrator/sculpture animator/ designer Alex Keisling: "He's a master of his craft, every new project I see of his just amazes me. He has the most refined relationship with shadow, form, weight and materials I have ever seen. His characters are unbelievable and so realistic all at once."
Meanwhile, the work of digital and biomorphic artist Ram Han has greatly informed Lily's style too. "She has such a unique, beautiful eye for sensory experiences," Lily explains. "I love how she pairs her vibrant, surreal colours and textures with this contrast of stories of innocence and nostalgia and the visceral and disgusting.
"Additionally, I get a lot of inspiration and creative motivation from film and animation. We have the best little cinema in Norwich called Picturehouse; I love going there."
Like many artists, Lily realised it was her calling from a young age. Friends at school considered drawing to be her 'thing', and she would regularly enter pub drawing contests or local gallery competitions. She also wanted to be a cartoonist for the Private Eye, even though she could not understand any of the articles in the paper.
Her Blue-Peter-badge-winning entry to a design a Doctor Who monster competition made Lily feel like she was destined to be a big-shot artist. And having got her first proper commission shortly after leaving university, it looks like she was right.
"Up until a couple of months ago, I was amazed I was still getting work, and I wouldn't really know what to say when asked about my illustrations," she adds. "But now I am really considering the small details of my practice and what I actually want to do, and equally what I dislike doing. It fits me so well because I get true joy from it even after three to four years of working freelance.
"I'm still excited about everything: about narrative, the audience's experience, beautiful colour combinations. The funny thing is that I also liked my job because it was portable, but I never really left Norwich."