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maxene brown

she/her | Site | Instagram | Shop

Hey Maxene, how’s things?

Hey Megan! I’m great thanks :)

For those that don’t know tell us about yourself

I’m an illustrator, potter and designer based in Birmingham and I sell lovely brummie and animal themed greeting cards, ceramic pins and gift wrap on my Etsy store called Maxene Brown Shop. As well as working for clients, I love being in the pottery studio, scribbling new and silly ideas down in my sketchbook and creating products to sell in my shop.

Did you always know this would be your career?

No, not really. I knew I wanted to do something in the creative field but I never thought I could make it as an illustrator. After graduating I was a little lost, I didn’t really know what to do. I was thinking that I could do editorial illustrations but I didn’t really enjoy that. A children’s book project came up and I applied, not thinking I would get it as I didn’t have any experience. The book was called ‘What is a School?’ and was created by the theatre company Stan’s Cafe and Billesley primary school. I was so surprised when I got the offer to be their illustrator and designer! It was after that project when I thought I could definitely do illustration as a career. So ever since then I’ve been putting my all into applying for projects and developing my practice.

You describe yourself as a disabled illustrator, is this an important part of your identity?

Yes! It’s taken me years to finally become comfortable and confident in myself as a disabled person. In a strange way, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t disabled as I've had to go through so much to become who I am today.

Do you believe there is enough representation for people with disabilities in the creative industries?

No I don’t and I think there needs to be a lot more representation in the creative industries for disabled people. It’s important that we see others like us in the media, in films, as artists etc, following a career they love as it shows us that we can do the same.

Do you believe the creative industries are inclusive towards people with disabilities?

I don’t really know a lot but I feel like they are getting better with being inclusive and hiring disabled people in the creative industries. However they need to improve when it comes to exhibition spaces, as accessibility for disabled people feels like an afterthought. For example, I have been to a lot of exhibitions where I’m always disappointed by the lack of seating. For someone like myself who can’t walk or stand for long periods of time, this makes the experience unenjoyable. Another thing is when exhibitions have bad lighting. I understand wanting to set an atmosphere but when there isn’t any warning beforehand, it makes it difficult for those with visual impairments and people with other disabilities to walk around the space.

For these spaces to become more inclusive they need to think about how disabled people can access the space, giving the right accessibility information or even a map of the space as many people need to be able to plan ahead to feel comfortable attending these exhibitions.

So you went through the traditional route of university. Was it a positive experience?

Yes overall it was a great experience, I met a lot of lovely people some of whom are my best friends now. The course was really different from anything I had done in the past as it was very narrative based. We got to learn lots of different ways to create illustrations for stories, such as with rubber stamping, screen printing, collage, book binding, and riso printing. There were also creative writing workshops which were very wacky and fun!

The projects were also great as I got to experiment with printmaking, drawing in a supermarket, making books and silly stories and creating illustrations for a magazine. I’m so happy I got to do all of those things as it’s shaped my work today.

Any advice for anyone looking to go through that route?

Biggest thing - it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s what you make of the course. So, if you’re a homebody, pick somewhere close to home. Don’t choose a popular university for the sake of it, find somewhere that you like.

Choose a place that has the best facilities as that will make your experience a lot better. Talk to the different facilitators and ask what access the students have.

It’s also really important to experiment with the different facilities, for example if you’re into printmaking or ceramics then make the most of that. As when you graduate, you might not have access to a studio that has those things.

Don’t take it personally when tutors don’t like your work. As long as you’ve hit the criteria you’ll get your grade, and their opinion doesn’t really matter.

How has going through university affected your career as a freelance illustrator?

So during university, my friend Emily and I decided to start an illustration society. Together we ran a few workshops which included drink and draw nights, monoprinting and a cute 3D cardboard building workshop inspired by Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. After graduating this is something I’ve continued doing. I’ve worked with the Barber Institute of Fine Arts where I ran a few creative workshops for their Barber Collective arts club. I’ve worked with schools on creative projects and assisted the animator Sophie Burrows with stop motion animation projects across 9 schools. I really enjoy working with young people and children on creative projects as they love being able to make something and see the final outcome. Hopefully it’ll inspire them to think of art differently and want to become more creative in their daily lives.

Also, my love for designing greetings cards started from an opportunity I got at the New Designers Grad Show. Hallmark saw my work and offered me a two week placement at their studios in Bradford. I was working with the humour team where I designed 4 collections of cards and they licensed two of my designs for print! Although I haven’t seen them in shops to this day. Looking back, that was a fun experience and I feel so lucky to have been able to take part. Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed making cards for my friends and family as well as designing my own collection of cards for my shop. And of course my brummie themed cards are some of my best sellers!

You’re from Birmingham which is rapidly becoming a creative capital with initiatives such as Birmingham Design Festival, are you proud to be from such a creative city?

Yes, very proud! It’s about time that Birmingham is on the map as it’s a brilliant city especially with events like the Birmingham Design Festival, Little but Live and other creative festivals happening in the city. I’m so glad it’s becoming more of a creative city with more opportunities for artists and young people.

So you’re currently a freelance illustrator, how has your experience been so far?

It’s been a good experience so far, every year I seem to be getting more work, clients and cool projects. And I’m always happy when clients come back to me for projects. I’m doing this part time while I also work another job, although I am currently looking for something new. I’ve had a lot of rejection over the years when applying for freelance projects and it’s really easy to take it personally. To get over that bump in the road, I think that it wasn’t the right project for me and something better will come along.

Finding new work is always the hard part. Especially when I don’t have anything lined up after a project has finished. In those times, I find myself working on personal projects, maybe designing some new products for my shop or going into the pottery studio.

To keep things interesting I like to work on a variety of projects, such as illustration, graphic design, creative workshops, working with schools and my personal projects. Last year was great as I worked on projects that included set design, illustrations for children’s mental health week, festival posters and Christmas illustrations and design for the Rep. I also took part in my first art markets!

Do you have any tips for gaining clients or for anyone nervous to take this route?

I still struggle with getting clients to be fair, I’m only 4 years into working part time as an illustrator but here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way :)

Join some directories! I’ve had a few clients approach me this way and it’s always nice to hear how they found me. I’m part of Women who draw and Birmingham Design Find a freelancer.

If you have an online shop and wish to sell in other places, look into wholesale or find independent shops in your area and ask if they can stock your products..

Keep creating art that you enjoy making, update your website and social media. And soon enough something will spark from that.

Networking with other creatives is always great as they might pass on commissions to you if they’re too busy. Also if you’re stuck with pricing or want advice, having a support network is really nice. I’m always asking my friends for help when it comes to pricing, contracts or even asking their opinions on the illustrations I make.

You can join AOI for around £14 a month and that has a lot of advice for illustrators. A cheaper guide that I have found really useful is Taaryn’s e-book ‘Everything I know so far about running a freelance illustration business’.

Your work is beautiful and has been used for the likes of NHS and Birmingham Rep Theatre. Talk me through your feelings when you see it in public.

Honestly it was really cool seeing my work up in The Rep! This was my first big project with my illustrations up around Birmingham, so knowing it was seen by a lot of people makes me feel so good. I was working on that project for months so being able to see it all in person was great as I was so used to just seeing it on the screen. My mom came to visit, so we went to the theatre to check out my illustrations and take some photos! I loved being able to share that with her.

Who are your standout creatives?

Aww that’s fab! Here are a few lovely artists :)

For my final question, what’s next?

This year I want to grow my shop and get back into the pottery studio. I’m a bit obsessed with frogs at the moment and would love to make a frog collection of products :)

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