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An Interview with Lily Watson

Lily Watson's art captures the rot beneath the glitter. Without ever sacrificing style for substance, her work is otherworldly, surreal, cute, and offers important sociopolitical commentary delivered in a completely original manner. Reminiscent of artists like Mark Ryden and Aya Takano, but not derivative of them, Lily brings a fresh perspective to her work despite her many influences. Her big-eyed, often alluringly gory girls in uncomfortable situations are captivating. Her waif like figures do not just earn coos of sympathy; they reach deeper than mere bathos and elicit an authentic emotional response from viewers because they are not just objects of pity, beautifully disfigured and without ambition; there is an inexplicable optimism to her work, a hope for --or perhaps an attempt at-- change. Lily's positive energy does not, at first glance, match the mood of her art, but that zeal is possibly at the very core of it.

What work are you most proud of?

This is a tough question! I don't feel like it's really finished, and there's a lot of things I'm not pleased with yet but I really like this piece I did years ago:

Do you ever see the characters you've created in your dreams or anything like that?

Hmm, well most of the girls I draw are a reflection of myself so, they're sort of always with me...?

Do you ever play music while you're working? And if so, does it influence your work?

Yes! I get a lot of inspiration from music. I have certain genres or songs for different drawings. I have playlists for different atmospheres I get from music and start playing it before I start drawing if I already have an idea of what I'm going to draw. Lately i've been drawing to video games a lot too; they're good because they're like stories but not that interesting you get distracted.

I know you're studying game art design, have you created/worked on a game yet?

Nothing that cool yet! But one of my first assignments was to make a mod for a game. I made a weird "rotting skeleton" mod covered in vines and stuff for Minecraft. It was kinda embarrassingly bad but it worked and I passed.

Your work mixes cutesy with gory. Is there a reason why you're drawn to this contrast?

I've been trying to understand what influences me to draw stuff like that for so many years now. I have always loved cute things. I collected plush toys as a kid, and when I was about 9, I started going through a bit of a phase. I tried really hard to be weird because I didn't fit in at school. I was obsessed with the scene in Spirited Away where Haku comes in in dragon form all covered in paper cuts and blood. I don't think I'd ever seen anything that gory and intense before that age, and I was fascinated by it, so I drew lots of bloodied dragons in primary school during class. I'm actually really squeamish now, but I'm still curious about anatomy and gore, so drawing is the best way I can explore that. Anyway, I think now I see the "creepy-cute" theme more as a statement. Pretty girls and cute colors are very safe and pleasant but I like using that image to bring up darker themes, going against the the sanitization of issues people don't want to talk about like mental illness and trauma.

Have you noticed any recurring symbols/motifs in your work? What are they and why do you think you're attracted to them?

I love drawing hearts! I don't think I've ever pinned them down anatomically but they're so fun to play around with; they're such versatile little organs! I think i feel a lot of strong emotions through my heart, like "that's the cutest animal I've ever seen I could explode!" heart palpitations and "I've never been so heartbroken in my life" feelings too. I also love eyes, I think so much character can be given to them. I like to turn them into flowers, swollen beehives, melting egg yolks, planets, rivers-- they're so interesting!

Who do you think is the most creative person alive?

Ahh, I don't know. Everyone is so creative and amazing these days; it's easy to find so many amazing artists just by browsing Instagram.

If you were to compare your work to a dessert, what would it be?

I'm actually drawing a dessert themed piece right now hehe. I think it'd be a decadent 3-tiered cake, pastel pink and covered in whipped cream, strawberries and blood, and when you cut it open it's full of black dirt, grime, and there's a giant sad eye looking vacantly into the distance inside.

What artists have influenced your work?

I don't think I can list the thousands of artists that I love and that have influenced me, but from a young age, I've always had a connection with Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. Visually though, I'm influenced by LostFish, Nicole Absher, Tama, Risa Mehmet, Hikari Shimoda, Yukaman, and so many other incredible artists.

What piece has taken you the longest to finish?

Well... I have about 100 unfinished pieces that go back to about 2011 that I'm still kidding myself I'll finish one day. But the only piece I actually know how long I spent with was this piece I did for Loser Unit's Issue 4 zine launch. I spent a lot of late nights on it, from memory I think it took about 50ish hours.

What do you hope people take away from your art?

I suppose I just want people to feel understood when they see my work, like they're never alone. And if not understood, then they feel an understanding of certain issues people go through and the dark stuff inside them. That being said, it's a bit depressing, so I hope people take what they want or need from my drawings and that it's not always a sad thing!

You can follow Lily on Instagram, @milklaced.


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