Local Ivinghoe artist Alex Crisp on lockdown decisions, juggling careers and her love for Buckinghamshire
Was art something you always had an interest in?
I always loved art and crafts when I was younger, but when it came to doing it as a GCSE subject I was really put off by how restrictive it suddenly felt. There wasn’t a lot of room for finding your own way of doing things – it was either right or wrong, and I always seemed to be getting it wrong! It wasn’t until I had left university and started working full time that I suddenly felt like drawing and painting again, and it just continued as a hobby from there.
You are self-taught. How did you go about learning your craft?
I really enjoy trying new things out and learning different methods, so it’s been a case of playing around to see what I like and don’t like over the years. It’s been quite a process of elimination, but it’s helped me to focus in on doing a few things well. Taking workshops and classes has been a really fun part of this, especially at Berkhamsted Arts and Crafts and online with a platform like Skillshare. There’s been a lot of trial and error, especially with technical methods like watercolours and screenprinting, but I love the challenge!
Why did you start illustrating during lockdown?
When lockdown started, I was in the same position as a lot of people in that I suddenly had a lot of extra time on my hands, so hobbies became very important. I’d wanted to learn how to create digital art for a while, so it seemed like a good opportunity to focus on this. It was also a good excuse to finally treat myself to an iPad and iPencil! This was definitely the first big step towards being an illustrator, and I owe a lot to Skillshare for learning the ins and outs of the Procreate app, which is where I create the majority of my designs.
What kind of work were you creating?
I’m terrible at coming up with ideas and rely a lot on prompts for inspiration. During lockdown there was a strong community of creators on social media coming up with different initiatives to keep people busy and connected. I personally really enjoyed following along with Artful’s daily Instagram challenges, and trying out Portrait Artist of the Year’s weekly draw-along (although the latter was short lived!). I found I enjoyed anything to do with fruit and vegetables the most and started sharing my progress on Instagram.
Can you describe your style?
I always try and keep my style colourful and playful – I don’t like to approach anything too seriously! My watercolour paintings tend to be a bit sketchier compared to my digital drawings, which usually have bold lines and more solid shapes. The aim is to have fun and produce something that makes people smile.
What was the response like to your illustrations?
Sharing things on social media always feels very vulnerable and scary, but once I started posting my illustrations and the process involved it was really lovely to see how much people enjoyed it. I could see what styles and designs were getting the most attention, which helped me to gradually hone in on creating a consistent look and feel.
Why did you turn it into a business?
From sharing designs and ideas on Instagram I started getting asked about commissions, which led to some really enjoyable projects. I also had requests for putting my patterns onto products for people to buy, which made me think it could all actually lead to some kind of business – I just had no idea how to do it!
When I went on maternity leave in early 2021 I found myself nap-trapped by my baby most days and eager to have a project to focus on, so I took the opportunity to find out more about what an illustrating business could look like and how to make it happen. It was a slow process as spare time is very hard to come by with a baby, but I was so lucky to meet some brilliant women at local groups who were full of ideas and motivation whenever I started doubting myself, and I’m very lucky to have them as friends and mentors now.
What do you sell?
I sell a range of illustrated homewares, accessories, cards and art prints. My designs are inspired by my life in the Buckinghamshire countryside, in particular my growing efforts at the allotment. I also offer commissions for special occasions, such as house paintings and pet portraits – I’m always open to trying something out.
How does your illustrating fit in with family life and a full-time job in communications?
I’m incredibly fortunate to have a career I love, a wonderful family and now a small business to call my own, so even though I’ve got quite a few things to juggle it’s been incredibly rewarding so far. I’m also so lucky to have such supportive family and friends around me – without their help and encouragement I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this.
How long have you lived in Ivinghoe and what do you love about it?
We moved to Ivinghoe nearly four years ago from London, and it’s one of the best decisions we ever made. We can’t believe how lucky we were to find this lovely little village and have to pinch ourselves every now and then. The people are just so friendly and there’s such a strong community feeling, and the surroundings are so beautiful. We really do love it.
If possible, can you pick out your 3 favourite places to go in Ivinghoe or the wider Buckinghamshire area?
My favourite spots in Ivinghoe are: The Rose and Crown pub – it’s such a great little spot and so friendly, we went in there before moving into our house and knew that we’d made the right decision; The Green Room florist – this wonderful florist and gift shop has a beautiful selection of flowers and products, and the owner Iain is one of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet! I’m very proud to have some of my cards and art prints listed here; Grooms Farm Shop – this family-run butcher and farm shop are our go-to for fresh produce and we’re very lucky to have it just a short walk from home. Karen and the team really know their stuff.
With summer here, any inspiring outdoor spots for you?
With the warmer weather finally here, we try and get up to our allotment when we can. It’s without a doubt my favourite outdoor spot in the village because of how peaceful and inspiring it is. Every time I go I always come back buzzing with new illustration ideas and I can’t wait for my daughter to get involved in growing things.
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently started screenprinting some of my designs onto textiles at home, like bags and tea towels, which I’m really enjoying and look forward to doing more of. A big next step will be to approach more local stockists about listing my products and really build up local awareness of the business. I always have so many ideas for new designs and am excited to have just launched a new lemon collection to coincide with summer