INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr
Local illustrator Wonder Meyer’s dreamlike work transports us into a calm parallel world. She chats to VISI about her childhood, her inspirations and stepping outside what is comfortable through art.
How did you get into illustration?
My family spent a lot of time travelling the world when I was growing up, and as a result, I was homeschooled for most of my life. Art was never part of my schooling because my mom (who was also my teacher) is a brainy scientist and couldn’t give me much guidance in that area. But it’s always been something I enjoyed doing in my free time. As a kid, I would spend long car trips sketching in the backseat or drawing portraits of my stuffed animals in my room. When I was a teenager I’d draw on my friends’ surfboards and buy canvases to experiment on. After matriculating I knew I wanted to go to university but was unsure of what career path to choose. Thankfully my parents are very easy-going and supportive and they gave me good advice to “pursue my passion,” which led me to enroll in the Fine Arts course at Nelson Mandela University. I remember walking down the hallway in first year and reading through the posters on the wall about various subjects and seeing a description of printmaking and illustration for the first time. It felt like I knew instinctually before I’d even finished reading that that was what I was meant to do.
What inspires you?
Unusual experiences, the feelings left behind after a very vivid dream, poems and make-believe stories, unusual landscapes, and vast expanses like the open sky and sea. The juxtaposition of feeling small and insignificant in a very big universe but knowing you have the agency to make decisions that alter the course of your and others’ lives. I also like to travel alone, get outside my comfort zone in foreign places and see new things and embrace new experiences. It’s very enlivening and I often find snippets of these sights and experiences finding their way into my work.
What does a typical day look like?
I have never had much of a routine (again, thanks to homeschooling) and it seems to fit well with freelancing because no two days look the same – it’s so unpredictable! Some days consist of running errands and driving all over the city collecting, delivering, re-stocking and shipping, while other days are spent at home painting in my studio. Most days though, I wake up to a breakfast of coffee and rusks prepared every morning by my sweet fiancé. I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, so I try to tackle some small admin tasks first so I can get that feeling of accomplishment as I check things off my to-do list for the day. I break around mid-morning for a more wholesome breakfast and once the niggling things are out of the way, I settle into painting with my favourite podcasts playing. Depending on how soon the deadline is or how “in the groove” I am, this can go on well into the evening, with a few intermittent coffee and snack breaks, of course! If the deadline isn’t too pressing I’ll go for an evening walk around the vlei just down the road from my apartment and drool at all the dogs I can’t have or walk down to the beach for a little evening surf if the conditions look good.
Any local/international illustrators who you love, or think we should check out?
We have so much incredible local talent in this country – it just blows my mind. I am especially passionate about illustrators that retain a hand-made quality in their work because I can relate to how much time and skill it takes. I love Nina Torr and Katrin Coetzer‘s work and Andrew Sutherland‘s dreamy paintings. I really admire their creativity and tenacity in this difficult industry and economic climate.
Your work is so whimsical – are you influenced by dreams?
I am very interested in things that have an intangible, ineffable and transient quality. I feel like we are governed by so many forces that can’t be seen, and words often fall short when trying to describe certain feelings, dreams, experiences and thoughts. In my personal work, I try to explore these with texture, colour and imagery instead.
What mediums do you use?
I used to be a bit more multidisciplinary than I am at the moment. It depends what equipment I have available to me. I used to incorporate glass, ceramics and printmaking techniques with my illustrations but for the past while I have been using mostly inks and watercolours, which has always been my first true love! The watery softness has an innately ephemeral quality that fits well with the subjects I’m interested in. I’ve also started working with resin and doing abstract designs on surfboards with my dad, who is a shaper. I love the abstract marbling effects you can achieve in that medium and the end product looks so beautiful all polished up and gliding across waves.
What process do you follow when creating your work?
For my paintings, I start out by sketching an idea on standard sketchbook paper, as it can take a bit more of a beating than watercolour or cotton-rich papers. I rub out and re-draw the characters until I’m happy with them and then transfer the design onto watercolour paper. I don’t like to have a concept completely finalised because watercolour and ink can be a fairly unpredictable mediums and you have to leave a bit of room for organic process along the way rather than try to control every tiny aspect. I go through many love-hate stages with the image while painting, and I’ve found that the important thing is to not give up halfway, but to see it through till the end when it all comes together.
What feelings are you trying to evoke through your pieces?
Each piece is symbolic of personal experiences, feelings and opinions, portrayed in a style that is both whimsical and a little dark. Because of the personal nature of the illustrations, if they evoke any kind of feeling or emotional response at all in a viewer, whether it’s discomfort, intrigue or nostalgia, I think it has achieved something quite profound. I really enjoy it when people apply their own interpretations to a piece and find it so interesting to see how different people resonate with different pieces.
Do your pieces tell a story?
They definitely have a narrative quality, which is why I would love to do more editorial work and make illustrations to accompany poems, essays or articles.
Any exciting plans for the future?
A lifelong goal has been to write and illustrate my own children’s book, which I’m trying to carve out time to do, as well as launch my online store with a personal range of locally manufactured paper goods and textiles. I have also recently become a brand ambassador for RVCA and am excited to work on future collaborations with them!