January 29, 2013

Kingston University graduate Lynnie Zulu is causing waves on the London fashion scene. Having left university in 2010, she set up immediately as a freelance illustrator creating African super-graphics and textile patterns inspired by her mother’s Tanzanian heritage. In the two years since she’s been picked up by publications like Vogue and i-D as well as style icons like Susie Bubble. Working from her East London studio, Zulu creates vast, vibrant illustrations in brush and ink that lend themselves naturally to use in textile and print design. From where we’re standing it looks like her career is about to take off in a big way, so we checked in to catch up with one of London’s rising illustration and fashion talents.

How do you balance being an illustrator and creating work for fashion?
The work I do for the fashion industry isn’t that different from the work I do normally. As an illustrator my work has been used for many different applications, including fashion, and feel I haven’t had to modify my approach a great deal. Generally I tend not to visualise what my illustrations are going to be used for when I’m creating them. If they’re too predetermined then the result can be contrived and not as spontaneous. Keeping a wide scope for what certain designs can be used for is refreshing and doesn’t make way for rules!

You’ve been picked up by a number of stylish types like Susie Bubble and profiled in i-D, how did that happen?
i-D discovered my work through my blog. It was great timing to be in their feature, as I was in the last few months of my degree. The Susie Bubble article was awesome too; it was an editorial piece showcasing some of my textile prints that I did for Fanny & Jessy’s ‘The Kings Collection.’

What’s the best way to get your work out there?
I’ve found the best way is to really show the versatility of your work by applying it to a variety of different forms. It’s great to work without limitations as it can broaden the range of clients you’re able to work with. By doing this, word gets around and it encourages a great variety of projects.

Given how quickly fashions change, are you aiming to change your style to reflect that as time goes by?
I enjoy pushing my work into new territory, it’s part of the way I work, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time.

Which is better, brush and ink or Photoshop and a mouse?
Ooh definitely brush and ink. Although I have become more of Photoshop fiend of late, nothing ever beats the bare, natural skill of brush & ink. No doubt Photoshop has opened up many different new possibilities for my work, but I prefer a more hands-on approach.

Is it harder producing illustration than patterns for clothing?
The illustration will always be the main starting point for me. It’s just a matter of adapting the illustration in the  form of a pattern. Whilst working on a textile pattern for Fanny & Jessy, I created a series of illustrations that were made up of king-like characters embellished with beards, feathers, symbols and motifs which were adapted to a repeat print using the feather embellishment as the link for the tessellation.

Your work is so influenced by African art, why is that?
My mother, who is also an artist, was born in Tanzania in the 60s. This had a huge impact on her. Strangely enough, my parents reside in the wet Scottish borders, but my mother was quick to transform the interiors into something resembling an African mud hut! With Masai spears and African music blaring, it was a great creative environment to grow up in. Tribal art has become very much a part of my world.

Any other creative inspirations?
Nick Cave has always been a big creative inspiration. I think I first got into him was when I was 15. His crazy songwriting, impulsive ad-libbing, dark humor, and the manic energy of his music inspired me hugely. If I’m ever stuck in rut with my work I can put him on and it causes some of my most spontaneous moments.

Any dream clients?
Generally I would love to work with more musicians and fashion designers, I think Louise Gray is really awesome.

What’s your plan for 2013
To be as busy as possible, travelling more with my work; spending time in Japan and Berlin working with clients would be a dream.

For more on Lynnie Zulu, see her twitter here

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