Art & Design

How London Illustrator Polly Nor is Challenging Mainstream Depictions of Women

Art & Design

How London Illustrator Polly Nor is Challenging Mainstream Depictions of Women


Cab 2 Pretend No More

If you don’t recognize Polly Nor’s artwork by now, chances are you don’t have an Instagram account. Constantly being re-gramed, the London-based illustrator’s artwork never seems to leave our explore page, but believe us, the hype is well-deserved. Channeling her characters around real woman, Polly Nor’s female perspective is a breath of fresh air, her drawings offering a refreshing portrayal of contemporary women, all loaded with cultural references and drenched with erotic satire. We recently sat down with Nor to see what new projects she has in the works and to ask the burning question on everyone’s mind: “Why all the devils?”

Tell us about your creative process.

“I usually draw in pen, scan and then edit digitally, but the ideas and process changes a little from piece-to-piece. At the moment I’m particularly interested in girls’ bedrooms, how we decorate them, the stuff we keep and display and how it represents us. I tend to imagine the character first—her personality, what’s going on in her life, how she’s feeling, and based on that, I think about what she would have in her room. I like the idea of people first noticing the subject and then later picking up on the smaller background details that add to the character’s story. After I have finished drawing the image I then color it digitally.”

Tookhimtotheskygarden_3508_900-1Took Him to The Sky Garden

Japanese Shunga is a huge inspiration for you. How does that influence your work?

“Growing up I was always really in to Japanese culture and art. I visited an amazing collection of Shunga at the British Museum a few years ago at an exhibition called Shunga Sex and Pleasure In Japanese Art. I really liked the way the collection brought together aspects of sex, pleasure and satire through crude, but beautiful imagery. That’s something that I want to bring to my own work.”

Beyond Japanese Shunga, what else inspires your illustrations?

“My subject matter generally comes from girl chat, usually talking about sex, gender issues and our everyday problems. I rarely draw them as specific people, but I like to create characters that reflect both me and other girls that I know. I often take inspiration from the situations that we find ourselves in and the advice we offer one another in moments of anguish.”

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Your drawings depict real women, or at least a more realistic version than what’s portrayed in mainstream media. Was this your intention? 

“I find it frustrating that we are still constantly fed such unrealistic and patronizing ideas of women through most mainstream media. I’m bored of looking at images of women where their sole purpose is to look attractive to the viewer. I want to offer an alternative view through my illustrations and focus on how my characters feel rather than focusing on how attractive they are.”

How does the digital age play a role in your work?

“The internet is now a huge part of our lives. We are constantly connected to the point where our phones have become an extension of ourselves. It wouldn’t be an accurate representation of youth culture if our devices [weren’t featured] in most of my drawings. Social media also plays a massive part in getting my work seen. This time last year I was just posting the odd drawing on Instagram to show my friends, but slowly more and more people started responding, so I started uploading more stuff and then it just kind of grew from there. I am now able to share my work with people all over the world within just a few minutes of finishing it, which is pretty cool.”

werinluv_1000_1000We In Luv And Live Very Fabulous Lifestyles

What do the devils represent in your work?

“I use the devils in my drawings to represent different ideas and stories, usually as a figment of the female’s imagination—a manifestation of her frustrations, emotions and desires.”

There’s a stark contrast in the settings of your drawings between traditional apartments and exotic locales. Discuss this. 

“I often use very sickly sweet ‘girly’ colors in the household scenes. I set them in a dull shade to give a dark, stagnant atmosphere. I like to give the impression that the female character has out-grown her childhood bedroom a little. I then use the tropical green plants and wildlife to represent a hunger for escapism from the pressures of her mundane and claustrophobic environment.”

toogoodforyou_web_787Too Good For You

What new projects are you working on?

“I just launched my online store where I’m selling prints of my artwork. I plan to expand the shop throughout the year. I’m also in the early stages of planning my next big exhibition which will hopefully feature an exciting collaboration with artist Mary Stephenson. I fell in love with Mary’s ‘Paper Portraits’ at her exhibition at Mother Studios last year. For her ‘Paper Portraits,’ Mary creates life-size sets of her friend’s family homes, she makes each prop out of paper, card and expanding foam, and then photographs her real life subjects within the reconstructed scenes. Together we’re planning to join forces and bring elements of my illustrations to life through hand-made installation pieces. I’m super excited to work with Mary as I am a huge fan of her work. I’m also really looking forward to working in 3D and to a life-size scale which is so far from my usual creative process.”