Fez is a Bristol-based illustrator who has worked with a wide range of publishing houses and game companies. Her main focus for her art lies in conservation, folklore, and tattoo design, with occult and fantasy themes. We’re grateful to Fez for generously enlightening us about her artistic background, her illustration and conservation work and her next book!
Hi Fez! Tell us about your path to becoming an artist. When did you recognise that you could draw, and what did you do to develop your talent into a career?
I’m very fortunate that my mum, who I’m very close with, is also an artist, and raised me with a paintbrush in my hand. Whenever it was a rainy day outside we’d bring out the paper and pencils, and a lot of our bonding time together as a child was spent on walks with our sketchbooks. I grew up in Hampshire, which is a beautiful county in the UK, and we were never far from lakes or forests or rivers, so I was really spoiled by the environment surrounding me.
I did follow a formal art education in college and university, but it never really meshed with the type work that I wanted to produce, and ultimately very few of the skills that I learned there have applied themselves to where I am now. In the end, the route I took to get to where I am today was actually quite convoluted!
My first few years as a professional artist were spent in commercial comics — I landed a wonderful first project with Channel 4, and after that ended up in children’s annuals. If you’ve ever picked up the yearly Winx Club or My Little Pony comics… you may have seen my work before!
From there I moved into children’s book illustration and greetings cards. I don’t think there’s a person out there who wouldn’t enjoy drawing mermaids and pirates on a daily basis, but I kept finding myself going back to the lake next to where I lived. Eventually I had to admit to myself that the quieter life of plants was more appealing to me than toy fairs and partyware, and finally started to cultivate what has turned out to be a style and an audience that’s fits what’s in my heart much better.
What were some of your earliest introductions to fantasy and the occult?
I had quite a restricted childhood in terms of what genres I was and wasn’t allowed to explore, so a lot of the most influential pieces of my early childhood were library books—much easier to smuggle in and read under the covers at night! I was an avid reader from an early age, and some of my earliest fantasy series were Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness, Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion, and Ian Irvine’s The View from the Mirror quartet. My first introduction to horror fantasy was Garth Nix’s The Old Kingdom series, which continues to be a favourite of mine. It’s a wonderful world filled with some great lore and some truly horrifying monsters.
Most relevant to Folk Magic and Healing was my discovery of Brian Jacques and the Redwall series when I was maybe eight or nine. The books are full of beautiful descriptions of English woodlands, food, and rural life, but most remarkable to me at the time was the way that he described healers as using plants in place of modern medicine. He wrote beautiful poems about the virtues of wildflowers and their medicinal values, and as a child the idea that something I saw so regularly in real life could have some hidden ‘magical’ powers absolutely entranced me. And when I found out that it was true and not just a part of his fantasy world, it was a concept that buried itself deep in my imagination!
How do you work? Are you a paper and pen/pencil type or person, or is it more digital?
I still use a sketchbook for taking notes and very early thumbnails of my designs, but I have to admit that I’ve become more and more digital-based with time, since it’s so much faster and so much easier to make late-stage amendments. I still do some work in ink and gold paint, but when you live with two very enthusiastic cats (click for cuteness!), the danger of inky pawprints and smudged lines isn’t always worth it! I’d love to learn how to use traditional oils, but I can only imagine the chaos that they could cause in a traditional art studio…
Have you always blended making art with your work in conservation and folklore? How did you arrive at the balance you have today?
My interest in conservation work started very early in life. The moment I could fit into a pair of children’s wellies I was helping the local conservation trusts clean up the rivers and record local species, and from the age of 8 was heavily involved with Hampshire Animal Rescue Team, a fantastic wildlife rescue charity that I still support today. When I started writing books and producing art that addressed the issues of our changing countryside and conservation, it only felt natural that I should be donating a percentage of profits back into these fantastic projects.
This week is Mabon, the autumnal harvest festival. It’s also an auspicious time to make touch-charms, so this weekend I’ve been working with bramble cuttings. I love the colour variations in this wood, especially the lavender around the forks! pic.twitter.com/WmW6Z0f1Df— Fez Inkwright 🌿 Scotland MCM CA12 (@Rosdottir) September 22, 2019
My interest in folklore came a little later; both by way of a very dear friend of mine who shares very similar passions, along with several years spent living in the Cambridgeshire fens. So much of English folklore is inextricably tied in with the fabric of our environment; it made sense that the stories of local drained-bog-spirits and river ghosts that I was hearing of would combine well with my interest in conservation. I’ve always loved drawing as much as I do writing, so the two just came together quite naturally.
We love your custom tattoo designs! What is the strangest / most interesting tattoo design commission you’ve received?
I can’t really say I’ve had any particularly strange requests! However, my favourite part of designing tattoos for people is how personal they can be. There have been a number of people who have asked me for something to represent strength or new beginnings after an illness, or struggles with mental health, or transitioning, and it’s always both an honour and a fun challenge to find the right plants to represent these new stages of their lives. I use a lot of floriography, the Victorian language of flowers, and Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers, to find the plants that convey the right messages. Sometimes it can take a while to really work out the right intention for a design, and I love the early stages of working through that with a client.
What inspired you to create Folk Magic and Healing, and how did you research the folklore and myths that are talked about in the book?
Folk Magic and Healing actually started life as a pocket book. I’ve played tabletop RPGs for many years now, and—predictably—always orbit back to playing characters that are herbalists or druids of some sort. When the idea of the book was conceived, I’d gathered so much information for my own use about healing plants and rudimentary English magic that I wanted to create a pocket guide for gamers to apply to their own sessions.
It was around the time that I came across a great little book in the Cambridge library about local fen herblore that I realised that the subject was just too rich to turn into a booklet that I’d intended to be no more than 20 pages. I started arranging visits to libraries, archives, and museums, and talking to historians who knew a bit more about the parts of the country I’ve not yet had the pleasure to visit. Scotland, for example, has centuries of fascinating folklore saturated right into the foundations of the country, and no matter how far I dig into its stories I still feel as though I’m only skimming the surface. Unfortunately, as a southerner I’ve never quite managed to make it there—but I have plans to travel to Edinburgh soon to do some research into the witchcraft trials of the 15- and 1600s, so I’m looking forward to finally learning more!
One of my favourite places to pick up obscure stories are tiny town and village museums—the kind that are usually volunteer-run and live off of donations. It’s in one of these that I heard about the Wherwell Cockatrice, which was gifted to Wherwell Priory as an egg and took up such a fierce residence in the cellars that the inhabitants there went tee-total instead of risking their lives to access their casks of ale! Not far from Wherwell is Vernham Dean, a village said to be haunted by the ghosts of villagers who died during the time of the Great Plague in 1665. They were told by the local pastor to isolate themselves on a nearby hill, and promised that food and water would be brought to them. Instead they were abandoned to die, and the hill is now said to be cursed; locals still run seven laps around the hill each year to appease the restless souls and protect their harvest from being blighted.
I love these local stories that rarely travel beyond the area they originated in, but really encapsulate the folk history and essence of an area. It’s really summed up by one of my favourite quotes, from Christina Hole:
‘The Folklore of a Nation must always be a matter of great importance to those who desire to understand the nature and history of its people, and the intricate mosaic of thought and circumstance that went into their making.’Christina Hole
Tell us about the sequel to Folk Magic and Healing…
Botanical Homicide and Curses (a working title) takes the same format as Folk Magic and Healing, but looks at the plants on the opposite end of the spectrum. So whereas Folk Magic addresses plants that have medicinal value, or have been used as protective and lucky charms, this follow-up discusses poisonous plants, the history of botanical poisons, and those that have historical associations with curses, death, and monsters. It’s a really juicy subject and I’ve been getting quite wrapped up in stories of ancient murders and unsolved botanical mysteries…
Since a lot of the more notorious deadly plants come from hotter or tropical climates, it’s also providing me the opportunity to really dig into African, Australian, and South American mythology, which is a fascinating and wonderful journey all in itself. I have no idea how I’m going to manage the wait until next year to share it with you, it’s already shaping up to be a great book!
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You can order Folk Magic and Healing: An Unusual History of Everyday Plants from our webshop now.
Stay tuned for news about the sequel book, Botanical Homicide and Curses, publishing in autumn 2020. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop!