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A conversation with Lillie Grai

Interview with illustrator & 3D designer Lillie Grai by Apolluss

A: So tell us a bit about Lillie Grai, if you had to describe yourself, what words would you choose?

LG: I'll say creative, that's why I'm here. Outgoing, even though I haven't left my room in the past year (she laughs) but I am outgoing. I feel like I need a thesaurus (we laugh together).

A: How about your work?

LG: Vibrant, yeah, vibrant.

A: What do you think about the current state of the Manchester arts, music and creative scene?

LG: I would say it's gonna pop off but I think it's already like, popping off. Yeah, it has grown a crazy amount. I'm not even from here and I moved here because I knew there was a creative scene, but I couldn't afford London. Now travelling from Manchester to London I prefer Manchester’s creative scene. Everyone is a lot nicer. I would tell everyone to just keep an eye on Manchester, yeah, keep watching.

A: I agree. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an illustrator and 3D designer, how did you end up there?

LG: Like most people, I started in lockdown because I had all this time. So it was a college project and I needed to do drawings so I did it on my laptop and I was like, I'm pretty fucking sick at this. Then I did one for like, Deto Black (London musician and model) and Leah Abbot (celebrity stylist) and after the two, my exposure went crazy. Then I was getting loads of commissions for digital illustration and then I moved to Manchester and did more commissions. I don't know how I got into 3D design. I just like gaming and I wasn't gaming because of university so I started linking the two worlds together subconsciously. I was having to do my university work but I also wanted to be playing video games so I just ended up linking them together somehow.

A: Yeah, definitely. I think the creative, illustrative, and gaming worlds go very well together. Every game is illustrated.

LG: I think games like ‘The Last Of Us’ are stunning. Think of all the creative aspects that go into a video game.

A: If you had to pick anything, what inspires you to create in the way that you do?

LG: I would say my mum, she pushes me the furthest to create the most, so I feel like she is my biggest inspiration.

A: If you had to spotlight one thing that you’ve created, what would it be and why?

LG: I ain't going back on my old portfolio (she laughs), let’s have a look. I did this one thing for myself that I love, nobody has ever seen it, this is the first time someone has seen it.

A: What is it?

LG: So basically I just drew an afro comb and painted it in my style. I just think it's so pretty because it's got African colours like green and yellow. You know black women don’t like their hair. We are constantly in wigs and trying to hide our hair. Now I am always in braids but I used to be in wigs all the time.

A: Did it help give you a new appreciation for your natural hair?

LG: I wouldn’t say it was healing but it gets you to this stage where you realise ‘oh, I love afro hair.’

A: Unlearning and relearning, getting rid of past trauma in a way, it’s like generational trauma through culture.

LG: Yeah because my mum has soft (hair), she doesn't have afro hair unlike me. So it’s like, all my family around me still have European (style) hair that I would want.

A: Where are you from?

LG: Middlesbrough, so just know there aren't that many black people there (she laughs) There was a large Asian community though so I wasn't the only ethnic minority at least. I think it’s loaded, so I can show you it now (proceeds to show me the image). It is like a hundred thousand pixels. I just love it so much, like if it was blown up big it would make me so happy. It’s my favourite, I don’t know why I have never shared it.

A: The background feels very muted, but when you zoom in, the afro comb feels very sharp and prominent. At the same time, it is like it is eroding. Then the flowers are blooming at the same time, it feels as if it is regenerating themselves.

LG: I feel like it is too cool to post on my Instagram, they like the
naked anime pictures on my Instagram (she laughs again) That's what they like, they don't want to see afro combs.

A: If you were a wine what would you be?

LG: I would have gold flowers all over and I would like to be an orange wine, yeah like Marto, Crazy Crazy was unbelievable. I like the fizzy ones but I have been getting into red wine at the moment because I am trying to mature. So maybe I could make a black label to match the red wine and just a picture of my face (we both laugh together). I don’t know, maybe it could just be the flowers.

A: So black label, flowers, redwine, and mature (we laugh again). Are there any other artists or creators that you would like to utilise this opportunity to spotlight?

LG: Can I name the people that’s already been said so I won't say them twice?

A: If you say them twice then that verifies them more.

LG: Well then definitely BenjiiiTG (@benjiiitg), I don't think that I would ever go anywhere without saying Benjiii, he’s my favourite artist at the moment. Benjiii and RenzNiro (@renzniro). There are so many, Francesca Corbridge for her fashion design, she’s doing some mad stuff at the minute. Rowe Wrights (@rowewrights) as well.

A: Is there anybody, where you are from, that is creative?

LG: I will say KT Meela (ktmeela), because she is incredible and she's a creative director, nobody ever speaks about creative directors so definitely her.

A: As an illustrator and a 3D designer, if you had to create your own world,
what would it look like?

LG: I think definitely, aesthetically there would be a lot of plants there. I would love a biophilic world, with plants, and trees everywhere. None of these capitalist environments with too many buildings. There would be lots of happiness and a lot of freedom. Abolish the 9 to 5, that needs to happen, and is happening slowly. No corporations, the majority of things are publicly owned. I don't want to scare the audience but I can envision it in my head.

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