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style notes: holly st clair and james christopher

Creative fulfilment is important to Holly St Clair and James Christopher. Co-founder of Hi Bye Studio, Holly is an illustrator, while James balances making abstract art with co-running Kind Studio, a creative agency based in Brixton which specialises in design. They’re busy people! And to top it all off, they’ve just got engaged. Yep, that’s right – they might have just out-cooled you.

Their work is a playful escape from the mundane. Holly creates zines, t-shirts, pin-badges and editorial work designed to make you smile. They’re a wink-wink-nudge- nudge, poking fun of you, me and everyone you know. We’re a weird bunch! Stop pretending you’re not, okay? ‘Please Sir, Can I Have Some Morleys?’ is a standout piece of Holly’s, perfectly highlighting her ability to dishevel the ordinary and make it funny. Aesthetically, she keeps things unpolished, which adds to her cheerful charm. James’s style is a little more abstract. He uses contrasting textures which are then flipped into digital shapes. Collaged into place, they tread that golden line between chaos and order. Using beautifully thought out colour palettes, each illustration is refreshingly unique from the next.

Head with us to Kind Studio and meet two of London’s most celebrated illustrators of 2018.

Photography: Caoimhe Hahn

Styling and creative direction: Woody Cecilia

How did you guys meet?

Holly St Clair: Tinder! We both swiped right and the rest is history.

Do you collaborate on much of your work together?

Holly: Very rarely - it’s something we’ve spoken about, but I think we’re both a bit shy about it. Most of our collaboration tends to be in the form of feedback – a little bit of criticism and encouragement when it’s needed. I trust Jim’s judgement and I think he trusts mine!

James Christopher: We’d like to do a children’s book together and get it published though. It would definitely be an interesting clash of styles.

Holly wears:

TOP: Wood Wood 

JACKET: Folk

TROUSERS: Dr. Banana

SOCKS: Folk

SHOES: Birkenstock

GLASSES: Bailey Nelson

James wears:

TOP: Heresy

TROUSERS: Folk

SHOES: Converse

SOCKS: Heresy

GLASSES: Cubitts

How do you make your illustrations?

Holly: Pen goes straight to paper! I tend to work very directly. Inspiration comes from the people around me – little quirks people have and weird things they’ve said. I’m a bit obsessed by the idiosyncrasies of speech and language – little phrases that people say without realising that they’re really rife with visual potential.

How did you get into making abstract art, James?

James: I got into making abstract art around two years ago. I’ve always had an interest in illustration, but never really settled on a style or method. I tried lots of different things and found that I enjoyed the messiness and process of collage. I spend all day as a designer working with grids and pixels, so it’s nice to come home, get the pens out and chop stuff up without having to worry about a composition meaning anything.

Explain Kind Studio!

James: Kind Studio is the creative practice where I spend most of my weekdays. We work across branding, digital, making and animation. I started the studio around three years ago with a friend, and it’s grown a lot since then. The name came from a guy we knew at university who used to use the word ‘kind’ instead of ‘good’ or ‘cool.’ He went to steal some of my work for his portfolio, so it seemed to make sense to steal his word!

Do you prefer making things physically or digitally?

Holly: A mix! I’ll often swap between the two mid-way through an image. I’m always trying to make digital look like traditional and traditional have the same qualities as my digital work. Can’t say it’s the most efficient way of working!
Jim: I’m more comfortable working digitally. I like having the flexibility of being able to change colours and tweak shapes. Having said that, I’m trying to do more and more physical stuff to push myself out of my comfort zone.

How do you feel about this big wave of illustrators showing their work online, in particular on Instagram? Would you say you’ve built a bit of a community?

Holly: I got my ‘start’ on Tumblr and made a lot of internet buddies on there who I’m still in contact with. I love that!

I’ve heard some people say it gets them making less, as the competition is overwhelming though...
Holly: I’m infamously competitive, unfortunately. Hopefully it doesn’t come across in person, but my friends and Jim know that I live for the competition. If I see something good, I’m like, ‘I need to make something better.’ It’s a curse though, it can be paralysing comparing yourself to other people. I guess it’s a case of all things in moderation – including the ‘gram.

Where do you usually work?

Holly: At home!

Do you find working from home distracting?

Holly: Endlessly, but not always in a bad way!

What’s the best way to overcome that?

Holly: If you’re getting distracted, you’ve got to work out why. I get distracted when I’m procrastinating on a project – usually because I’m scared what I’ll make won’t be good enough or I’m just bored of it! If you recognise why you’re suddenly deep in a Subreddit about reborn dolls, it’s easier to find an antidote. There’s no cure-all, but a snack and a cup of tea usually helps reset things.

Holly wears:

TOP: SCRT

TROUSERS: YMC

SHOES: Stepney Workers Club

SOCKS: Folk

HAT: Stylist’s own

GLASSES: Bailey Nelson

James wears:

TOP: Heresy

SHIRT: Potato Head

TROUSERS: Dickies

SHOES: Stepney Workers Club

GLASSES: Cubitts

When did you decide you wanted a career in design?

James: It sounds really stupid, but I’ve known since I was about eleven or twelve. When I was young, I used to spend hours drawing Simpsons characters or super detailed space battles – and since then, I’ve always had an interest in illustration, which developed into an interest in design as I grew up.

Holly: This is a bit geeky and definitely exposes my illustration roots... I went to an anime convention called MCM Expo in Greenwich. I was fourteen and already posting my work online, but I never thought it could be a career. I got talking to this illustrator, Timothy Winchester, and I was so amazed that this was his actual, real, grown-up job. I almost didn’t go through with the dream though! I went to a very academic grammar school (essentially a factory for doctors, lawyers and engineers), and I was really put off by the way art was taught at GCSE and A-Level. I remember being so stressed about my sketchbook not being good enough that I’d tear out pages and pages and stay up all night re-drawing stuff. My parents and my friends really helped me stick to it – and in the end, I got on to an art foundation course.

Who was your most inspiring teacher while growing up?

Holly: There are too many to choose from! Is it cheesy if I say my Mum?

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Holly: Being honest is more important than being polite. A.K.A., fuck politeness.

You’ve done a few illustrations on skate decks too. When did you get into skating?
Holly: Three years ago! I became friends with Liisa Chisholm through Charlotte Mei actually, and she’s a sick skater. I wanted to give it a go and caught the bug in a big way.

Do you skate by yourself or with friends, usually?

Holly: I’ve just joined a little Whatsapp group of skaters and I’ve been loving skating with them recently. We’re all girls, non-binary or queer – people who can feel a bit pushed out of mainstream skating scenes. There’s no ego about it or showing off – we’re all just keen to learn in a safe space with like-minded people! We even have a little puppy mascot called Murphy.

Who are your favourite illustrators at the minute?

Holly: I love Samuel Eckert, Sujin Kim, Tomomi Mizukoshi, Karolina Osiadacz, Maria Ramos, Misaki Kawai... I could go on and on.
James: I love pretty much everything Jake Hollings puts out! Same goes for Frank the Kook, Lucy Sherston, Alec Doherty, ZEBU, John Molesworth, Nick Dahlen, David McMillan... I’ve just put out a collaboration I’ve done with Otto Baum from Germany too – he’s great.

Who do you like to listen to while getting creative?

Holly: There’s a weirdly specific genre of hazy, poppy, girl-led guitar bands that gets me in the perfect head space for drawing. Think Frankie Cosmos, Hop Along, Japanese Breakfast, Tennis, Whitney, Pavement, Ratboys, etc.
James: I have music on from breakfast until I go to bed, so it’s kind of hard to nail anything specific down! At the moment, I’m listening to a lot Shame. I went to see The National last month and so their whole discography has been back in heavy rotation. Drake’s new album is great. I’ve also been getting into the Grateful Dead. Honourable mentions to King Krule, Florist, Camp Cope, Chastity Belt, Khruangbin, Hop Along, Jay Som and Yo La Tengo!

Holly wears:

TOP: Folk

JACKET: Nanamica

TROUSERS: Folk

SHOES: Reebok x Beams

SUNGLASSES: Ace & Tate

James wears:

TOP: YMC X MUNDIAL

TROUSERS: Maison Kitsune

SHOES: Clarks Originals

SOCKS: Folk

CAP: Norse Projects

GLASSES: Cubitts

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