Body of work: the upfront illustrations of Hazel Mead
Hazel Mead, 24 , is remarkable for the range and depth of her amusing, honest, relatable illustrations. Touching on such topics as sex, sexuality, sex education, porn, pleasure and bodies, her “taboo-tackling” art has a playfulness and humour that she says makes it “palatable for British sensibilities”. She counts Netflix, Adobe and Amnesty among her clients – and her work has gone viral. Here Hazel talks to us about the pressures and rewards of being an “illustrator/influencer”, what’s inspired her to be so open and why it’s important to normalise female desire…
ON THE DRAW OF ILLUSTRATING BODIES AND SEX
Since university, I’d been making sociopolitical work. I enjoyed making satirical pieces questioning society and the patriarchy, but I didn’t necessarily realise the extent of my interest in feminist issues. While interning at a feminist company I was taken to some events that evoked strong emotions within me.
I learned about period poverty. I marched. I came into contact with Bloody Good Period, a charity which donates period products to those who can’t afford them, and The Womb Room – they were passionate about improving sexual-health services.
I often felt really emotional in these rooms of women coming together to fight for a cause and I realised how passionate I was about making the world a better place. Illustration is what I knew how to do, so I used that as my method.
ON BECOMING SO POPULAR
My aim was always to be an illustrator – I’m so happy to be making a living from my art. I despise the term influencer, however I do realise that I operate in this strange space of illustrator/influencer. A couple of brands have worked with me because of my Instagram following but hopefully I showed I can back up the following with top-quality work.
Social media has been a great help to get me exposure. Charities contact me and people buy my illustrations. They all feed into each other and that exposure helps me reach new people I’d like to work with.
But it feels murky sometimes. I feel a bit gross when people ask if I can share their products. Then I feel like a marketing tool – that’s something I never wanted. I say no to money a fair bit, which is so difficult, but I think I can keep my integrity. I want people to book me to create similar artwork, not to shove products down people’s throats, and I want to keep creating art that I love making and that is doing some good.
I think some of my work articulates what people think about but might not say. People share my work because of that quality.
Things You Don’t See In Mainstream Porn (above) was my first viral piece. I didn’t expect it to resonate quite that much, but it was shared by some really big names like Jameela Jamil, Paloma Faith and Jessie J. My illustration career really took off from there. It’s my most popular print.
ON SHOWCASING BODY DIVERSITY
I don’t want to be tokenistic. If you’re drawing in a tokenistic way, you’re not likely to develop any character. Instead I clock people in the street, people I know, people in the TV programme I’m watching at the time and add them to my drawings. It feels more genuine than trying to tick a box. If it’s a big piece I try to make sure I’ve covered a wide range of people.
In The Bus Stop, an illustration which is really popular, I look at the highs, lows and mundanity of life – there’s something there which everyone can relate to. I made sure to include a really diverse queue of different ages, genders and races so it was all the more relatable.
Visiting China I became fascinated by face shapes, and when I came back to London I really started to look closer at faces. There’s so much variety and I want to capture it all!
ON HOW REAL LIFE MEETS ART
Although I include boys and men in my illustrations, I find it perhaps more genuine and easier to talk from my personal experience as a woman.
First and foremost the ideas come from either me or a client. If I’m thinking of a piece where I really don’t want to miss anything, I like to run it by a couple of friends around my age to see if there’s anything they’d add. I’m picky about the ideas I put in, so often I’ll say no to their suggestions. They’re prepared for that.
One piece I ran by my friends was The Sex Education We Wish We’d Had (above) – a commission by the Vaginismus Network, which also came up with a list of things they and their friends wish they’d been taught. There was a lot, and not all of it could fit in.
Sex Is So Much More Than Penis In Vagina! was another collaboration with the Vaginismus Network. When I had that lightbulb moment – expressed in the title – I felt a lot more confident. As someone with vaginismus, I’d always put a lot of pressure on myself for PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex. Society’s messaging seems to be that PIV sex is the goal and “foreplay” is just the precursor to the main event. It devalues everything else that might be more pleasurable, that is equally important – and it dismisses lesbian and gay sex. It is outdated.
I did the illustration Masturbation! because I feel we need to normalise female desire to lift the taboo on it. It’s normal and natural, and if young people see more discussion around the subject they may feel less isolated if they’ve been made to feel ashamed about masturbating.
ON PARENTS TALKING OPENLY WITH THEIR KIDS
I’m not a parent myself and I’m big on empathy so I try never to judge people, especially about parenting. I hear it’s incredibly difficult and all you can do is try your best.
My mum didn’t really talk to me about periods, pleasure or sex when I was younger – and I used to be annoyed at her for not being more open. But she was trying her best and she’s the best mum in the world, in my opinion.
As I’ve grown into myself I am able to be much more open – and I want to remove the stigma for other young people so they can feel less shame about things that are natural.