Through the mist and over the bridge we have ventured once again to Bristol on a cold December morning, this time to meet with Tallulah Pomeroy, the illustrator and ceramic artist who had recently decided to become a full-time van dweller and self-build her studio at Estate Of The Arts, a new hotbed for Bristol’s creative community. Burnt toast, an inquisitive robin and Tallulah’s smile opened the door to her beautiful inner landscapes and travel stories, to an exchange of questions and thoughts that could have gone on and on for hours.
An artist of many shades creating out of an innate capacity to wander, Tallulah offered us a passionate insight into the ever growing creative community around her and shared with us chapters from her journey to becoming an illustrator, how ceramics offers her yet “another place to draw” and the perks of being a full-time van dweller. After visiting her future studio at the Estate Of The Arts, we stopped by the popular Albatross Cafe, where we engaged in a thoughtful conversation about soulful encounters, meaningful traces and the beauty of the unpredictable over a delicious selection of homemade cakes. Out in the cold and with warm hearts, we said goodbye feeling like snails with our home on our backs, attuned to a brief shower of happiness that occurs almost by accident, in between the cracks of things, just by being nearby.
For those who do not know you, who is Tallulah Pomeroy? Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in London in 1992, and we moved to Somerset when I was 11. My mother is a travel writer and my father’s an artist, so I grew up in a creative house. I was always drawing. I’ve got a younger sister who studies English and Philosophy and is very good at arguing. I studied illustration at Falmouth uni in Cornwall, which was a peaceful by-the-sea time. I say that now, but it’s partly nostalgia, because when I think about it, this time of year was grim - we rarely left our mouldy houses! Summer made up for it, though, and I liked the lack of choice for nights out. When there was an event on, all your friends were there. Since then I’ve moved around a lot, but Bristol’s my home for now. I want to stay put for a bit and prove to myself that I can be steady.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I have lots of memories of living in a campervan when I was aged between 3 and 4. My mum was writing a book about European languages, my dad was taking photos and painting, and my sister was freshly born. Something that sticks out right now is a time I was really scared, I guess those memories stay more vivid when the others blur and mush together. My parents wanted to look at an old cathedral, but I thought that was boring and was determined to stay in the van. After not very long, I changed my mind and went to find them. But when I left the van, I found myself in what I remember as an open square full of people, my parents nowhere to be seen! I started screaming, as loud as I could. A kindly old man sitting on his moped offered me a sweet, but I remembered “stranger danger” and you are never meant to accept sweets off unfamiliar men, especially not if they are sitting on mopeds, so I screamed even louder. My parents recognised my dulcet tones and came running. This is probably quite a vivid memory for them, too. I remember the cathedral was boring after all.
What or who inspired you to pursue illustration?
I loved picture books when I was little, Quentin Blake and Colin Thompson in particular, and I could think of no better job than getting to write and illustrate your own stories. It seemed like creating worlds. My family encouraged my drawing. When I went to my grandmother’s house she’d get out the printer paper and the black biros and I’d sit for hours.
What about your passion for ceramics?
That came later, it never crossed my mind until I saw pottery in St Ives. I bought a few seconds from local ceramicists, and it felt so lovely to own these beautiful things. I liked the idea of making something physical and tactile, but it took a couple of years before I made my own. Really I use ceramics as another place to draw. I’d reached a point, after uni, where I couldn’t draw without the sense that I was looking over my own shoulder. A bowl is essentially crockery; you eat out of it, any decoration is superfluous, so I can do what I want. I really enjoy the circular space, inside & outside. It’s more fun to fill than a rectangle of paper. And I enjoy the process, too. It filled the gap left by printmaking when I graduated. The time spent throwing and glazing is a sort of restful creativity.
Tell us about A Girl’s Guide To Personal Hygiene. What brought this project about and how was it received by the public?
I started the project because I wanted to unearth the dirty truth about the gross things girls do and don’t tell anyone about. When I set up a Facebook group, asking all my girlfriends for the most disgusting stories they had to tell, I didn’t expect there to be such an outpouring. People were really on board with the project which was so encouraging. I get a few people wincing, it’s definitely not up everyone’s street, and I think my grandmother was a bit dismayed at the launch night! The “extended version” of the Guide is going to be published in 2018 by Soft Skull Press (scuse the plug), and they’re based in America, so I’m interested to see how it goes down over there. English people have a penchant for toilet humour, I think, and I wonder if it’ll translate.
What was the most “unladylike” story shared as part of this project?
The one about the threeway & the tampon in the teapot wins for shock factor - I’ll leave the rest to your imagination… but for sheer revelry in grossness, the girl who took a shit in her pants on purpose while on MSN is pretty wonderful.
Tell us about your creative process. How do you go about developing an idea for a new work?
Mostly I work from feelings, things I can’t express exactly in words. So I’ll sit down and see what comes out. Or I’ll be on the train or on my bike and something will pop into my head and I’ll get really excited to start when I get home. The Girl’s Guide occurred to me on the train. I don’t spend a lot of time planning things, because that tends to kill the spark for me. I work quickly or I get distracted! Often I get ideas when I’m sketching, too. It’s like my mind gets in the right state and things come. Mostly I prefer the things that happen naturally, rather than trying to make something based on an idea.
Do you always have sketchbook with you when you travel?
I stopped for a few years, and just had my journal. I think I needed a break from sketching. But the other day I bought a nice sketchbook, one with thin paper, and started drawing again, and it was so lovely. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself, but now I notice I’m better at saying, “oh, interesting, I’m really not connecting with this drawing” rather than being critical. I like it when I’m sketching and I go into this sort of daze where nothing can be wrong because I’m just curious about what my pen has to say about this person in front of me, but that’s rare, and can’t be forced, I know now! So there’s no point getting annoyed when my drawings are a bit stilted and boring. It’s all good for the eye and the hand.
What are your major sources of inspiration?
I’m inspired by my surroundings. When I was in Spain over the summer, with the Los Artistas del Cortijo residency, I was using warm olive grove sunset colours, lilac and ochre. Now I’m using darker colours - Bristol in November - and I’m inspired by lit windows in the evening & the good skies you sometimes get over the city. I also like the old cafes and the dodgy old pubs. You get good characters in greasy spoons.
I also love old design, 1960s children’s books, old European children’s books, Soviet posters, things with good lines and bold flat colours.
What would the dream project be?
I’d like to work collaboratively with other artists and makers to push my work in different directions. I think the dream project would involve me travelling around, meeting people and exploring places, and recording it all in my own way with drawing and writing - but I don’t yet know what that project would be! Sort of storytelling. I also want to make a Guide to Periods, for both girls AND boys. I think the menstrual cycle is beautiful, but most of us know so little about it.
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
My mum told me “you don’t HAVE to do anything.” She probably regretted saying it when I was a moody teenager, but now I bear it in mind if I feel stuck.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I like walking and riding my bike. Gets the blood flowing. You can really pace through ideas. Walking’s for complicated or gentle thoughts, biking’s for light ones or cross ones or for none at all, just looking. I like being around trees. Bristol’s got lots of good parks, and the Bristol-Bath Cycle Path is a wonderful place to bike and think. My bike got nicked the other day though, so I’m feeling restless!
I also like going to gigs. It’s a good feeling, all being there in the same room enjoying the same thing. It’s strangely relaxing.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
Finland or Mexico! Quite different. Finland because it’s beautiful, I’ve met about four Finnish people and they have all been lovely so based on that Finns are 100% lovely, and I like saunas. I went to Finland last year and there was a handmade sauna in an industrial estate. Wonderful naked bodies! We ‒ my sister, my cousin and I ‒ were prudish at first, but then suddenly it’s nothing. In the hottest cabin, an old reddish-brown man wore nothing but a woolly hat ‒apparently that’s how you keep cool! Tove Jansson is wonderful and the Moomins are my idols, although saying that in Finland is probably like coming to London because you love the Queen. I am intrigued by their islands and by the word “sisu”, which I am told means something like “guts” and is to do with self-reliance and strength; it makes me think of cabins in the snow and the forest in the eternal dark of winter. I’d probably have no sisu, I need sunshine. For which I’d move to Mexico. I think it has things to teach me, restrained English girl that I am. I want some of its colour and tequila. Because I have never been there it’s just a shape on the map to me, with a tiny picture of a sombrero and a cactus, so I’d like to discover what it’s really like.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
What goes up must come down, and vice versa. Things change. When you’re a teenager you think, life is going to be awful forever! And then you think, life is going to be wonderful forever! Then you realise neither are true.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Bristol?
There is a strange old cat pub which is unlike anywhere I’ve been before. There are nineteen cats who reside there, having full run of the house, mostly reclining on the bar. They’re probably pissed. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the upstairs recently. We sat in the living room with a couple of logs smoking in the grate and the landlord put Nick Drake on the record player and scooped out food for his furry tenants. There was quite a strong aroma of general cat. But for a nice calm pint I like the Hillgrove best, the Cube always has good films and events, and dancing at the Old Crown Courts is my favourite.
Tell us about the perks of campervan life.
It’s new for me. I’ve had my van since August, but I’ve been a full-time van dweller now for a fortnight, so the novelty hasn’t worn off. It makes me feel like a snail with my home on my back. It is a smaller, slower way of life. Small tasks have to be undertaken with consideration: I pay attention to how much water I use for washing up, when I’m going to have my next shower, and whether I have enough wood to be warm all night. Maybe it sounds boring and frustrating, but there’s something lovely about being conscious of the actions of living. In a house my needs were met without me having to think, so my brain was more useless. It’s not exactly Bear Grylls here in this van, but I do feel closer to the world.
My friends Milly and Bear are my van neighbours. They are more seasoned van dwellers, so they give me handy hints about the importance of thermoses, hot water bottles, and empty pickle jars (or any large jar, for that matter. Nobody wants to resort to a midnight pavement pee). We find lovely leafy spots to park up, and cook each other breakfast. You’d think it would be lonely, living in a van, but you are more connected to people because you’re less self-sufficient. I rely on the kindness of my friends for bathtubs and wifi.
My other favourite thing is being able to drive and not think about where to stop. I’ve ended up in some funny places. You meet good characters where you least expect it. I spent a night in Portishead and went to one of the grimmer pubs I’ve been to lately, and I met a man who was really into Neolithic monuments and Japanese outsider art. He told me a whole list of “must-see sights” of the West Country. I’d never have gone there without the van, and I doubt I’ll go there again, but it was peculiar and memorable. I think you can get more out of spending time in funny out-of-the-way places than big tourist destinations. But maybe that’s just me, I’m into weird pubs.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a new studio space with Milly and Bear. We are building a whole new floor! None of us have done that before, so it’s a challenge, and slightly daunting, especially on very low budgets, but we are all optimistic. We’re envisioning plants, and a baby-pink front door. I want it to be a space where we can spread ourselves out and see where our work is going, bounce ideas off each other, share inspiration and energy, and also get other people involved for big creative group things, showing films on a projector, all of the playing! I’ve been waiting for a space like this for a long time, so it’s worth the work of setting it up.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
I have lots of travel dreams. I want to drive my van to Wales and the Lake District and maybe even to Spain. One day I’d like to go travelling for a long time on my own. I would explore Central and South America, so I want to learn Spanish. I’d also like to walk for three months. I heard that if you walk for three months, you get into a magical state of mind.
In the nearer, more achievable future, I’d like to get better at DIY. I have the perception that I can’t do anything that involves tools or electricity, which is just silly. Making this floor is going to teach me a thing or two.
One day my dream is I’d make my own magazine! Once I made a magazine for pigs. It had an agony aunt column and lonely hearts ads. I was 13, and evidently I had too much time on my hands. Maybe one day that state of mind will come round again. I’d like to write and illustrate children’s books. My childhood dream hasn’t gone away, it’s sitting in there somewhere for the future.
And now a Max Frisch question: What do you need in order to be happy?
Well, this has really made me think. It seems like there are two kinds of happiness: one that’s long-term, that I need things for, like good friends, exercise, a creative practice, and some sense of purpose in my day; and another that just is, and comes in between the cracks of other things, by mistake almost, like on a bike ride in the afternoon and there’s suddenly sunshine on the sides of buildings. The second one feels more intense and lovely, but I need to keep the other things good for it to be enjoyed fully. If I pay so much attention to the things I need to be happy, and forget about looking at the sunshine on the buildings, then I might as well not bother with trying to be happy in the first place.
I’m not sure if that’s an answer, or just a waffle. This morning I was happy because I made a new breakfast, where I heated up tomato passata with chilli and garlic in a frying pan then dropped two eggs in. They stuck to the pan a bit, but it was delicious, the whole bike ride into town I was toasty inside! That’s happiness, I reckon.
Can you recommend us:
A book: Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. You’ll never see girls in the same way again.
A song: Death Cream by Sonny and the Sunsets / I Don’t Know by Beastie Boys.
A film: Harold and Maude. It’s a 70s film where an old woman and a young boy fall in love, but it’s not nearly as creepy as that sounds. It’s about death and sunflowers.
A dish: Nettle Grellier’s smoky aubergine and tomato sauce with spaghetti. The secret is to cook it for a long, long time, until it’s sweet and sticky and coats the spaghetti really well. It doesn’t taste as good here as it did in Spain, with those proper fat tomatoes, but it’s still delicious.