WORDS BY LARA SHINGLES // ILLUSTRATIONS BY LILI THOMAS
Welsh-born, Southampton-based illustrator, Lili Thomas, creates attention-grabbing artwork which strongly reflects the values she upholds as a woman, and promotes female empowerment, living unapologetically and understanding self-worth.
All important themes that continue to be explored and inspire positive change in society, but surprisingly landed Lili in hot water and led to her artwork being removed from her MA exhibition the night before it opened, after it was deemed ‘not family-friendly’.
Peachy Magazine caught up with Lili to talk about her approach to illustration, the importance of unlearning things and how her MA experience has solidified her commitment to drawing a brave path forward.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became an illustrator.
As a child, I always liked being creative and told my parents that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. An artist or a doctor actually, which are two wildly different different jobs. But I don’t like blood, so that was the end of that.
I moved from Wales to Southampton to study illustration at Solent University, followed by a masters in visual communications. My masters really helped me develop my style and decide what I wanted to focus on.
How would you describe your style and approach to illustration?
My approach involves getting inspired by as many different things as possible. Whilst my sense of humour plays a massive part in my style. I’ve always been very dry and opinionated; If I’ve got something to say, I will – and illustration is a really great way of doing that.
Who or what has the biggest influence on your way of thinking now, and is there anything you’re currently fascinated by that is feeding into your work?
I’m really lucky to work with a lot of strong women. The conversations we have really inspire me; It’s a beautiful feeling when you’re around so many people who you can bounce off. Learning about different cultures and their views on feminism and women also influences me.
What I find really fascinating though, is that you can surround yourself with only like-minded people but still walk down the street and be catcalled or have people shout really racist, sexist or homophobic remarks towards you.
That always fascinates me more than thoughts and opinions that are more comfortable to me. I love learning new things, but I think that unlearning things is even more important.
I always encourage others to have the guts to unlearn things, and things they think are true or right. Taking that initiative and being able to think for yourself and from a different perspective is so great because it allows you to open up your own mind and pass that onto other people.
You’re very active on Instagram. Talk to me about how you use social media to share and promote your work, and what kind of an impact it has had on your career.
I mostly use Instagram to share my work because it’s such a visual platform, but it’s also a great source of inspiration and support.I received so much support on social media after my artwork was removed from my MA exhibition, which helped me regain my confidence and carry on.
What I would say is that if you’re using social media a lot, it’s important to realise that it can be a negative space as well as a positive space. If you think it’s becoming a negative space for you, take action. I make an effort to follow only positive accounts that inspire and teach me things.
For your MA exhibition, you submitted an illustration of a hand with its middle finger up, accompanied by the words ‘this is ladylike’. It ended up being removed from the exhibition because it wasn’t family-friendly. How did you process that decision, and has it made you more or less likely to censor yourself?
It’s funny because I think I’m still processing it. It happened a while ago now, but it’s still something that I look back on and think about all the things I could have done differently.
I almost felt jumped because I was only told the evening before the opening preview that my work wouldn’t be included in the exhibition, and yet I’d shown everybody who was involved with the exhibition my work and asked if it was going to be ok. We talked about where it was going to go and if I was precious about how I wanted it hung.
If I’d been told sooner that it wasn’t ‘appropriate’, I could have given them something different, but that would have taken away from the theme of the project, which was to not care what people think when you’re a woman.
The whole experience made me realise that there is still a very long way to go. I don’t know who made the decision, but somebody decided that that particular gallery or audience wasn’t ready for it. It’s motivated me even more to do what I want to do and I’ve become even more uncensored.