Melanie Lambrick loves to make big and bold, graphic illustrations that elevate text, and help readers understand complex narratives in a variety of print and digital collateral. She grew up in a village on Vancouver Island but now resides in Montréal. Before design and illustration, Melanie worked as an Urban Planner, helping create safer cities for women around the world. She’s the proud mother of 15 flourishing houseplants and one slightly overweight cat.
I think the first time I heard of design (as a discipline and profession) was in high school, when my art teacher suggested I look into it. Back then, I lived in the country and the Internet was in its infancy. Jobs were very straightforward in our community: cashier, real estate agent, doctor, farmer, teacher. Design sounded wildly exotic. I honestly had no idea what it was, but the suggestion stuck with me in the back of my head.
I did an undergrad in political science, but ended up getting a second major in visual art. Being in art classes full-time finally gave me tangible access to the world of design and the philosophies behind it. I was first drawn to book design, architecture, and furniture design. I would design websites for myself or friends, or I’d make show posters, but I never really thought about how these activities could intertwine with my idea of “art.”
I worked for a long time in international development and urban planning; I was always the one who would take on the visuals or the communications work, and when I wasn’t making art regularly, it was a huge creative outlet. It took a long time for me to understand that principles of design could set the foundations for really arresting images, balancing content, purpose, simplicity and gesture. From there, the idea of working in illustration to make this connection really blossomed.
Coffee, breakfast, water and usually (sadly) Instagram and emails. I also try to meditate and/or read the news or something of substance. And cuddle my cat.
There are, of course, hundreds of amazing contemporary illustrators, artists and designers whose work is inspiring for me. But I try to keep that at a distance as much as possible, because if you spend too much time looking at other people’s art and success, you can freeze. Or at least I can.
I love Bruno Munari’s ideas and Paul Rand’s illustrative work. Matisse, Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Saul Bass, Tom Eckersley, Laura Lamm, Christina Malman, vintage film posters and Eastern European stamps… the usual suspects, I suppose. Writing is big for me. Richard Brautigan’s poems help me look at the world anew, as do Anne Sexton’s. I can read Joan Didion forever because her writing is so precise but it creates so much atmosphere and personality—it seems like a magic trick.
I like to listen to specific music to evoke a certain feeling before I start a piece sometimes. A good movie is almost too overwhelming for me as it releases so much imagery all at once. In the end, my top three inspirations these days are probably busy city streets, kids’ art and forests.
Always create work with integrity and joy. Be kind, respectful and open. Leave room for new ideas.
I am still working this out. There are moments when I feel successful—when I work with a “huge name” client, when I get offered a really fun assignment, when another professional I admire compliments me on my work, when I get paid well for a job. However, those things rarely happen all at once or consistently, so it seems pretty silly at this point to attach my own idea of success to them.
I am my own toughest critic, so whenever I make a piece that I’m happy with and that (I feel) contributes to the larger worlds of illustration and design in a meaningful way, I think that’s probably real success.
I left a very exciting career in urban planning and international development after five successful years to “do something more creative.” That was my whole plan. I moved into a tiny studio apartment and gave myself time to work it out. I started out doing photography and graphic design. I worked as a nanny to make ends meet. I ended up in illustration. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision and then I take stock of my life and realize it couldn’t be any other way.
I’ve noticed that whenever I am undermined or treated disrespectfully by a male colleague, I have a moment where I wonder if it’s due to my identity as a woman, or something else. I have that same moment when a client lowballs me with a budget. I think, would they offer this same amount to a male-identified illustrator?
Of course, there are lots of reasons why these things happen in professional settings and gender is just one of them. But it’s a pretty consistent challenge and it takes up a lot of energy just wondering.
As with any profession, I think getting paid what you are worth is a challenge, and more so if you are a woman. Just look at the success of (and backlash against) Ladies Getting Paid. Illustration is exploding at the moment and it seems like there are a lot of women becoming illustrators, which is cool. At the same time, it can be really difficult to get compensated for work that takes a lot of time and experience to make, even from major publications, especially when there is a constant influx of new talent willing to work for less.
I feel like this is an important moment for women in the field to come together and collectively ask for enough money to allow us to make work that is vital, important, thoughtful and interesting for viewers. These days I turn down contracts that are underpaid even if I feel desperate, because I feel we have to work in solidarity to maintain a standard for ourselves and for the industry.