How illustration strengthened a sense of self

We caught up with London based illustrator Kei Maye who shared her experience of the ever-growing 'print on demand' market, plus how her journey from print to illustration has strengthened her sense of self.

When did you start illustrating?

I started designing back when I was 14, making websites and learning about coding. Over the years, I started dabbling with editing software and found myself designing graphics for websites, marketing and clothing. I worked freelance while I was at uni for a short while, before transitioning into print design and illustration. I started introducing illustration to my body of work at the start of 2017.

What made you switch from digital to print graphics?

Simply put, I stopped enjoying graphic design. I studied it in university and found I was always ...stifled, uninspired and frustrated by the thought of sticking to briefs and creating on cue. I just don't operate in that way, know what I mean? The transition into print was organic - it gave me the scope to explore and experiment with different mediums and share it with the world at my own pace, in my own way.

How would you describe your experience moving into print design? Especially when it came to monetising your work?

When I first started out, I signed up to quite a few print on demand sites, whereby I would upload my work and the company would produce and print as each sale was made and give me a small percentage. See now, at first - I just wanted my work out there, I thought hey 'free' publicity and a massive platform, along with some money as a bonus. However, over the years, as I became more aware of how things operate in the industry, I started to move away from those type of deals and set about sharing my work on my own platform instead.

© Kei Maye

What made you sell your artwork instead of products?

As far as the products go, I felt the mediums I was using for production were exploitative. I'm currently still tied into a couple of contracts so my old work will remain with them until it's complete, but I want to march to my own beat. Understandably this takes time, material and funding, so I'm setting about sharing my work with using all that I currently have access to.
Before long all of the sites started to feature the same products as one another, and it started to get a little gimmicky, less about the art and more about the money and I just didn't feel comfortable with that.

You're now sharing more illustrative work. What caused the shift?

The work I was producing before was coming from a less confident person, someone who hadn't emerged out of her shell yet. Yes I was inspired by nature and tranquility, and still am – but that was the only angle I was comfortable with expressing. As my voice got louder and stronger, I found there was so much more I had to say, and illustration has allowed me to depict everything in the way I would like. My older pieces used a lot of stock photography and digital manipulation, but I was limited working this way, I hit a wall and had to draw a door to come out of and I've been at it ever since. I'm speaking my whole truth now.

© Kei Maye


Wow, that's so interesting so what do you feel is allowing your confidence to grow?

Honestly, coming out of my comfort zone is what got the ball rolling. I've spent most of my adult life being somewhat of a social recluse, felt a lot of anxiety and unease being around new people and getting involved in new situations, I heard a quote one day that went “If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got" and that really stuck with me and triggered me. I've made a conscious effort to get out there and meet new people, attend more industry events and as a result, I've met some really inspiring, talented people who've motivated me to do more just by being themselves.

That's a good quote. A lot of your new illustrations feature women, who do you base them on?

They're all derived from experiences, daydreams, fantasies, situations that I've either encountered in some way or have thoughts about.

I've had a lot of moments growing up where I've often imagined what it would be like being someone else, or how life would have been had I been born in a different era or world - and some of my illustrations are representative of that.

© Kei Maye

Interesting, they often incorporate a lot of nature is this a conscious decision?

Not really conscious no, as nature has always inspired me in some way, I'm in my most peaceful state when I'm surrounded by nature, it tends to show up from time to time throughout my body of work.


© Kei Maye

You've worked across different mediums is there a new medium that you're interested in exploring next?

I'm open, I love finding new ways to create visuals, I am starting to explore moving image. I’ve just dipped my baby toe in to get a feel for it and I'm interested in developing it more but generally speaking I'm just experimenting, learning new skills and techniques to bring my ideas to life and enjoying it.

That's good, a lot of creatives in our generation are multi-disciplined do you think it's necessary?

I think it's very beneficial to not limit yourself to one area, it gives you the scope to add new dimensions to projects, and create truly unique and fresh material. Necessary I'm not sure, but beneficial, definitely.

© Kei Maye

So what's next for you? Any more exhibitions?

At the moment I'm just finding my feet as I'm still very fresh into illustration. It was great to be given the chance to exhibit at the Roots Culture Identity annual event, I met some cool people to explore possibilities and projects with. I'm going to be opening an art shop, and definitely open to exhibiting more and producing more material 😃


Wicked! If you could give one piece of advice to an emerging artist what would it be?

“Don't be afraid to speak your truth,
speak it unapologetically and be free."


Follow + Connect:

Instagram: @kei_maye

All Illustrations: © Kei Maye

Words: Swakara Atwell-Bennett

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