In These Times: Pandemic Conversations – Lucy Topping


Creative students aren’t getting the recognition for how we’ve adapted.” For our latest In These Times series in partnership with Liverpool John Moores School of Graphic Design & Illustration, we spoke to second-year student Lucy Topping about adapting and making the most of extraordinary circumstances…

The Double Negative: Are there any reoccurring themes that you’re raising in your work, intentionally or on reflection?

Lucy Topping: When I reflect on my work it’s easy to fit each piece into two categories – the meaningful stuff and the things I just find fun. In terms of the more message-based work, I focus on themes that are personal to me. They are things I’ve experienced myself or seen in the news that I want to talk about and highlight the importance of. For example, some of my work is centred around my experience with social anxiety. Other pieces are influenced from things my closest friends have experienced. I’ve recently done small pieces based on the introduction of pronouns to Instagram profiles and the murder of Sarah Everard. I think if you’re going to do work with a particular message or theme it has to reflect the views and beliefs you’re most passionate about.


TDN: You work in a really accessible, graphic novel/comic-book style – can you tell me about that?

LT: I’ve always worked in styles that I enjoy being a consumer of. For example, I love cartoons, animated movies and illustrated novels and these were my earliest interests in art. I love looking at art that has lots of bright and pastel colours and this is reflected in my work. The Disney movie Tangled was especially formative in my style and it remains probably my biggest stylistic influence to this day. I think this is really important to always improve and keep developing my practice. If I’m working in a style that I love looking at, then I’ll never find myself stuck. There’s always so much more out there.

“If I read a book then I’ll spend a week drawing the main character”

TDN: Who or what inspires you?

LT: I find inspiration from anything I’m interested in. It depends on the day! If I read a book then I’ll spend a week drawing the main character. Same with movies and TV shows, or music I listen to, and most of my drawings are examples of this. The Instagram explore page is also good for finding inspiration! Recently I’ve been following a lot of environment artists on Instagram who use bright colours in unique ways. I love Angela Pan’s Instagram account and Jasmin Lai’s work and they’ve inspired me to try and do more landscape illustrations.

TDN: How do you feel your practice has been affected by recent events globally and nationally?

LT: Obviously, there’s been a lot of limitations with what work students are able to create without access to a studio, and that’s been a huge disadvantage throughout the pandemic. I know myself and a lot of people on my course have had moments where we think a piece would look so much more effective if it was done in a specific printmaking style or professionally photographed, for example. We’ve all had to adapt to that. Fortunately, a lot of my work is digital based. I like playing around with a variety of mediums and exploring new ways of creating but my practice has mostly been digital since the pandemic started. It’s allowed me to improve a specific skill but also hindered me in some ways too as I’ve not had the chance to experiment.


TDN: What approach will you take to your future learning, how has this experience changed you’re understanding of being a student and being in education?

LT: Not taking resources or being in the studio space for granted! We’ve lost a whole year of in person teaching and creative students aren’t getting the recognition for how we’ve adapted. This experience makes you realise that you can create anywhere. People are making tiny studios in their student accommodation, taking over their kitchen tables – it’s not ideal, but we’ve done it! I only have my third year left and fingers crossed that we will be fully back to the normal, in studio sessions. I’ll definitely make the most of that studio time!

TDN: Have there been any positives to studying a practice-based course during a lockdown? Has this experience opened up any possibilities or opportunities you wouldn’t have considered before?

LT: During lockdown I’ve really focused on improving my digital art. It’s lucky that we have so much immediate access to things like Procreate, which has been my main process throughout the past year. Without lockdown I don’t think I’d have spent so much time on it! This is especially relevant to my animations. I’ve tried it before but this year I was able to really explore it in depth and make something that felt like my work, rather than just experimenting with animation. I managed to find a style that felt like me. Without lockdown I wouldn’t have had that opportunity, and then I wouldn’t be doing this!

“I feel a lot less pressure with sharing my work on a public platform now”

TDN: Have you learned anything new about yourself and/or your process?

LT: Before anything else, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. In the past I spent way too much time trying to force some deep meaning on my work, or thinking that it had to say something profound if I wanted it to be received well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if your work does that! But you can’t force it. Sometimes it will mean a lot and sometimes you’re just making work about something you think is funny. Both are important. That was a huge learning point for me this year, and I feel a lot less pressure with sharing my work on a public platform now.


TDN: Do you have anything you’re working on now, or something on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?

LT: There are a few summer projects that I’ll be starting soon which are going to be fun! Other than that, I’m always working on smaller pieces that I will be sharing on Instagram. Consistently creating is the most important thing when you’re trying to improve your artwork. I want to spend the break from university doing more experimental, physical art too. Just really having fun with it and making the most of the time off!

As told to Mike Pinnington

Check out more of Lucy’s work. All images courtesy Lucy Topping

This profile is part of the series In These Times, a partnership between LJMU Graphic Design & Illustration and The Double Negative. Acknowledging the profound difficulties posed to students in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the series recognises outstanding work produced during this challenging time. Profiles of students selected by their peers will be published between April and June 2021.

Posted on 28/05/2021 by thedoublenegative