DIGITAL ILLUSTRATOR | KEI MAYE

“When I do get that time to create, I sort of savour those moments to just have some peace, like a calm in the chaos.”

– Kei Maye

Kei is a North-London based Digital Illustrator who also works part-time as a teacher.

Her pieces are a depiction of her thoughts, observations and sources of inspiration and irritation.


What kind of studio spaces appeal to you?

When I’m creating, I just need to be in my own little space. When I’ve got people around me, I get distracted very easily and also, I don’t know, it’s this weird sort of feeling like you’re being watched which I don’t really like. However, I know others thrive in that sort of working environment where they can bounce ideas off each other or maybe get inspired by what they see around them, so I guess it’s a case of finding a balance and maybe offering a mixture of both communal workspaces and something more isolated.

I get what you mean, I have spoken to other artists who feel quite lonely but also others who absolutely love those working environments…

I guess it depends on the person – I love my own company, but some people can’t stand it as they feel they need to be around people all of the time. I don’t know, it’s a strange one because I’m around people quite a lot considering that I love my own company, so when I do get that time to create, I sort of savour those moments to just have some peace, like a calm in the chaos. I can understand, because obviously if you’re by yourself day in day out, I guess it can get hard. I think because I don’t do illustration full time and have a job where I’m surrounded by hundreds of people on a daily basis, it’s quite nice to have that time to myself.

So, where do you create personally? Is it in your home?

Yeah in my room. I literally just close the door, put my headphones in (I cannot create without music), and then I just get lost in it. Usually, I work at night time, so I tend to have the blinds down and everything; like a little cave. I must look like a little vampire in there, just drawing away.

It’s good that you work well in that space and can have the opportunity to move away from it when needed because of your other job…

Yes because sometimes you can feel like there is no escape, no reprieve, you’re just there, surrounded by your work. I did have an Etsy for a few months and then I had all this stock in my bedroom taking up space, and it’s not the biggest of rooms, so you can feel like you’re drowning in your work at times. That being said, I can’t imagine how it would feel if that was all I had right now, I think I would go mad.

You mentioned before we started the interview that you’re considering moving away from London, you know, what would you suggest to artists, or what would you suggest to developers to keep the artist community here?

Make it cheaper, because that’s literally my personal biggest barrier that I’m facing – finance. It’s ridiculously expensive already and it’s progressively getting more experience as the areas are getting more developed – everything is brand new. Just down the road from me, they have rebuilt the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, so that’s hiking up the price of everything and ultimately making everything less accessible. I recently looked up some studio spaces near me and it was like £650 a month or something like that, and I was like that’s more than rent, in some cases, it depends where you live. It’s a lot of money.

It is a lot of money, especially when you’re working on a freelance basis which can sometimes cause uncertainty in finances. I think that is what has almost been taken away from a lot of artists as well, they aren’t able to put all of their energy into their art as they need to do another job to simply survive…

Yeah, you get tired. One thing that I noticed was a lot of them said it had to be a minimum year contract and it’s like I think that should definitely be reduced because as you say, you don’t know what’s coming in month after month, unless you have a steady job, and if you have a steady job, 9 times out of 10, you’re not going be able to have that much time in a studio.

What do you think is affordable studio space? In terms of what you need, I know some of the artists I’ve spoken to have said all they need is a sink, warmth, space, and windows, you know, it’s not like the artists are asking for a lot – what’s your take on this?

No exactly, I mean in my case, because I am a digital artist, all I need is space and somewhere, because I wanna maybe like start filming videos and things, but my room is ugh, because it’s my mum’s old room, she refuses to move her things from out of there, so it is very cluttered and I can’t record in that space.

It’s very tricky because I work part-time, so I work Tuesday to Thursday – the pay is terrible, for all the work we do as teachers, I think if I were a full-time teacher the pay would still be terrible like teachers just aren’t paid enough. Anyway, then I’m left with two weekdays, but on those two weekdays I’m often having to do planning, marking etc for those lessons, so in terms of finding another source of income, it’s difficult because, for those two days when I’m supposed to be off, I’m not really off. As an artist, affordability is a difficult thing to sort of summarise or break down to a specific figure. I do just think that anything over £500-600 is just too expensive.

Have you found any space in London that you’re interested in?

I did use a website that provides access to different spaces around London, but there was a really long waiting list and was always fully booked so I kind of gave up with it. It made me think that I’m just gonna go on with my life and just try and make my own opportunities but it has been tricky.

So how would you communicate with developers and what would you say to them?

I need a space that’s bright and airy and allows me to film and create. Yeah, I don’t need any fancy technology, I can bring my own, that’s literally it. But to charge ridiculous amounts for space, a little space, you know it doesn’t need to be massive, but that’s literally all I would say because that’s all I want. A lot of the artists I speak to don’t really want much either, they just want a space that’s affordable and that will allow them to do all the things they want to do.

So based on how it is currently, what do you think the future of studio spaces will be in London?

Well, the state of London in general I think is just getting more and more expensive. In my opinion, it’s getting worse, which is why I’ve been really heavily considering moving because I personally can’t see it getting any better. I don’t want to get all political here, but in terms of who is running this place and making all these choices for budget cuts, in the places where they shouldn’t be cutting budgets, I just can’t see the situation getting better anytime soon. It sounds really morbid but more and more people are just jumping ship – they’re leaving to go to places like Manchester and Birmingham where it’s cheaper.

I know that recently a lot of artists have been moving further north because they’ve got the old warehouses, that have been converted into studio spaces…

That would be my dream, I’ve always said I’d love to get a big massive warehouse to do my work. It’s frustrating because there are SO many buildings in London that could be used in a similar way – this area is the first area I’ve seen in a long time that has so much open space and the marshes, but everything is just so packed in together, you know, there’s no breathing space, so areas like Nottingham, Manchester and whatever, you’ve got the wider space; you’ve got the buildings just sitting on the side of the road waiting to be used, but here they’re all turned into new-builds or Costa Coffees and that’s about it you know. There’s nothing left.

But how do you think your art would be impacted if you moved away from London? Do you think you ‘d be missing out?

I have considered that, but then I always said to myself, do you know what, I’ll just take a train down from Manchester – I’ve mapped out times and everything. In terms of my artwork, it is literally a result of whatever I’m thinking at the time, so wherever I am, I think my artwork will, always be coming from the same sort of place. I mean, I don’t know, subconsciously, it might be affected by what’s around me I don’t know, but what I do know is that my moods drive a lot of what my work is so…

It would be a shame if London lost all of its artistic talents though…

It would be a shame. Since doing my illustrations from 2017, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of creative collective and communities, like Creative Debuts (love those guys) – they provide exhibition spaces for those of us who may not find it as accessible and they charge nothing. They have even said “sometimes we might even lose money doing these events”, but they still do it because they believe that everyone should have a voice and be given an opportunity.

Now in galleries, a lot of galleries, I don’t see the kind of artwork I see online. It just isn’t accessible; you either need thousands of pounds or you need to already be represented by a gallery… So I think gallery spaces need to be more inclusive in order to prevent the art culture from dying down as no one can afford it. If they open up their spaces, then the likelihood of people staying and contributing in a more diverse way will be greater. I feel like we are getting blocked out at the first hurdle, so then it causes some people to just give up – they will just keep art as a hobby instead of enforcing it as a career move because they need to live. Others, like myself, are considering the alternative; moving elsewhere.