The Girl off Kanagawa
The Girl off Kanagawa, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

By Chris

One of the great joys in writing Artist’s Cove articles is discovering the subjects. I’ve had talented people recommended to me, and I have stumbled upon them on my own. Phoebe fits into the latter category. Browsing one evening, I happened across her work, and was instantly hooked.

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White Moon, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

My introduction to her digital art was a piece called White Moon. An effort from her latest series, White Moon features a woman seated against a stark red background with a white crescent moon looming overhead. The series to which this it belongs features both this woman (named Kami) and her more spirited counterpart (named Akami) in various forms of expression. The two represent a yin-yang effect, and are used to portray the relationships we have with ourselves, as well a variety of external themes.

“Some of the themes I hope to explore in more detail are loneliness/isolation, mental health, gender and sexuality,” she mentions in my interview with her.

“I would like to mention that the complexity of thought behind each piece varies. Tea? arose because I had finished making a teapot in the studio that afternoon; Kami’s hair is simply acting as a medium of action. In contrast, Spectre was built upon the foundation of many different thoughts all layered upon one another. The finished piece itself is simple in composition and execution, but the jagged black moon, the ensnaring hair and the cut of the clothes are all subtle elements that symbolised distinct thoughts as I was drawing. These elements and others will recur and change in later pieces. For instance, notice the merging white and black moons in Ennui.”

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Ennui, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

While she has impressive technical skills at her disposal, her current series opts to focus on a style that provides her with the most creative freedom.

“For me, yes, there is more creative freedom when I focus less on technical execution. I have always enjoyed rendering faces and bodies in a style that is as close to realistic as possible — it is a way to challenge myself, to push for more detail every time. However, that drive for realism has tended to tip negatively into art that I want to use to convey concepts and thoughts. I used to fret over the execution, and would sometimes change elements of the paintings for the worse, creatively, to ensure a better aesthetic finish. With this series I have tried to blow caution to the wind and just produce the work, and whilst drawing I am trying not to care if I mess up some elements of each piece.”

Phoebe undergoes constant experimentation to find the balance between technical execution and the freedom that gives life to Kami and Akami.

Perusing her gallery, one can see this turning point in her style. The piece Kanagawa Dreamin’ is a testament to both her technical prowess and the influence of Japanese culture in her work.

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Kanagawa Dreamin’, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

“[Kanagawa Dreamin’] marks a definite tipping point in my work. This piece features the first appearance of Kami, the character with round red cheeks. She has been the main subject of most of my art since. Her physical appearance does vary according to my mood, as does the style I choose to draw in, but the red cheeks (symbolising the Japanese flag), the long black hair, and the red-black-white colour scheme are the distinctive features of this line of work.”

Phoebe sites ukiyo-e artist Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa as the creative seed of this piece. She had been thinking of Hokusai’s work while dreaming of life in Japan. Taking this seed of inspiration and growing it into something entirely her own, Phoebe created a piece with which she has been immensely satisfied.

“Kami’s hair acts as a medium through which I can express thoughts or actions, and in this piece her hair gives rise to Hokusai’s waves, as I was thinking of his work whilst drawing. Kami gazes longingly toward Mount Fuji, hoping to one day make its soil her home. However there is some bitterness in her expression, which is enforced by the boat being swept up mercilessly by the waves. This is a reflection of some of the struggles I have had with the Japanese language and certain elements of the culture.”

Stumbling upon Mark Crilley’s YouTube channel, Phoebe was first exposed to manga, and she subsequently took an interest in Japanese culture.

“A domino-effect was triggered. I went to university after finishing school to study Japanese Language and East Asian Studies, aiming to move to Japan once I graduated. I left university prematurely due to unforeseen circumstances, but I still aim to live and work in Japan at some point in the future. Japanese culture is now such an important part of my every-day life that it naturally flows into my art, ceramics and writing.”

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Tea?, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

Digital art is not the only medium though which Phoebe expresses herself. An aspiring writer, she is on her third novel, and closely guards the details of her hitherto unpublished works. She does, however, reflect on her early days in this storytelling medium.

“I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, and I stuffed it with too much of my ludicrous imagination – it’s jumbled and confused. It still needs heavy editing, but even so I won’t publish it. I learnt a lot about pace and large-scale plot structure from the first novel.”

“The second novel was much more refined in plot and ideas — much simpler and cleaner. I was seventeen when I finished the first draft, and I was happy with it. It’s still magical, but focuses much more on the human elements of the main characters, and on their bond. I hope to publish it one day, after further editing. It contains a lot of what I adore in life — art, ceramics and music — and despite being a relatively typical love story the ending is quite dark and much more true-to-life than any other aspect of the story.”

Though the specifics of her ongoing project are kept from even those closest to her, she did reveal some of its details with me.

“I am around three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my third novel. Again, the world the story is set in is saturated with magic, and the main characters each have a special power. There is nothing original about magic anymore – it seems someone else has thought of all the ideas before, in some shape or form – but I enjoy using it as a tool to add another dimension to my characters. I focus a lot more heavily on the interplay of human relationships now, and after making some close LGBT friends I’ve started to include issues they deal with in my writing, as well as in my art.”

On top of her growing digital portfolio and novels, Phoebe has also developed a passion for ceramics. At seventeen, her mother enrolled in a series of ceramics classes. Soon after, her mother stopped attending, and Phoebe took her place. She quickly fell in love with the medium, particularly with the primal feel of working with clay and the satisfaction of working in a three dimensions.

“I have an incredible teacher who I am so lucky to have met, and I will be forever thankful to him for introducing me to an art form that is now such an important part of my life.”

As for the future, Phoebe has hopes of studying ceramics at an undergraduate level. Her current series of digital art is also going strong, with Kami and Akami continuing to explore their relationship, piece by piece.

Phoebe’s DeviantArt Page

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