We interviewed Hazel Mead, Cov uni grad and Instagram’s new favourite illustrator

Our new fave feminist artists talks inspiration and Kazzy B

Last week Hazel Mead, a 23-year-old illustrator and Coventry University graduate, went viral on Instagram. A piece of her artwork entitled 'Things you don’t see in mainstream porn', featuring sweat, period sex and struggling to put the condom on, blew up. It's now got 63.3k likes and her Insta has reached 48,000 followers.

The Coventry Tab spoke to Hazel about all things illustration, feminism and, of course, Coventry. Read on to find out what inspires Hazel's art, why she loves illustrating bears in bondage gear and which Cov Spoons is her fave (we had to ask, didn't we?)

So you blew up on Instagram last week, with your 'Things you don’t see in mainstream porn' illustration getting 63.3k likes. How have you been handling this sudden surge in attention?

Not so well to be honest! The sudden nature of the increase in attention shocked me. I’ve been grafting for two years then one illustration took off and now the emails are flooding in, to the point that it’s overwhelming. I am still in the mindset of saying yes to every opportunity that comes my way so I’m going to have to learn to say no.

I’m also dealing with the monster that is imposter syndrome. I keep thinking “I’m a very normal girl”, “what’s so special about me?”, “it’s just luck.” I’m incredibly grateful for the support and can’t quite believe it.

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At Eroticon I went to a talk by @jetsettingjasmine and @kingnoire_ , 2 porn stars and directors of ethical porn. They started by asking the question “What are some things in sex that you don’t see in mainstream porn?” It inspired me to create this piece which includes some of the audience’s answers. Feel free to add to the list! The talk was interesting and centered around how porn is the fantasy, not the reality. Porn has its place but I think there should be better sex education for the younger generations to give a more balanced view of what sex can be: funny, awkward, amazing, emotional, all sorts! I don’t know about you but my sex education was how to put a condom on a banana and a role play about some people going to a festival and discussing having sex. (P.S. I know there is variety in porn out there, this post is particularly about the mainstream stuff!) . . . #sexeducation #feministillustration #sexillustration #art #illustratorsoninstagram #socialchange #feminist #illustration

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Why do you think people responded so well to that one particular illustration?

I think it’s that in a world of fakery, filters, ads that aren’t representative of real life, people respond well to things that are real. Things that they can relate to.

I think this illustration hits on some of these things, and opens up discussions about topics we wouldn’t normally talk about, possibly taboo subjects. Discussing taboo is immensely liberating and seeing moments that you have experienced, such as banging heads during sex, all those funny, intimate moments of life, people like! But who knows?

How did you get into illustration?

I was one of the lucky/annoying ones that knew what I wanted to do when I was six – I wanted to be an artist. My grandpa was a freelance illustrator and a lot of my family are artists and designers. I went through different hopes and dreams as to which avenue of art I would take, I thought about being an animator, a fine artist, a court artist, a political cartoonist.

At Coventry University I studied fine art and illustration. Over the three years I drifted away from fine art towards illustration as I could see more of a clear career path in it for me. After uni I landed an internship at a feminist organisation, VERVE, where I did social media and illustration.

From there I connected with Bloody Good Period, who introduced me to other (mainly period related) businesses and charities. I worked hard and met as many people as I could. I always had other social media jobs (and a Christmas tree decorating job) to keep me afloat but bit the bullet and went full time illustration in December 2018.

Which is your favourite piece of work you have produced recently?

I think it would have to be my piece that I created for LoveHoney’s ‘Screw cliches’ Valentine’s Day campaign. It is a two part image which shows two bears on one page, looking bored with the caption 'Another bear for your boo?' then the next page shows the same bears dressed up in bondage in doggy style with the caption ‘Screw Cliches!' I like being able to add my sense of humour into my work.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I go to a lot of talks and events and am always learning. I read a lot too. I think recently, my personal projects at least, come from anything that makes me feel.

A lot of your work surrounds feminism and body positivity – can you tell us a bit about why you feel so passionate about these subjects?

I want justice and kindness. I want to change society in some way, even if just a little, with my art and make people think. I was not confident in myself growing up and hated the way I looked. Society tells you to be a certain way, that periods are embarrassing, that you should be a certain size and shape to be deemed attractive, that body hair is unsightly, that you shouldn’t sleep around, that you should conform.

There are businesses built on making people believe they’re not good enough as they are. I want to highlight this and use my work to make people, especially younger generations feel more confident in themselves to counteract everything they’re being told is bad about themselves.

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Got some new followers so thought I’d say hi, welcome and thank you to everyone supporting me! My illustration isn’t particularly consistent in terms of style and subject matter and I’m not sure if it ever will be. I have ideas and I do them, I want to do some good in this world before I leave it and I shall be as genuine as possible in life and on social media – I’m trying to be open about my period, mental health, vaginismus and the other taboos of life to encourage others to open up also. I like to draw empowering things, pretty things, hard-hitting things, funny things, things that make you think, things that make you smile, naughty things, and more things that I am yet to explore. I am very grateful to you all for being here while I figure out my art and my life ❤️❤️ Photo above: Me working on @lovehoneyofficial’s #screwcliches campaign. Photo taken by the one and only photographer I trust to take my photo: @vickielickova #illustratorsoninstagram

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We know you studied Fine Art and Illustration at Cov – what was your favourite thing about Coventry as a student?

The art facilities and print rooms in the Graham Sutherland building. Also the cheapness of food and drink.

Describe your uni experience in three words?

Comforting. Liberating. Life-changing.

Which halls were you in?

I was in Singer Halls.

Were they a bit shit?

Noooo! I loved Singer! We had a great cleaning lady, Heather, who we befriended and she did our washing up when she wasn’t meant to. I also met some friends for life there – we were all completely different people but all really got on.

Good times were had in that place. One flatmate would take road signs home on nights out then the following morning would be spent smuggling them out again.

Image may contain: Face, Pants, Apparel, Clothing, Person, Human

Hazel and said stolen road sign

Do you have any advice for students still studying in Coventry?

I found school so stifling and you change so much as a person between 11 and 18 but your reputation sticks till the end – uni is when you can start afresh. Find a friend group that you can be yourself with. If you’re an art student make the most of the studios and workshops!

And just enjoy uni, the lie ins, parties, lack of responsibility, seeing your friends every day. I miss my uni crew now we’re all scattered across the country. Ooh and download the app 'Second a Day’ – it’s a video diary and is a great way to document your time there. I did it for my last year at uni and it’s a nice way to look back at good memories.

What’s next for Hazel Mead? Do you have any current plans or things in motion?

I have a busy April. I have quite a few commissions I’m working on currently and some exciting meetings to discuss illustrating for editorial, sex toy branding, activewear, podcasts, blogs and possibly, hopefully something for Netflix next month – I’m fairly open to anything that aligns with my values.

I’m also writing a talk for one of my favourite design bodies which is exciting. I’m being a bit cagey but I’m not sure what I’m allowed to reveal yet!

Now, a quick fire round: JJ’s or Kasbah?

Kasbah – side room.

Kebab Rush or Benny's?

Wherever did cheesy chips!

Best floor of the library?

Second. Spent a lot of time there doing my dissertation.

Best Spoons in Cov?

Earl of Mercia.