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A Q&A with artist, animator and educator Lily Ash Sakula

by Lily Ash Sakula, Illustrator

Meet Lily Ash Sakula, an artist, animator and educator whose work is inspired by conversations with fellow artists, the groups they workshop with and their grandmother's dance practice.

Over the last year, we have partnered with Lily and Islington's community arts organisation All Change. Here, Lily tells us about working with these local groups, along with some insights into their own illustration practice.

Photograph of the back of three people standing in front of a wall, displaying paintings on the wall. The words New River Head is painted onto a piece of paper on the wall.

What is it that excites you most about your work?

I love seeing something that seemed very amorphous and multi-tentacled coming together into a body of work that makes sense for me or the people I’m working with. It always feels a bit like magic.

What kind of materials do you use?

My work is multimedia and multi-layered, so I tend to use a wide range of materials including inks, watercolours, collage, natural materials, light and anything that will make a mark!

Photo of two people at a table painting, there is a person stood in between them looking and talking to them about their work.

What’s your biggest challenge as an illustrator?

It’s hard to work, hustle for work and make work all at the same time. Part of your brain is always scheming away on the next thing as you are trying to finish the last thing and also worrying about the thing after that. It can be hard to tap into what you are doing and enjoy it. But I do get there eventually.

What collaborations have you worked on recently?

My most recent participatory project was an animated film for the Great Ormond Street Hospital to celebrate the NHS’s 75th birthday. In collaboration with poet Cecilia Knapp, we worked with both staff and patients across the hospital to capture both the joy and pain to be found there. I worked at patients’ bedside collaboratively animating the film. You can watch it here.

Do you have any favourite illustrators?

I love Tove Jansen, Judith Kerr, Maurice Sendak, Isabel Greenberg, Jacob V Joyce, Jhinuk Sarkar, Quentin Blake, Alison Bechdel, Jillian Tamaki, Sam Szabo, Lynda Barry, Elisha Lim, Becca Human, Ben Connors, Tara Booth and so many more.

Over the last year, you have been working with us on a project, regularly meeting All Change's Inspire! and Mums the Word family projects community groups to tell stories about their lived experiences using animation and video making. Also working with poet Cecilia Knapp. What made you want to get involved?

I think illustration is an amazing tool for working with community because it is so versatile to the needs and desires of who you are working with. Illustration can tell intimate stories; it can be a mediation space for difficult conversations; it can be a wide canvas for joyful collaboration or a corner for quiet reflection.

I wanted to stretch my practice to see how I could use illustration in all these different ways.

A photograph of the top of a desk with a vase of flowers on it, a digital tablet and bowls of sand and grains.

How did you approach this project?

I worked mainly with young parents from the All Change programme. Over ten weeks we experimented with a wide range of different animation techniques as we talked about the experience of being young parents, the importance of rest and self-care and shared tips about childbirth and toddler wrangling.

What came next?

We worked with cut-out and collage animation, sand animation, mixed media animation using natural materials, character design, animation and a combination of all these techniques.

For the first few weeks, I brought a different selection of materials and processes to play with and participants gravitated to the ones that worked best for them. Then, we worked on animating a poem about rest, written by the group with poet, Cecilia Knapp.

Photograph of a person creating an animation with a digital tablet on a stand, using sheets of fabric and a drawing of a person. On the table there is a pile of fabric and someone in the background also sitting at the table.

What did you enjoy about working with this community group?

I loved getting to hold all the babies! And hearing the great stories. And seeing the group support each other through some really tough times as well as share the delights of birthdays, full nights of sleep or a proud moment of seeing a child do something for the first time.

What did you learn from the project?

Children get so much of the attention once you become the parent, and so many activities and workshops are aimed at them, but it is so important to focus on the parents as well.

A still from an animation with a two pencil drawn people in the centre layered on top of one another. Strips of colourful fabric lay on top of the drawings, like hair.

What was the outcome of this project?

We made a film called Rest, you can watch it here:

What are you working on next?

I’m starting a queer history project with Charleston in Lewes, working with young people. I’m at the very beginning so can’t tell you much about it yet, but watch this space!

Find out more about Lily's work with All Change

Lily Ash Sakula's website

Image credits:Lily Ash Sakula working with people at St Luke's Community Centre
© Lily Ash Sakula
Rest created by parents from All Change Inspire! young parents and Mums the Word projects, working with Lily Ash Sakula and Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, and Cecilia Knapp and All Change.