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Hazel Mead Is Illustrating Sex And Periods From A Female Perspective
We spoke to Hazel about her feminist-activist illustration, her career, and her favourite artists
Feature 03 Dec 2019

In recent years the world has become kinder to women. Where once we were bombarded with images of airbrushed beauties with perfect and unattainable bodies, diversity is on the rise, and many industries are trying to give ladies the same platform as men. And while that seems great, if you look beneath the surface, a lot of work is still to be done. Yes, not every model is a size 0 anymore, but there is so much more than just visibility that needs to be spoken about. For instance, we still hide our periods and any inkling that we might enjoy sex and, despite gradual changes in the fashion industry, we still strive to live up to unrealistic beauty ideals. Illustrator Hazel Mead however, uses her art to challenge this, creating campaigns about periods, porn and generally what it’s like to be a millennial in the 21st century. We spoke to Hazel about her feminist-activist illustration, her career, and her favourite artists.
Photograph Vickie Licková
When did you first start drawing?
I’ve always loved drawing and making since I was a toddler and reportedly said that I wanted to be Walt Disney when I was 6. I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist in some form, which has changed over the years from animator to court artist to fine artist, and I eventually carved out a path as a freelance illustrator. 
Why do you think it’s important to empower women through your art?
At first I was just drawing for me – my observations about the world or for charities and causes I believed in. I didn’t think so much about the effect it was having on others. As women and girls started getting in touch and thanking me, saying my work gave them confidence about themselves, I realised how my art could impact others. I kept making similar work around feminism, but especially subjects that I’ve had to figure out as I’ve grown into myself such as periods, masturbation, body image and mental health. I felt very shameful about my period growing up, for my body parts I didn’t like, for masturbating etc. and if I can help others feel less ashamed of being human, that can only be a good thing!
porn A3 hazel mead
Your work is really honest about being a young woman and also about issues surrounding gender, technology, identity and sex. Why do you think it’s important to shed light on the real struggles of life in 2019?
If no one is talking about real struggles then everyone feels alone. I have mixed feelings about living in the social media age. It has created a very surface level culture whereby people are curating a highlights reel to showcase how perfect their life is – photos of great holidays, “perfect bodies”, cute relationships, instagrammable breakfasts. That side of social media can be detrimental to mental health as people can compare and question why their own lives aren’t perfect. I think that’s why a lot of my work seeks to tackle taboos that people are a little afraid to bring up themselves – sex, mental health, periods, postpartum bodies – I hope that my illustrations provide people with a place to start discussions and help them to realise they’re not alone in these taboo matters. When I started opening up to friends about my experiences that I’d been ashamed of before I discovered that we were all going through similar things, just not talking about them. Once we shared we felt closer as we were no longer hiding a part of ourselves. It was liberating. I also think we can harness the power of social media for good by starting conversations. 
the ironyWho are your art SHEroes?
Molly Crabapple ALL THE WAY! I’ve admired her for years. She has raw talent, can draw from imagination, has a gorgeous style of drawing, is so eloquent and inspiring and draws such a range of things – editorial, comic books, political protest banners. She’s also a journalist, used to be a Burlesque performer, set up Dr. Sketchy’s anti-art school which combines burlesque and life drawing, created gorgeous political illustrations and uses her art as a vehicle for her voice. She’s an incredible woman and artist and I have one of her prints on my wall – my first art investment. 
What advice would you give to young girls trying to pursue a career in the arts?
It’s a hard slog but there are many routes, look into them all, see what you’d enjoy. Work out if you’re the type of person that needs the security of a steady paycheck, a 9-5 and the sociability of some work colleagues or whether you could deal with the freedom, instability and self-discipline required of a freelance life or whether a part-time job which gives you some guaranteed income and some flexibility would work best for you. There are pros and cons to all of them and no option is the wrong one. Don’t give up! The first year after uni was tough for all of my classmates, most people didn’t keep up the art. Those who did try to create a career in the arts found it was rejection after rejection. Turn that rejection into fuel. Keep battering down the doors until someone lets you in and gives you that first job. If you’re addicted to art and love the hustle, it will happen. 
There are also many people that look down on the arts. Well, you can tell them that robots are gradually replacing humans in jobs, but creativity is irreplaceable and will be highly sought after in the future.
bus stop final copy
What is the favourite work you’ve made?
‘The Bus Stop’ AKA ‘You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives’. It was based on a thought that I often have when I’m sitting in a coffee shop/waiting at a bus stop – I look at people and wonder what they’ve lived through in their lives, what job they have, what trauma they’ve experienced, whether they’re on their period, whether they’ve just had a break up, what they’re thinking about. I then also use this thought if I get annoyed with someone being rude; this thought makes me more empathetic as a person. I decided to turn it into an illustration and come up with a different story for each character. I wanted to make it very diverse, and to sum up and juxtapose the high, low, and banal moments in life. I added little funny touches with guessing what the pigeon would be thinking and a narrative with a woman going on a blind date with the man at the front of the bus stop. Adding small details to an illustration is my favourite thing to do and then seeing if people spot them. I also made the colour scheme into a rainbow so was really happy with the look, the message and the whole piece, plus my patience I had with it as it took 75 hours to create.
And what is your favourite artwork someone else has made?
Argh. There’s a really great piece and I can’t re-find it, and can’t remember who created it so if anyone knows the piece please send it to me. It is about the media. The first image depicts one stick man’s arm punching another stick man in the head. The second image zooms out so you can see the entire scene and your perception changes as you can see the stick man doing the punching is actually the victim and is defending himself as the other stick man has a knife. It’s such a clever piece that shows how the media focuses on a small part of an event and can skew our perception of what happened. I love editorial illustration the most as it’s always inspiringly clever. I’d love to draw for The Guardian one day, but still trying to get an ‘in’. 
IMG_0032 copy
Photograph Vickie Licková
Any tips for freelancers?
Go to events about subjects you’re interested in and go alone so you’ll be forced to talk to new people – your people. Befriend people. Freelancing is lonely, it’s nice to have friends, also you never know who might need your skills at some point in life. Stay on top of your finances, save and organise your receipts and don’t wait till the end of the year to file your tax return. It’s very easy to work and work and burnout for fear of wondering where the next pay check will come from. Don’t forget that a perk of being freelance is you can have a random Wednesday off. And you don’t need to justify to others or feel guilty about doing so – easier said than done. Something I’ve started doing is taking out the phrase “No worries if not” and all my apologetic language in emails – it’s a confidence thing but it’s a good idea to portray confidence, even if you don’t necessarily have it. 
Artists we should have on our radar?
I feel like I’ve mentioned Molly Crabapple a lot – as you can tell, I’m a fan. There are so many artists I love: Jenny Holzer for her poetic statement text pieces, Malika Favre who creates magic with colour, David Shrigley for his profound nonsensical pieces, Sara Shakeel for a dose of glittery goodness, Ben Tallon for his bold inky sketches and an artist that should be much more widely recognised: Harri Golightly who creates art with strong feminist messages. Her thoughts that accompany her pieces are mini essays in themselves and really make you think about the injustices in society. 

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