Interview of Elyssa Rider by Sophie Pellegrini
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am a British and Japanese illustrator living and working in the UK. My main drive with the content I create is in pursuing equality and changing culture. I also am a huge advocate for great sexuality education with a consent focus, and I’m working on a set of illustrated resources right now! One of the ways in which I’m spreading the message of equality is through my Instagram account. I realised that a lot of feminist content can be full of academic language or off-putting in other ways, and I wanted to find a way to make it more accessible. I post images of my illustrations and then in the captions I break down one of the facets of intersectional feminism and give a brief overview. I’ve heard a lot of men talk about the word ‘feminism’ itself being a turn-off and so I just don’t mention the word, and continue with the explanations. You can see the posts with the hashtag #elyssasbriefintros. I also use the story function on Instagram to talk about my experiences of racism and sexism and have found it’s been a really useful platform because people don’t find it too affronting. It’s very easy to simply swipe away if the content is too much or not engaging, so people have the freedom to dip in and out.
How did you get started in the arts?
I have to thank my mum for this one! She nurtured and supported my artistic inclinations since I could hold a pencil. She’s a total babe. I just loved drawing when I was a kid and would draw characters from the anime and Disney I would watch, as well as my own creations.
What does your illustration process look like?
My illustration process is always changing because I’m constantly learning and improving but at the moment it often looks like this: draw illustration in pencil, scan image, import to Photoshop, cry in frustration at having still not found the perfect way to deal with line art in Photoshop, ink and colour with Kyle T Webster’s brushes.
What is your favorite thing to illustrate?
WOMEN! Every damn day. I love women.
Tell us more! What is it about illustrating women that you love?
I love illustrating women because I think women are wonderful. I have so much faith in them. They are tenacious, bright, simultaneously tough and soft, capable world-changers, and too often they are overlooked or disregarded. I believe women are under-represented and I always want to be combating inequality in my work, rather than perpetuating it. Being a woman is also my reality, and so expressing that comes very naturally to me. In my recent life I’ve surrounded myself with women and I’m telling you, it’s glorious. We all support each other and lift each other up. We’ve got each other’s backs. We all rise together. (I also love men.)
How does being a woman of color affect your work as an artist?
Hugely, I would say. Firstly, it means that I’m constantly trying to create work that is representative and diverse, to meet the desire of my heart to have my race and lived experience reflected in popular media. I realised when I was a bit younger that if I wasn’t actively combatting whitewashing, then I was contributing to it. I found it incredibly painful when I was growing up, to see no one who looked like me in the media. As women, we are falsely taught from a young age that our only value is in our appearance. But what happens when, on top of that, you are also being brainwashed to believe that Eurocentric standards of beauty are the ones that you need to meet? You get little girls who believe they will never be beautiful, and never have value.
Secondly, it brings a richness to my work because it is informed by a wealth of culture; by double the culture! A lot of artists create work which is influenced by the world around them and all the things they saw and engaged with growing up. I have twice the number of references to call on should I choose, which is glorious!
Lastly, and rather unfairly, it also means that my voice is less likely to be heard, and my work less likely to be seen. Despite being viewed as one of the more liberal fields, the art world is not free from sexism or racism. The work by Guerrilla Girls highlights this really nicely. It’s going to be a real fight to get anywhere with my illustration.
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism for me, is about the pursuit of and belief in equality. It’s about recognising that there are different identities, such as race, class, sexuality and ability, that intersect to make different people’s experience of inequality varied and more challenging. I think there’s a responsibility for feminists to continue to learn and reflect. I will never presume to know everything there is to know about feminism. There will always be something that I am ignorant about. But it’s my responsibility to read up, and also to be humble enough to apologise when I get called out, and change so that I don’t make the same mistake twice. I think it’s really natural and human to feel reluctance when being asked to change, and I do absolutely support the right to free speech. However, practically, my right to exercise free speech is not more important than anybody’s well being or desire to not be marginalised.
Do you have any favorite resources, such as books, instagram accounts, websites, or otherwise that you have found particularly informative in your self-education on feminism?
Yes! But to tell you the truth, most of my feminist learning has been in a private intersectional feminist group on Facebook. I was added by my friend and fellow illustrator @Jessamydrewthat, back in 2014 and I’ve learnt more there than in any other place. When I first joined the group there were only 300 of us and I remember reading some of the posts and finding them so provoking and seemingly aggressive. I just sat and watched silently for months and slowly realised that the reason I was so offended was because I was problematic myself. I hated that I was being called out and having to face my own prejudice and privilege! But I’m so glad I stayed and I tried to improve and develop. I’m actually quite different as a person now although there’s still so much for me to learn!
I have too many things to mention here but I’ll make sure I list some good’ns. For Body Positivity I would recommend @bodyposipanda on Instagram and her book Body Positive Power. For a fuller understanding of race relations and power dynamics, I would recommend the book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge. Here are some feminist Instagram accounts from illustration and sculpture to sex positivity and activist accounts: @Thongria (she’s great for combatting sexual shame), @Makedaisychains (love her boring self care illustrations), @Octoplum (beautiful representative sculpture), @Beauty_redefined (dismantling the idea that women’s value comes from their appearance), @Greenboxshop (activist slogan merch), @Joannathangiah (feminist illustration and Sydney based!), @Daikon.zine (a zine for sharing the experiences of Southeast and East asian Womxn+ in the diaspora), @Mother_Pukka (flexible working rights and general hilarity), @Slaythepatriarchy (unapologetic feminism and memes) and @Jaligram (full of feminist recommendations and art).
How do you like to spend your time when you aren’t making artwork?
My favourite things in life are dancing, socialising, listening to music, singing, and eating! I am definitely an extrovert and get so much energy from being around people, and especially people who really get me. I’m the sort of person who does a lot of reading and tries to store what they’ve learnt to utilise later. One particular thing I’ve taken to heart is an article I read where older people are reflecting on their lives and saying what they would do differently if they had their time again. No one ever says they wish they’d spent more time working. They always say they wished they’d spent more time with family and friends making memories. I’m fully employing this mentality and have let go of rigid plans for my future in favour of living in the moment, doing things I love with people I love, culling the things that hurt me and enjoying being young whilst I am!
How can we keep up with your work?
To keep up with my work you can follow me on Instagram @Elyssa_rider or check my website out, www.elyssarider.com!