Tell me a bit about you and your background: where are you from/ where did you study?
I’m from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. I grew up in one of the surrounding villages and had a very ‘countrysidey’ upbringing until we moved closer into town when I was 17.
I went to Pate’s Grammar School and also completed my Art Foundation in Cheltenham at the University of Gloucestershire, specialising in Textiles.
I then moved to London and did a degree in Costume Interpretation at Wimbledon School of Art (now part of University of the Arts, London). This was making costumes for theatre, film and television which involved a huge amount of sewing! I completed an internship and a number of subsequent work placements at Philip Treacy and got super interested in millinery….
I then took a major U-turn and after graduation embarked on a three-month intensive PA course at St James and Lucie Clayton and worked as PA to Dame Julia Peyton-Jones at the Serpentine Gallery. Everyone said if I could do that for a year I could do anything! It was certainly hard work!
After that I came home to Cheltenham and started working for Damien Hirst as PA to the Director of Studios.
I worked for Damien for ten years and it was the most amazing experience. I worked my way up to Assistant Director of Studios and worked as Acting Director for an interim of 9 months. I managed large teams and travelled worldwide working on some amazing projects – the most exciting was a project called Treasures From The Wreck Of The Unbelievable, shown in Venice in 2017. I was in charge of the underwater dive shoot used in the feature length film on Netflix. I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m super proud of it!
What do you feel was the best lesson you learnt while studying? Is there anything that still sticks with you or do you feel you’ve thrown out a lot of advice of tutors as your practice has developed?
My graphics teacher at school told me that ‘if a painting doesn’t look right or sit well with you, look at it in a mirror or bend over and look at it between your legs and the problem will stand out”. Which is so true!
My art teacher told me to “paint what you see, not what you think you see” – which I still use everyday.
My parents told me to persevere –which I do.
And my foundation teacher told me to “stop chatting and do some work”……. Also quite valid.
Have you always wanted to be an illustrator? When you started working ‘professionally’ how did you develop your distinctive visual language which we see in your work today?
Yes I think I have. I went to a really academic school where I concentrated much more on art and sport than I think the teachers wanted me too… and the only discussion in terms of a career in art was that you had to be a fine artist and they didn’t touch on all the thousands of other creative careers that could be pursued. No one ever told me you could paint beautiful fruit or pretty patterns for a living!
I developed my style by painting…. And painting and painting and painting and eventually you see a style and a pattern and a palette that just looks and feels like you. I used to get really annoyed with my work and think ‘it looks rubbish because you can tell it’s by me…” until I realised that’s my style and I should embrace that, not fight it.
What is a day in the life of Milly England like? Tell me about your daily routine...
I’d like to say I get up at 6am and do a yoga class but my gorgeous toddler usually acts as my alarm call! We’re generally up by 5.30am unless she treats me with a 4am call. We do breakfast and get her ready for nursery or a day with my parents. I then whizz home and make a peppermint tea and settle at my desk.
I have a painting desk and a computer desk which I switch between throughout the day.
When I’m working I’m not great at remembering to do anything else – like eat! I think my husband thought I’d be well up to date with the washing by working from home but I totally forget about everything else until I leave to pick up my daughter at 5pm!
Once we’re home and Daisy’s settled and in bed, my husband or I will cook and then if it’s a working evening I’ll go back up to my studio and continue on my current project.
Do you have any rituals or daily routines to help get you into the right mindset?
I inhale peppermint oil when I wake up that really invigorates me, I then start the day with a hot water and lemon.
I like to have peppermint tea at my desk and sometimes an emergency hot chocolate!
Any ideas I have I write them down or sketch them as soon as possible, I keep a sketchbook to hand which really helps.
I have a big bottle of water at my desk and if I’m not feeling totally in the zone I’ll spend ten or fifteen minutes playing with a surface pattern, making marks on the paper and just playing with the paint before I settle into my current project.
Have you experienced any major significant moments in your career to date?
Working for Julia Peyton-Jones, working for Damien and then signing up with Lipstick have been my greatest achievements.
Talk us through your studio / work set up – what are the most important items in your creative toolkit?
I work from our spare bedroom at home which is perfect. On the days that I look after Daisy, I can then work into the night and also at the weekend so I can work full time flexi hours.
I mostly use gouache in my work and super smooth botanical drawing paper which I love – I like it to be bright white. I work upright on a drawing board, not flat. I also sometimes use Faber Castell and Caran D’Ache crayons in my illustrations. In the past I’ve used a lot of watercolours and also acrylics, but I’ve found that gouache is my favourite.
I photograph my originals with my Oympus Pen camera – I find I get a much better representation of the colour that way rather than scanning it. I then use Photoshop to compile images. My work is probably 90% painting and 10% digital.
I use a large desk planner to stay organised – I prefer spreading out on paper rather than keeping everything on my computer.
Where do you live and how does the city / location / your surroundings inspire your practice?
I live in Cheltenham in the Cotswolds. It’s a really pretty town with lots going on, festivals, events, whilst being situated at the bottom of the rolling Cotswold hills, picturesque villages and nature. So I have the best of both worlds in terms of inspiration. It lends itself to the changing seasons, flowers, farmers markets etc.
Also it’s so central that it’s super easy to drive somewere new or hop on a train to London, Bath, Devon, etc whenever I need more inspiration.
If you could trade professions for a day, what would you do instead?
I’d love to do something with lots of travel – like a wildlife photographer, or searching for beautiful fabrics in India, or something glamorous in New York…. But I suffer from crippling home sickness so I’d have to do them for only two weeks at a time!
Do you have any secret passions ?
Scouring charity shops and car boot sales for treasure.
Fonts and patterns.
Health and well being – I work on this continually.
What social media platforms do you use, and do you feel social media is very important to your practice?
I have a private pinterest page mainly focusing on interiors but I use my Instagram loads to show my work.
Instagram has been so important to my work – mainly seeing all the other artists and illustrators and creatives, doing what they love and having the confidence to show it to the world. It took me so long to even join Instagram let alone put my work on there…. It’s really served to help me and my business grow and I get most of my business and enquiries from there.