Maisy Summer’s fascination with illustration began from a young age. Like any other British girl growing up in the 90s she was obsessed with author Jacqueline Wilson. What really brought the books to life for her though, were Nick Sharratt’s distinctive illustrations of her favourite characters like Tracy Beaker. “Nick Sharratt was probably the first illustrator’s name that I knew,” she says. “Some of the books were on quite tricky and sensitive issues, yet the illustrations were inviting and allowed you to connect with the books at a young age.”
Summer’s original plan was to get into graphic design, but after moving from her hometown of Nottingham to do a foundation course at Loughborough University, she realised that illustration was more her bag. She ended up on the Illustration with Animation course at Manchester School of Art. “After going to the open days and interviews at MSA, I really liked the idea of combining illustration with animation,” she says. “It allowed me to explore a different way of approaching briefs, and the two disciplines both really complement and feed off each other.”
During her three years at art school, Summer learned about everything from bookmaking and risograph printing to stop motion and projected animation, but it was only in her final year that she started to find her own visual language.
“Previously I had been drawing how I thought I should be drawing,” says Summer. “In my third year I began forming my illustrations from cutting up and shaping tiny bits of paper – in effect drawing with scissors – and letting characters and objects evolve from this process. This resulted in more unexpected and intriguing outcomes and compositions within my designs.”
Since graduating, Summer has maintained a good relationship with MSA and currently works part time as a Graduate Teaching Assistant on her old course. It’s clear that living in Manchester has also been a big influence on her; much of her work now focuses on illustrating, documenting and collating the stories of the city’s people and places.
One of her first commissions was for an independent venue in the city’s Northern Quarter called the Night and Day Café. Based on her observational drawings of the venue and interviews with the owner and promoter, Summer created an illustrated publication, laser-cut characters (both small and life size) and a series of prints.
Alongside more commercial projects including a series of illustrated journals and diaries for Paperchase, much of Summer’s work centres on capturing a place’s sense of identity. For Open Spaces, a non-profit community project to regenerate Stockport’s high street, she recreated a Lipton’s greengrocer that used to be on the street back in the 30s, complete with a charming illustrated shop front sign and rows of colourful fruit and veg.
Summer has turned her focus back to Manchester with her latest project: Magma-Zine. The zine is a celebration of the Manchester and London-based independent bookshop’s story, along with the writers, illustrators, graphic designers, publishers, artists, and photographers that it has spotlighted over the years. “Through this project I took the opportunity to push a creative fascination I have with the pastiche. Drawing from other creatives’ work in a fun and a bit cheeky style, [I created] a new, interesting dialogue between the original and imitation.”
As to what’s next, Summer is currently a resident at incubator Marketplace Studios in Stockport, which is funded by MSA to help graduates start new businesses in the area, and she also runs an art and design collective called Small Fry along with fellow illustrator Maia Blunt. Most of all, she says she is looking forward to developing her distinctive DIY style as she gains more experience.
“Although I’m using the paper cutting technique from my graduation work through to my latest publication, I see the way I’m working evolving and changing,” says Summer. “I hope [it will] still be distinctly ‘me’ … but I want to try and not be too defined by a particular style, and commissioned more for my way of responding to a space, a text or brand.”