Llew Mejia is an artist, illustrator, and maker. If you don’t recognize him by name, you might by his perfectly quirky and folklorish illustrations that we can’t get enough of, or by his meticulously intricate designs that decorate the pairs of swim trunks for sale at your local Target store.
The Minneapolis-based creative is a well-traveled man, who draws from his most recent experiences to inspire subject matter and color palette choices in his pieces. We had the chance to chat with the ever-evolving artist about making things and consolidating his extensive cult and supernatural book collection for artistic inspiration.
Tell us a little about your background, how did you get into illustration and textile design?
I was going to school to become a plastic surgeon. It’s weird I was always interested in anatomy and biology, but couldn’t stand the program or the people once I got there. I felt really isolated and bored and started drawing a lot. I made a portfolio and applied to Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I didn’t even shop around for schools because I was so eager to get out. I just applied and left.
How did you get your start designing for Target?
I basically got into product design because I had a teacher who encouraged me too. She saw a lot of patterns in my work and pushed me to pursue that type of illustration. She helped me formulate a senior thesis; I created two lines of apparel with accessories and some wallpaper. I hadn’t realized that was even a job you could have, and it’s become a huge industry now.
Do you find that you have a lot of creative freedom there?
As an artist and as person who is a creative outside of work I realize I have to tailor whatever message I have in my regular art, to a mass-market. You kind of have to turn it down a notch. I can’t be designing boutique style things when I am trying to appeal to a mass-market audience. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of creative freedom at Target, more so than I think most people in my industry do. But I think that’s also because of the nature of my business, which is swim and outerwear.
How does this work differ from the illustration you do otherwise?
I work for a lot of boutique brands outside of work so I would say the main difference is that at Target it’s just simplified. It’s more stuff that people have already seen and kind of giving it a new twist. And for a boutique client they are literally coming to me for the work that I create outside of work that they have seen on Instagram or Tumblr. I guess it’s more tailoring it down to Target’s style, and when I’m off work I don’t have to modify anything.
Social media is such a large part of helping artists gain exposure. Has it played a part in getting your art to a larger audience?
That’s pretty much how I get any job ever, besides word of mouth, that’s everything for me. It kind of happened over night too. I wasn’t really adept to anything on the computer a year ago. I used to hate the internet because I didn’t understand it and how I could make it work for me, but I love it now. It’s a necessary tool for any creative person.
Do you look to social media for inspiration?
Not as much. I have a shitload of books, like a ton, a ton of books. I collect a bunch of different types of books: ones on illustration, vintage textiles, a lot of cult books, supernatural stuff – witches, demons, folklore. I think that’s all the inspiration I really need.
How has your work evolved over the past year?
I kind of had a mental breakdown the other day about how I don’t feel like I really ever retain a style for very long. I feel I’m constantly changing, and I try and look at it as a positive thing, and it actually has given me a wider client base, but I would say that every year or so it completely changes. I don’t even think I do it intentionally, I think I just absorb things and it becomes a part of my visual library. You kind of just regurgitate the things you are surrounded by when you’re creating; it’s just a natural thing to do.
Have you seen any commonalities in your most recent work?
The whole supernatural theme has been really present recently and has kind of been the impetus in my decisions to use a more limited color palette. Right before that a lot of my pieces exploded with a lot of color. I had like 20 colors going, so I had to tone it down a little bit. The limited color palette brings a little more sophistication to the work. It’s almost easier for me to concentrate on what’s going on composition wise.
A lot of your prints incorporate animals, and we read that you are very much into taxidermy. Are you a total animal lover?
Before I went into the whole plastic surgery thing, I wanted to be a herpetologist, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. So as a kid I spent a lot of time outdoors and would catch bees in coke bottles and keep them frozen. If the temperature drops enough the bee becomes sedated and it will slowly wake up as it gets warmer. I used to watch them wake up and then let them go. But then one time I got stung in the eye by a bumblebee and now you can tell when you look at my eye after I point it out that one of my eyes is slightly slumped.
I love animals; I think the whole thing about Taxidermy is it’s like a natural history museum in your house, which is an awesome idea to me.
Be sure to check out more of Llew Mejia’s illustrations and designs here.