Artist Hazel Mead talks about representing the fight against period poverty with both bite and a smile on her face.
Hazel Mead is one of those rare things, a new name with a number of different styles to her portfolio, but with a certain niche that has already brought brands knocking at her door. Animated shorts, portraiture and branding are among areas the British artist has tackled since graduating in 2017, but there is a common thread to all her work, a political feel that has a very knowing comedic punch, as delivered with a vibrant use of colours.
That political edge has led her to her current explorations of different realms of feminism, working with organic period product company Freda on their 'Period Manifesto' campaign., This focused on downplaying the taboos associated with menstruation, and highlighting the various injustices regarding sanitary care. The path leading her to this though was hardly a planned one.
"It's amazing how you can imagine your career will go one way but the reality and opportunities that befall you can take you down routes you'd never even considered," Hazel tells us via email. "I always had it in mind that I'd go into editorial illustration, so I started by doing a huge mail-out to newspapers and magazines, then hundreds of follow up calls and a couple of meetings, all of which resulted in absolutely nothing."
"Later I landed an internship doing social media and illustration at a feminist organisation, which nudged me into the feminist sphere. The feminist contacts I had made, including Bloody Good Period, went on to commission me and I have since found a bit of a niche in period illustration. I absolutely love the work I get to be involved in and it's often to do with smashing taboos and ending period poverty."
Fighting with Punchlines
Hazel's mission has seen her recently work with the Pink Protest group, producing a piece for them made up of phrases cried out by women during the moment of orgasm. Written in bright pink nail varnish with a David Shrigley-esque freehand, it typifies her ever-winking sense of humour.
Comedy-wise, Hazel's influences include David, and stand-ups of the likes of Michael McIntyre and Ali Wong, comedians whose "perceptive and accurate comedy about humanity" is something she aspires to emulate in her more socially engaged pieces.
"However, the absurdity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus cracks me up all the time," she adds, referring to a portrait of John Cleese on her portfolio, mid-silly walk. "I also adore the artwork of Molly Crabapple and Rebecca Hendin. Their work simultaneously makes clever statements and is visually stunning."
You can find such humour in her work for Freda, where great punchlines help deliver home the realities of period poverty. Freda seem like the perfect fit for Hazel's voice, and I'm curious on their working relationship.
"I couldn’t have asked for more- Freda has been the dream client," she enthuses. "We have been working together on different campaigns and pieces for about six months now. I’ve most recently created four comic strips for part of their campaign to encourage offices, schools and hotels to stock free sanitary products. As Freda’s passions align with mine, I have a good understanding of the brand. There are also rarely any edits (which is bliss.)"
But does she worry about in future being boxed in as a 'period artist', especially at the start of a such a burgeoning career?
"Perhaps I’m someone who will go through style phases, a bit like Picasso," Hazel tells me. "I hate the feeling of being boxed into a style, which admittedly can make it hard to create a coherent portfolio. However, at the moment I let the ideas lead and just draw them in the way I feel, which I think is a much healthier way of working than trying to focus on a style."
"I have a million and one ideas, sometimes more political rather than strictly feminist, so I constantly question my identity as an artist," she continues. "I’m not alone in this and I think all good artists have an existential crisis now and then. To combat this is I make sure I’m showing the kind of work I’d like to be doing through my personal work. It’s good to worry - it shows you are constantly looking to improve your work. That’s my belief, anyway. "
Hazel looks back further when I bring up some of her earlier pieces, tailored to the political editorial end of the spectrum. "At university I assumed that I'd have to pick a 'thing' and stick with it, so my 'thing' was being witty and making comments on society and politics through my work," she says. "I definitely tailored my work more towards newspapers. Perhaps I’d return to a similar style but right now I’m loving working digitally and with colour."
Such digital work includes a children's story pastiche called The Very Hungry Politician, embedded below, an animation that takes a pot shot at various world leaders, and not just of the here and now, Trump variety.
"The Very Hungry Politician was initially going to be a book until someone suggested it would be great if it could move," Hazel says when explaining the project's history. "I'm not a trained animator and the deadline was fast approaching, so I adopted a slapdash stop motion method of moving an element on the page in Photoshop then saving it as a 'frame-move-save-move-save' etc. I did this about 800 times, then put the files into Premiere and tweaked. There is definitely an easier way of doing this but I really enjoy the monotony of this repetitive process which serves as a creative break for the brain. I don't think about key frames or plan too much, so it's a nice surprise if it works out - I can hear my animation friends screaming right now," she jokes.
While branding is paying off for the artist, Hazel's future plans have a more creative-bent.
"I have an idea for a book; not to give too much away but think female masturbation," she teases. "I've got some work lined up later in the year involving pattern design for fashion and some illustration for an app. I'd love to paint a mural."
She also plans to moves to London, moving out of the "very tranquil and tiny" village she calls home. "I don’t think London is the be all and end all, but there is definitely a hype around it, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m buying into it, at least for now."
In the long term, Hazel would love to have her art shown on the underground, and on outlets like The Guardian and Google. She also dreams of one day winning a D&AD pencil.
"Call me sad - I prefer the word ambitious - but I have a little book which says ‘Dream Big’ on the front. In it I have a list of all the things I want to achieve in my career."
"I think all creatives should dream big, then put in the hours and the work to make it happen." It's the kind of optimism that colours all her work, a portfolio that strives for social change and which knows that doing it with a smile on your face gets the most results. It's also the kind of optimism that will yield results, perhaps for society, but most definitely for Hazel's career going forward.