Known for her ever-cheerful presence at Brixton Makers’ Market, and her slightly surreal cartoon strip Eric the Fish in Brixton Bugle, Pam Williams tells us about her nomadic life and all-night stints of drawing at Smithfield meat market.
Your work features locations from around the world – Brixton, Greece, Hong Kong: you seem to like travelling!
My father was in the army, so I moved around a lot – we lived in Singapore and Germany when I was a child. So it seemed natural for me to go travelling after college – I went to Greece for three years and New York for three years. Anyone who’s been in the army knows you get the three-year itch!
Were you working as an artist on these trips?
I did all sorts of things! In Greece I lived with a family. I taught English, which helped pay the bills, but I also painted and drew whenever I could– I wanted to develop a skill.
I studied graphic design at Manchester University, and my love of drawing was triggered by a project where we were told to go out into the city and draw. So I took my pad and pen and went for a walk in Manchester. A pub gave me a pint of Guinness and let me sit on their steps to draw. I was completely happy – I just sat and watched and drew and drank! (Guiness is full of iron, I needed iron…).
When I went through the drawings a couple of days later most of them were absolute rubbish. But there was one – it was only small, about 2 inches by 3 inches – of an old man walking away, in his old coat and shoes, with a plastic shopping bag. It had really captured so much about him with a line, magical! I’ve spent the next 30 years discovering how I did it.
And you know now?
Yes! I used to be a watercolour artist in the 1980s, but I never drew for work – drawing was my freedom. I wanted to understand and keep that flow of expression. I worked out a system of how to manage it, and I’ve been teaching that method ever since– how to develop your own style.
I spent about a year going to Smithfield meat market, which started at midnight! It was when they were renovating it to meet European standards, and I would sit on the pavement three nights a week from midnight to 9am, drawing.
The traders pretended not to notice me – just left me alone to draw. Then one day one trader skirted past me, had a look and yelled “’Ere Jack, she’s got yer!”.
How did you get involved with Makerhood?
I’d been working on my ambition to be an artist since leaving college, and I’d had real highs and lows. There were times when I thought shall I just give up. I felt that as an illustrator my work had really developed, but as a recognised “artist” in society there was still a way to go yet.
Makerhood approached me via the market traders when they began to help explore their own ideas. It helped to regenerated energy and purpose for myself.
I started volunteering with Brixton Market, and when Brixton Village opened I got involved with running the community shop and met a lot of young artists and entrepreneurs – we had a useful symbiotic exchange. Then Makerhood started up and helped set up the makers’ market – they had this database of makers they could call on so it made it much easier.
I really appreciate how Makerhood supports artists with professional business advice. For me it’s been like a second chance – it’s been really timely to develop my revival and underpin the adventures I’ve had.
Among other things, Pam is currently working on a book of memoirs about Hong Kong, based on a series of sketches and paintings she did in 1996-97, during the run-up to the handover back to China.