Meet the makers: Pam Williams

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.
pam
 
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.
 
You’ll find Pam at Brixton Makers’ Market on Station Road on the second Saturday of every month.
 
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Interview with local artist, Pam Williams

Pam is an inspiration to us at Makerhood. She’s a terrific artist and has been a great source of friendship, support and advice as we have developed our ideas over the past year. So, who better than to kick off an irregular series of interviews with “people who inspire us”?

Kindly taking time out from her busy schedule to talk to us about drawing, running away to Greece, and how South London has changed in recent years, here’s Pam’s answers to our most probing questions.

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1) Art appears to be in your blood. Is it something you wanted to do from an early age?

I went to 13 schools due to my father’s profession. It was the only subject that had any continuity!

2) You’ve sketched and painted a lot of events and festivals. How does this differ from your other work? I would imagine it’s quite challenging?

The main challenge is to be super disciplined. To produce great results…which is expected ….while keeping up with the events program. It’s very demanding.

3) You run a lot of workshops. How did you get into this?

By default. In the ’70s, I used to teach on the side, for bill money. I now have 30 years experience as well as up to date teachers training. It was important to experiment with myself and skills so, worked as a freelance from day one. Not great re a regular pay cheque!

4) We note that a number of these are in Italy. What draws you to that part of the world?

That environment is a perfect place to develop thoughts and activities in beautiful surroundings….

I always liked the bright sunny postcards from Europe and wanted to see if it was real. At 25yrs, I went to Greece with £30 I had saved up, working at the local village pub for a month, to see how people lived out there. The sun was real and the long meals, wonderfully sociable. Italy is the revival of that very happy time in Greece.

5) Lest we forget, of course, your home and studio is in South London. As an artist what’s its appeal?

Having a solid base of my own…..it could have been anywhere.

6) Has the area changed a lot since you moved here in 1991?

100%.  In 1991 it was uncared for, people felt and looked hopeless. The main street near me, was known, London wide, as the place to buy drugs…..not cool…at all….Fortunately, it was nothing compared to living in New York in the 80s. Now the community is beginning to grow ‘together’ and ‘up’ in a fascinating and positive way.

7) How do you think Makerhood could support your work and fit into your vision?

Makerhood is a gift from ‘whomever your God is’, if you are an independent artist. Makerhood could become the perfect business partner to help market local (more personal) products. In the making, it already looks well designed and could provide a secure online platform to advertise and sell within Brixton.

8 ) You seem to be passionate not just about the area, but art in general. How did you get involved in The Big Draw?

I was tired of working alone and wondered if others shared my passion… to revive the power of drawing in our society. So, I signed up as a volunteer in 2004. Have been a strong supporter and c ever since.

What would be your advice to any inspiring artists?

Draw something everyday. Choose a pen/pencil you like and stick with it until you can control it and every mark it can make.

9) If you could be anywhere, bar South London, right now sketching and doing watercolours, where would you be?

Mmmm, in reality?, at the moment… Exploring a North London borough, known for its street market. Every community is unique… Capturing the mix of people and mood of living and working together… There is always humour…

To sketch and paint….On a riverboat in the midst of a Thai river market, capturing the speed and colour of transactions from the boats to the land market traders? the prize… buying and trying their delicious food. the promise of perks help me to concentrate and their energy would fire mine.

10) How can people find out more about you and your work?

www.pamwilliams.co.uk

Send me a message from the site with their email to add to a list for future exhibitions or news update.

Bonus question: If you were to share a top insider tip for someone new to Brixton and the surrounding area, what would it be?

Sign up to everything Brixton…Get involved, even if you don’t like meetings….you will meet locals of all types….start off friendships and understand Brixton from the inside out….volunteer….at your own pace…you will be part of the community and feel at home, not a stranger in a box in London.