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5 Questions with Steph Simpson of Me and Norman

Poetic collages and intricate details are a key point of this South African artist’s work

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By Alyxandra Carolus | January 24, 2023 | Art

Making something new out of what already exists means allowing space for your creativity to sprawl about. Illustrator, artist and educator Steph Simpson does just that with her work at Me and Norman. You’ve probably seen her collages on your social media feeds, with poignant quotes and the signature gold flecks. We spoke to her about her process, why inspiration isn’t the be all and what she’s got planned for the year.

Can you share a bit about yourself and how you got into your career?

I am a first-generation creative in my family (...where everyone is somehow involved in the automotive industry, I just knew I had to do something creative with my hands). I applied to study fine art after straight school and have been building on that foundation with an honours in Illustration, only recently finishing with a masters in visual art.

Between these studies, I have worked in higher education and am now lecturing illustration at an independent college in Cape Town. I light up when I am faced with the challenges that come with teaching, and how it forces me to problem-solve on the spot. There is also a performative element to keeping Gen Z engaged that I really enjoy.

I have always freelanced on the side, taking on design and illustration projects that allow me to take those experiences back to my students.

Overall, I regard myself as a storyteller, whether I am in the classroom or at my desk in my studio.

What’s behind the name, Me and Norman?

Norman is my imaginary friend–he helps me make bold creative moves and reminds me to be silly. With Norman at my side, I am fearless and able to stare a blank page straight in the eye and conquer it!

Your collages are incredibly poetic, can you take us into the process of starting one?

I practice illustration in various ways, from full-colour gouache to digital drawings in Procreate, but collage is a method that affords me the opportunity to play.

I live by the mantra “play until something happens”. This applies to my creative process of making collages. A large part of my creative process involves collecting and organising found images. This intricate process really tickles the left side of my brain, forcing me to be very methodical. Once all the pieces are in place, I can let go and allow the right side of my brain to play.

Influenced by the Dadaists, I enjoy how collage relies on chance–like the chance meeting of two images coming together to create a brand new picture. Text is then added to give the abstract image its meaning. I want to encourage the viewer to create their own message behind the collage by connecting the imagery and the text.

My collages are like paper readymades and my role as the illustrator shifts to the curator.

What’s been inspiring you lately?

I learn a lot from my students and the creative games we play in workshops …but to be honest I don’t really believe in inspiration - sometimes you just have to put your bum on that chair, pick up a tool and log your hours. Like Austin Kleon’s book Steal like an Artist (2012: 105) says, “Quit picking fights and go make something”.

Where can people find your work and how can they support you?

I have a website for Me and Norman that mostly exhibits my collage work but I share more recent work and BTS on IG @me_and_norman_gold (for collages) and @me_and_norman_colour (for other works). To see my work IRL, you can visit Fabricate in the Garden Centre and Abode in the Biscuit Mill in CT.