London Artists Ep. 2 - Victoria Williams
Updated: Aug 6, 2021
"London Artists" is Within London's series of interviews with the capital's most effervescent, fascinating, and passionate creatives. Let's get to know their captivating personalities while exploring the greatest city in the universe through their life stories.
Ep. 2 is an interview with Victoria Williams aka Wilde and Sinclair, writer and illustrator living in Hanwell, west London. Ready?
"My only selfie (that's me in the foreground)! It was taken at the Anish Kapoor exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing. The photo isn't upside down - the mirrors were disorientating deliberately." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
Who are you?
By day I write academic reference books. My most recently published book is an encyclopaedia of indigenous peoples that was 4 volumes long and contained over a million words. I had just written an encyclopaedia of London when the pandemic kicked in, delaying its publication.
When I'm not writing, I design illustrated greeting cards and homeware. Most of my designs are based on London wildlife and my style is influenced by vintage books. Lots of the animals I feature in my designs live in my garden (the hedgehogs, crows, bluetits, foxes, and squirrels for instance). I can see flamingos at Hanwell Zoo, which is near where I live and the penguins I see at London Zoo.
I find it therapeutic to draw hedgehogs and badgers after spending hours writing about subjects like genocide. I tend to create whimsical illustrations with a teeny hint of Gothic though I've noticed the darker the subject I'm writing about, the darker and more Gothic my illustrations become.
Victoria's new card is blank inside, perfect for Valentine's, engagements, anniversaries, or just because. The design is based on the swans that live on the canal in Hanwell.
I have always been interested in anything artistic – at university I always took modules that combined English literature with visual arts and for my Ph.D. thesis I wrote about the use of European fairytales in nineteenth-century British art and literature and on film.
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or making things. (Victoria Williams)
I used to sell handmade cards, but these took ages to make and using scissors a lot made my hands hurt, so I taught myself the basics of digital illustration (things like aspect ratios, pixels, and DPI). I find my lack of technical knowledge quite frustrating at times but at the same time, I'm quite pleased with how much I have learnt on the job.
What’s your first memory of London?
My earliest London memory is collecting raspberries in the back garden of our family home in Northolt. I don’t know how old I was then but we moved from Northolt to Hanwell when I was 4 years old.
Wilde and Sinclair's Looking Up Fox card based on London's foxes. (Photo by Victoria Williams).
When have you decided London is the place to be? (Why here and not anywhere else?)
As a Londoner, it has never really occurred to me to be anywhere else! Everything I need is here. Sometimes when I’m walking around under the London Christmas lights or along the banks of the Thames, I think to myself that I could never live anywhere but London.
What are the 3 worst & 3 best things about London?
1) The food – London has fantastic restaurants, food shops, and markets.
2) The transport links - the Tube is fantastic (when it works). Eurostar is my go-to transport for day trips and holidays so I really hope it survives the pandemic.
3) The weather. I know London’s weather gets a lot of stick but honestly, I like it. I’m a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society so would hate to live somewhere with wall-to-wall sunshine. I don’t like hot weather and just wish London had more snow.
"I may be in a minority, but I love London's weather as seen here at The Shard." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
1) London is expensive.
2) There seems to be a lot of fly-tipping in Ealing and I find it dispiriting when sofas and fridges are dumped on the streets.
3) Wherever I look in Hanwell there are blocks of flats being built. I know there is a need for homes but I'm not sure how many of these new flats will be affordable to most Londoners.
Do you love living in London? Why?
Yes, London is a fascinating, ever-changing city. The mix of people living in London means there are so many different cultures to enjoy. I love London’s weather, the transport is excellent and we have great food.
Have you ever considered leaving London? Why?
I’ve never seriously considered leaving London though as I get older, I think I could live somewhere like Winchester. Even if I did leave London, I’d be forever a Londoner as my London roots are deep. My maternal great-grandmother was born in southeast London in 1885 and my maternal grandmother only moved west when her home near what is now Tate Modern was destroyed in the Blitz. My paternal great grandparents were living in Edmonton at the turn of the 20th century.
To me, St Paul's Cathedral symbolises London's resilience and ability to evolve.
What do you absolutely love about London?
I love London’s creativity – it’s everywhere you look, from the architecture to the makers' markets and galleries. There are so many makers in my area of London that I started a makers and vintage market called FoxmarketW7 as a way for local creative microbusinesses to sell straight to the public. We didn’t have any markets in 2020 because of the pandemic but hopefully, the market will be back in 2021.
Coming from Ealing, I’m very aware of London’s creative history because I have the world’s oldest continuously working film studio on my doorstep – I’ve spent the past few years researching and writing all the biographies for a project to create an interactive Ealing “walk of fame” that would highlight the famous people connected both with the film studio and Ealing in general.
I am a bit of a foodie and love London’s restaurants (my favourites are Quo Vadis in Soho, Clarke’s on Kensington High Street, and The Glasshouse in Kew) and farmers' markets like the one in Barnes. London is also spoilt for choice when it comes to afternoon tea – just before Lockdown 1 my friend treated me to a wonderful tea at The Ritz. Hopefully this year I will finally get to have afternoon tea at Lord's Cricket Ground as I was meant to go last Mother’s Day.
"London has some great food markets including Ealing Farmers Market." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
London is fortunate to have so many great sporting venues – I love a day at Lords for the cricket or the tennis at Wimbledon. On a philosophical level, I love that in London you can be who you want to be and there’s no need to conform. On a practical note, London’s transport links are great, not just the Tube, buses, airports, and Eurostar, but from where I live, I can reach Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire by car.
"London has so many wonderful open spaces including Pitshanger Park in Ealing." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
London’s green spaces are wonderful too, from Richmond Park where you can see deer in the wild, to the Bunny Park in Hanwell. The bat walks around Ealing’s open spaces, organized by Ealing Wildlife Group, are one of my favourite summer things and the reason I designed a bat Christmas card. I was really chuffed that the donations raised by my badger Christmas card helped Ealing Wildlife Group buy cameras with which to watch local peregrine falcons.
"The money I raised from sales of my badger Christmas cards helped Ealing Wildlife Group buy new cameras." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
Top 3 personal favourite London hidden gems
1) Hanwell Canalside – near my home in Hanwell there is a beautiful stretch of the Grand Union Canal. The area is so rich in wildlife that there is a move to try to turn part of it into a nature reserve. As an added bonus the area is also home to my favourite local pub, The Fox.
"At Christmas, I took my sleepy fox card to its namesake, The Fox in Hanwell." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
2) Pitshanger Lane is my favourite Ealing shopping area. It is home to lots of independent shops, cafes, and restaurants.
3) Italian Godfather Pizza in Hanwell – A few years ago this restaurant (formerly called the Pasta Lab) won the title of Ealing’s best restaurant. You can see the pizzas and pasta made and cooked in front of you as you wait, nothing is too much trouble for the staff and the menu is astonishingly good value for money.
What makes London so special for you, Victoria?
I’m proud to be a Londoner because London is so resilient and constantly evolving.
What makes you tick?
Anything artistic or related to vintage films or food. I also really love Christmas, so Christmas cards are my absolute favourite thing to design. I have to stop myself from drawing just Christmassy things - as my friend pointed out, if I only draw Christmas cards then I’ll only sell cards from October onwards!
"Christmas is my favourite time of the year and Christmas cards are my favourite thing to design. I thought the tree at Ham House last time I visited was particularly beautiful." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
What do you do and why?
I write and draw. At school, I always enjoyed most any subject that meant I had to research and then write about what I’d found out. The same is true now – I research my book’s subject and write about what I’ve discovered in a way that is easy for readers to understand.
I think at heart I’m an eternal student and researching my books appeals to my desire to be forever learning.
When I draw the little creatures for my designs I think about the creature’s backstory – What is the animal called? Where do they live? Why are they doing what they are doing? In a way, I think of my designs as little stories told in pictures.
Can you share a few creative life hacks with our readers?
I always try to make sure I have a notebook and pen on me as I never know when inspiration may strike.
Don’t be afraid to try something new – you may be rubbish at it but unless you try you won’t find out.
That said, I’ve learnt to stay honest to my own style – in the past I’ve tried to design more commercial illustrations for my cards, but they aren’t “me” and don’t sell well.
"The stretch of the Grand Union Canal flowing through Hanwell is a beautiful source of design inspiration. The swans inspired my newest card." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
Your main 5-10 inspiring sources, activities, books, museums everyone should know about
I love Tate Britain because it is home to lots of the paintings I studied for my MA in Victorian Studies and for my Ph.D. - when I see Pre-Raphaelite works hanging on the walls there it is like revisiting my old friends. Tate Britain also held my favourite ever show – an exhibition dedicated to the stop-motion film animator Ray Harryhausen.
The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill is fascinating and allows visitors to wallow in nostalgia (lots of cries of “I had one of those!”). Similarly, the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is fascinating whatever your age.
I draw design inspiration from the illustrations in vintage children’s books, especially those by Beatrix Potter, the Ladybird books, and the Blackberry Farm and Brambly Hedge stories. I’m still fascinated by fairytales and every so often I reread Grimms’ Tales. Possibly because I spend my days reading for research, I don’t read that much for fun, though when I do, I tend to have several books on the go at once.
"I keep my garden wild deliberately so it is full of birds and other wildlife. The creatures often end up in my designs, including the crows as seen here in my ceramic Christmas decoration." (Photo & caption by Victoria Williams)
At the moment I’m reading The Box of Delights by John Masefield and A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and rewatch endlessly DVD box sets of "Miss Marple" and "Poirot". In general, I really enjoy vintage TV and films and couldn’t do without Talking Pictures TV. I am a bit of a pub quizzer but hardly ever know the answers about pop culture because most of the films and TV I watch are pre-1990!
I’m not really into bands but I like to have Classic FM playing in the background when I work. I am a Eurovision nerd and would love the song contest to come to London soon. I find just walking around London inspiring as it gives a sense of the city’s history. History is everywhere in London from the architecture to the street names. Fortnum and Mason is one of my favourite shops and it never ceases to amaze me that it dates from 1707.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Don’t get sunburnt! I spend every summer sitting in the shade slathered in SPF 50.
Where can people find out more about you or hire you?
For my design work, I can be contacted through:
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For writing, I can be contacted at: