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Norwich. A city of mavericks and makers, creators and trail blazers. A big-hearted city beneath even bigger skies, and open air, open minds. In Norwich, everyone has a story to tell. And we’ll be sure to tell it. Every month, we’ll be sitting down with local writers, designers, makers, artists and influencers to discuss life in Norwich. This week we’re joined by local illustrator and artist, Owen Mathers.
A local boy, Owen grew up in rural South Norfolk with a love for drawing and illustration. It was this love that prompted him to attend Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), where he studied Graphic Design. After years working as an office-based Graphic Designer in London, Owen rediscovered his passion for illustration by carrying a sketchbook on the tube during his daily commutes and drawing his journey to work. Flash forward to today and Owen is now a successful illustrator and designer, who specialises in reportage tradition. He now produces his own artworks alongside commissions for companies and individuals, specialising in live illustration. In recent years, Owen has had several solo exhibitions across the city of Norwich, and is frequently booked for live events and commissions.
How did you get into your chosen career/profession, and why did you decide to pursue this in Norwich?
I got into my profession from simply pursuing what I love to do. Drawing and illustration was something I used to do in those stolen moments in-between ‘proper’ work on a computer, and now I’m lucky enough to be commissioned to make artworks that I so enjoy creating. It has helped very much going to Art School and working in the design industry to know how illustrations are used and what standard is required. I’ve attended many exhibitions, talks and always network where I can. If you are passionate about something it will show, and people respond to that.
I decided to pursue what I do in Norwich because it is a city I know and love. It’s very supportive for creative types and has a thriving scene. From studio to exhibition spaces, there is an appetite for creativity here and I saw that more so having moved away and come back. It’s friendly, relaxed and I love its independent spirit. A perfect place to pursue a creative direction.
What do you love most about Norwich and why?
I love Norwich because it has its own voice. The Lanes are my favourite place to wander, there is so much to explore. I have many memories of nights out and days spent around the lanes soaking up all there is to offer. I love browsing the independent shops, chatting to shop owners I know and enjoying the relaxed pace. One of my favourite pastimes is exploring the thriving second-hand stores and book shops, where I can get lost for hours! Norwich is all walkable and as I live a short walk from the city centre, I rarely need to drive anywhere. I’m always surprised by how many more shops, cafés and attractions Norwich has in comparison to other places. There are many hidden gems and the coast is a short drive too!
Favourite place(s) to eat in Norwich?
Being quite a foodie, I’ve eaten at most places in the city. My favourite for breakfast or brunch is definitely The Green Grocers on Earlham Road which is always so tasty. For special occasions it has to be Benedicts and Roger Hickman’s. Figbar, is a firm favourite and a great place to go for an amazing dessert. The Ivy Norwich Brasserie is a welcome addition to the city’s restaurants, and I have been several times to celebrate occasions or to just have a drink at its beautiful bar.
Having turned vegetarian towards the end of 2019, I really appreciate Namaste and its mouth-watering veggie dishes. I also have to mention Grosvenor Fish bar, which simply has the best chips around. And the market is now a real foodie treat, with so many places there, see for yourself!
Favourite place(s) for a coffee/beverage?
For coffee you are spoilt in Norwich with so many coffee shops, my favourite are Strangers and Kofra. Both are independent and have lovely cafés to meet friends or people watch. I have drawn the roasting process for Strangers Coffee, so I may be biased, but you can’t beat that freshly roasted smell which drifts down Dove Street! They really know their stuff and are top guys. The Little Red Roaster is great also, and a nice stop off after visiting the Book Hive.
For a drink where do I start, there’s lots of great pubs in Norwich! City centre wise The Plough is great in the Summer for its fantastic beer garden and its perfect G&Ts. Birdcage is very cool along with the historic Sir Garnet. Frank’s Bar is an old favourite for late night tipples. The Ten Bells and Hawthorn are cosy in the Winter. Arboretum on St Benedicts is a truly unique experience, mainly due to having the biggest dog I have ever seen! The Rosebery and The Stanley are my favourite North city pubs and in The Golden Triangle I like The Unthank Arms and the Georgian Townhouse, both really good in the Summer.
What are you most looking forward to doing in Norwich now lockdown is easing? What did you miss most?
I am mostly looking forward to walking around the lanes, seeing them full of people again and doing some drawings on location. Also having a coffee and watching the world go by! I also look forward to browsing my favourite independent shops such as Working Title Clothing’s wonderful shop and visiting the second-hand bookshops and furniture shops such as Loose’s on Magdalen Street.
I missed visiting the market which I view as the real heart of the city, with so much life and buzz. I love looking through the vintage clothing stalls, grabbing some food and drawing scenes there. I look forward to meeting friends with my fianceé once more for a drink in the city and enjoying socialising in real life rather than behind a screen or from a distance!
Any lockdown tips/recommendations for our readers?
My lockdown has been made bearable by watching some great documentaries such as The Defiant Ones on Netflix, which is about so much more than headphones! I also watched Apollo 11 on Netflix which has unseen footage from the moon landing mission which is amazing to see. I’ve read several books I have been meaning to, such as a Keith Haring Biography. I also took the opportunity to watch things that have passed me by, such as finally getting round to watching the Harry Potter films! Better late than never!
I also signed up to an online course to further improve my animation skills. There is always something we can learn, I think the trick is to not put too much pressure on yourself in these times, and not try to cram everything into your days. I’ve recently started doing a more regimented daily exercise routine which I am feeling so much better from. It really motivates and energises me every morning. And I’ve been enjoying creating artwork just for fun, exploring different media and techniques. Painting in the garden is a particular highlight!
And finally, what does ‘Norwich’ mean to you, or can you tell us your favourite memory of the city?
Norwich means ’home’ to me, somewhere which has been in my life for 20 odd years now. Familiar faces and places. Full of memories and stories. My favourite memories would be the first time I was allowed ‘up city’ by myself to meet friends as a teenager, that feeling of freedom, wandering around the Castle Mall shortly after it was built. Shopping for CDs at the Virgin Megastore. Exploring its streets for the first time through skateboarding in the 90s.
My first favourite memory is visiting the castle with my parents and being in awe of its scale and seeing the mummified cat! And more recently the Lanes Summer Fayres have been amazing, never seen the city so vibrant as when they are on. Memories of meeting friends, watching some great live music and having drinks in the sunshine.