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International Women's Day Interview with Paper Brains

by Emily McIntyre

Exploring her emotions and experiences in the best way she knows how to, 21-year-old artist from Wakefield known as Paper Brains (Liv McPhie) makes art that brings people together through what makes us our most vulnerable. With a huge focus on mental health, sex-positivity, sexual health and feminism, her art breaks stigmas and opens up conversations.

What she says all started as a way to communicate her feelings with the world at a time she felt most isolated, turned into an unapologetically authentic art account that now connects people and reassures them they’re never alone in how they’re feeling.

What inspired Paper Brains? Where does the name and the style of art come from? 

“I started digitally drawing when I was at uni in 2019 and started following lots of digital creators at the time. I guess a lot of my inspiration comes from the artists I love, and my style has definitely changed since I first started doing it.”

“The name is a bit of an odd one. I was drafting up names that would suit for a while and used username generators ect to see if they were unavailable, and came up with a few. Paper Brains eventually stuck and I think I grew into the name over time as my concepts and ideas changed. It’s a bit boring as there's no initial deeper meaning behind it, but I definitely think I’ve grown into the name and I couldn’t imagine being called anything else now. A few of the initial names were so embarrassing”

How would you describe the art you make?

“I guess my art mainly focuses around subjects such as mental health, sex-positivity, femininity and cynicism. I find myself having to try not to over complicate the actual art itself, as my style is quite simple and linear, and I’m not massively experienced in this field at all; it all started because I wanted to share my feelings without actually having to explain them, as I’ve never been the best with words.

What inspires your artwork - who and what are your biggest influences when it comes to creating?

“I started this whole thing at a weird time in my life, one where I felt incredibly isolated from everyone I loved and I found it hard to talk to people about what was going on in my life. I found it hard to articulate them and recognise them myself, really. So when I started sharing these issues that I wanted to talk about, and then moving on to issues that I felt passionate about - such as sex positivity, it felt euphoric.”

“Getting that recognition and being told that people relate to the things I address and feel/experience myself was incredibly freeing. I followed Instagram accounts such as @exotic.cancer and @safe.slut that focus on sex positivity and education, and this inspired me to be more open about my feelings around these subjects and to contribute to de-stigmatising taboos around sex and sexual health.

I think your art normalises a lot of ‘taboo’ subjects in a really fun and creative way, do you think that sharing your work and bringing to light mental health, sex-positivity etc, brings people together and normalises concepts they may stray away from?

“Absolutely! The reasons why I’ve become so empowered and am going down this journey of self-acceptance when it comes to my own sexual health is because of these incredible women who continue to post about these subjects, to this day.”

“I feel so incredibly passionate about people accepting themselves and being able to speak freely about their struggles with mental illness, sexual wellness or their own feelings in general, and I’ve had so many people reach out to me about these subjects and that they feel the same way I do.”

With your art being very personal, what inspires you to share that? Does it ever make you feel vulnerable?

“I struggle quite a bit with communicating my feelings, especially when I’m struggling. I’m sure a lot of people can relate, especially during this lockdown, that it’s hard to not feel like a bit of a burden when talking to someone, as everyone's in this similar boat of feeling a bit shit.”

“I feel as though this is my way of getting out my feelings without having to articulate them so specifically, and I hope that when people share my work that they also feel as though they’re communicating what they’re feeling without having to specify. I feel incredibly vulnerable and, when I post a piece that is specific to a current situation, I’m terrified. I just think back to what I’d want to see when I’ve been dealing with difficult times of my life, and I hope that my art helps people who are also coming to terms with their struggles ect.”

Have you had any pieces that have changed your following or had the biggest reaction from people? If so, why do you think that is?

“Quite early on I drew a bottle of Lysine supplements; this is essentially a vitamin that contributes to boosting the immune system and a lot of people who are HSV+ take it to prevent outbreaks. I gained quite a large surge of sex-positive and sex education account follows which really made me think more about creating more art that would open up conversations about these subjects. STI’s and STD’s especially have a huge stigma and a lack of education around them, which can be terrifying for newly diagnosed people, so I think it is so important that these things can be talked about casually and normally. Because they are normal!”
How has your style changed since you started? 

“My style has definitely become more “me” since starting this account. I didn’t really know what my style was for a long time and it took a while for me to figure out what I loved doing, I’m still learning now! My softer, more pastel palette is what I’m known for I think, whereas before I used to use bold colours and thicker lines. The ideas were there, but the execution wasn’t really clear.”
Do you have a favourite piece of your own?

“I don’t think I have an actual favourite. I enjoy actually drawing portraits and bodies, yet the responses to my product designs are much stronger. I loved the response to my 'Wankee Candle' piece and loved doing it, so I’d have to say that one. My product designs are so much fun to come up with.”

How has social media had an impact on what you post? Do you feel as though having Instagram as a platform allows you to post whatever you want, or does it ever feel quite restricting?

“I definitely used to care more about taboo imagery, such as sex toys, nipples and nudity, and used to not include it often. But since finding my niche and becoming more aware of just HOW restricting Instagram can be, I try and push the boundaries as far as I can. I suppose at the moment it’s ok for me as I’m a smaller account, but for artists with large followings I know they are at risk of posts being deleted, shadowbanned and even their accounts being taken down. It’s always quite risky.”
And last but not least, where do you see your art going? What does 2021 have in store for Paper Brains?

“I have so many things I want to do this year. I want to design and release more merchandise such as stickers, pins and totes; I want to do more collabs with my amazingly talented friends; I want to do more giveaways; I also plan on picking back up some series’ I haven't followed on for a while, such as my diary entries series and my sad supermarket. I just want to keep on opening up and pushing Instagram’s boundaries as far as possible!”

Keep up with Paper Brains on Instagram, and grab a print over on her Etsy.

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