Print Shop chat with Billy Murphy - Badly Drawn Bears.

Billy Murphy, also known as Badly Drawn Bears, is an artist from Essex. His uplifting prints of bears, dinosaurs and rainbows are Print Shop favourites that always bring a smile to the face with their celebration of the absurdity and silliness of life. We sat down with Billy to chat about philosophy, commercial success and whether a bear would beat a dinosaur in a dance-off. 

Why do you paint? What inspires your painting?

A few years ago I saw a photo of a fish inside a jellyfish and was like “Wow, I should draw that.” It was funny, dramatic, philosophical, it had everything going on. I would probably say that photo inspired my entire career as an artist. “Why do you paint?” The honest answer is that I have a lot of spare time! I’ve had chronic pain for over 10 years now and this was originally a hobby to fill my time as I can only manage a few hours of work each day. A couple of years ago I had a spinal cord stimulator fitted which allows me to sit at a desk for a bit longer each day so I started painting. I wanted to try and create work that would make people happy and that people could relate to or find solace in. 

How would you describe your work?

I think ‘ridiculous’ is a good start. I try to blend animals with phrases about everyday life or philosophy to create something that is either wholesome, funny, or uplifting. I like to think of myself at times as a profound thinker but I also try not to take life too seriously and think that is reflected in my work. I suppose if I had to summarise it, it’d be ‘philosophical satire with bears’.

Silliest Sausages

Were you surprised by how popular the bears became?

I’m still surprised now at how popular the bears are! The reception I have had and continue to receive from Badly Drawn Bears is genuinely so overwhelming and I’m so grateful to all of the people who continue to support me. 

What comes first, phrase or drawing?

Sometimes one, sometimes another. I regularly note down various phrases that I think will make a good painting and I’m always sketching little ideas, but when putting the two together it has to feel organic, if I try too hard to piece it together it doesn’t usually out how I’d like. For every idea you see, there are a lot of awkward, crappy, or unfunny ones left unseen!

Who would win in a dance-off, bear or dinosaur?

Funny you’d ask, I think about this a lot. I do think that being extinct for 65 million years may go against dinosaurs. 

I Worry

What is the aim behind your work?

Art is about connecting with others, despite the lightheartedness and satire that is ultimately what I’m aiming to do. Creating artwork that people really enjoy, want to share with others, and want to hang on their walls is really special.

How important is humour to your work?

Social media is such a cacophony of hatred and negativity that I feel it’s my duty as an artist to try and break that up a bit with my posts! My favourite and most popular pieces tend to be the funny ones but I think they also need to be relatable, such as “God gives his hardest battles to his silliest sausages”, “I may never recover from this minor inconvenience” or “I’ve eaten too much and now my tummy hurts.” I will always do or say something if I think someone will laugh at it so it probably does make sense that it’s become a big part of my art. 

Minor Inconvenience

Which artists inspire you?

Badly Drawn Bears was initially inspired by Heloísa Nora aka Poorly Drawn Cats, who is an amazing artist and fantastic person. As I started painting more I was really influenced by Babak Gangei’s text art. I also love Alma Singer’s work, she fluctuates between wholesome and satire like myself and I’m always excited to see the new work she puts out. Other artists that really inspire me are Euan Roberts and his social commentary and the ridiculousness and perfect imperfection of David Shrigley.