Molly Bythell Q+A

Molly Bythell

Herefordshire-based painter Molly Bythell works on sketches from her own travel pics and old National Geographics, she works from candid photos of friends, and she works relentlessly on the colour and composition of her characters, from their grey-haired, winter-coated embraces to their toothless smiles and #thicc thighs.

We caught up with the young artist to find out more.


Who are these people in your paintings? And how do you relate to these characters?

I am obsessed with women, they tantalise me. The subject of women is so important. 

Traditionally in painting or sculpture, representations of women have been that of a passive, receiver of the male gaze and I am trying to challenge that.  Because I take so long on creating their form and pazaz I get to know them, their passions, styles and insecurities. 

How much of you do you think you allow in to the frame?

A little. It comes with being the omnipotent creator of my paintings.

How much of your impulse to create is to capture the world around you, and how much is to change it?

My impulse is to paint women. How I capture colour, pattern and composition I see in the world helps me to identify problems of the male female power dynamic. I don’t think I can change the world though, just be conscious of it.

What’s your favourite colour?

Blue. Are you surprised it isn’t pink?

Your recent work feels like it lives in the same world as magazine photography and Instagram; how much do your paintings talk to other media?

I do sometimes exploit the media (mainly magazines, newspapers) to find inspiration. After editing, sketching and cropping, my paintings could talk to other media as though they were related? Although I prefer finding older, less current magazines and journals. So maybe they can have intergenerational discussions instead?

If you could hang one of your pieces in a public space, where would you hang it?

It would be great if it could look out of place somewhere, like a popular restaurant or fast food chain so people couldn’t avoid looking, liking, (hating?), or talking about it. 

When you paint women – and you paint a lot of women – what characteristics do you find yourself being drawn to? And how does your framing of those characters shape their impact?

I couldn’t pin point any specifics, my paintings celebrate women so each painting is framed differently by each character.

I am obsessed with women, they tantalise me. The subject of women is so important.
Molly Bythell

How can the way women are captured on film and on screen and on canvas form patterns in real life?

I could go on for much longer but this is the basis of what I think.  Over time we have designed the ‘perfect woman’ and the way she is captured on film and screen is largely based around superficial desires that men have. This is not solely the case but stereotypical men are attracted to feminine characteristics, and their superficial preferences have been misused to create an ideal woman. This is challenged in many art forms though. Women on screen are often idealised, admired or criticised, creating social pressure that can affect how women think of each other, behave towards each other and men’s expectations of how women ‘should be’.

Does the endless scroll of Insta and the free access to arts websites make it easier to find inspiration, or harder to find your own voice amongst the noise (or is that simply a reality you have always been exposed to as a young artist)?

Instagram is a great way to connect with galleries and other artists all around the world, so is a perfect hub for informal networking and inspiration. But easy to get lost amongst superficial ads, selfies and celebrities.

What is your favourite detail about your studio that makes it feel like home?

I have a basement studio that isn’t very glamorous at all. My oil paints and their glorious smell make it home instead. I also have a lovely radiator.