Our Time is Now Mel Carroll – What We Learnt
Mel Carroll is an illustrator and designer and the founder and director of Usfolk Illustration agency. Usfolk is a Belfast based illustration agency, hosting 30+ illustrators from all corners of the globe. As well as running multiple projects in the design studio and managing a steady flow of illustration commissions, the in-house team are all freelance illustrators. Clients include LUSH Cosmetics, The Washington Post, Mars Confectionary, Jameson Irish Whiskey, National Museums NI, The Merchant Hotel, Belfast City Council and Queen’s University.
Mel is the third Belfast creative to share his journey with us for ‘Our Time is Now’. Mel gives a wonderful and very honest interview that talks about his lifelong passion for art and design, dealing with grief and mental health challenges and building the skills that allow him to run a global creative business. There is much to be learnt from Mel’s story and his openness and honesty and from his positive attitude and appreciation for all of life’s experiences no matter how tough.
Here are a few of the key things we learnt from Mel’s interview:
1. Art and Creativity can be a useful outlet and a tool for self-expression and personal development
“I was always into art and design. Even as a kid. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
“I used art as escapism. It allowed me to disappear into my own world.”
Mel was always into art and design even as a child. It was the only thing he ever wanted to do. He loved painting. It was his passion and a means of escaping reality. Mel knew from a very early age of four or five that he was gay. Art and creativity gave him an outlet and a means to escape and disappear into his own world. It also gave him confidence and validation and another facet to his identity. Instead of just feeling like the queer kid, being good at art meant he was also the kid who was really good at drawing.
“Instead of being the queer kid I was the kid who was really good at drawing.”
“My creativity came from my queerness.”
2. The journey to success as a creative isn’t always linear or easy
“My whole university history is pretty messy. I had a mental breakdown. I lost my mum when I was a late teenager doing my A-levels. I don’t think I properly dealt with it.”
Mel talks about the challenging time he had as a teenager and throughout university. He sadly lost his mum when he was a late teenager doing his A-levels. Understandably he found it hard to deal with and after 2 years studying illustration at University he had a mental breakdown and had to pull out of university and in the end it took him about 6 years off and on to complete his degree.
3. Sometimes the toughest experiences in life turn out to be the most valuable
“In hindsight it was one of the best things that happened to me. When I was first in University I didnt really appreciate it. I wasn’t really interested in the learning aspect. It was more about the partying and the fun. When I went back I felt really lucky to be able to do it. Financially it wasn’t easy for me. But I really appreciated every minute of it.”
As is often the case in life with challenging experiences Mel talks about how the experience of having a mental breakdown and dropping out of university actually turned out to be one of the best things that happened to him. Like many young people when he was first in University he didn’t really appreciate it. He wasn’t really interested in the learning aspect and was there for the partying and the fun. When he went back he felt really lucky to be able to do it and really appreciated every minute of it.
4. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and put in the hard work to build your skills and portfolio
“It’s your portfolio that matters.”
Mel talks about his first job designing logos, and how he didn’t have the skills he needed when starting out, but through hard work was able to learn them and build his portfolio of work.
“When starting out I didn’t have the skills I needed, but I was pretty sure I was going to learn them. I think you have to put that effort in when you are starting out.”
5. You only live once and you should follow your passion
“Something that I regret not doing when I was younger was not following my passion for painting.”
Mel talks about how he wishes he had the courage to follow his passion and study fine art portrait painting, but like many people he was too worried about earning a living and paying the bills.
“Follow your passion for drawing and painting and never stop.”
You can find Mel online at
You can watch Mel’s full interview on Youtube
You can listen to Mel’s full interview on Spotify
You can find the whole series of Our Time is Now interviews on our website: https://www.blickstudios.org/our-time-is-now/