Do you remember those children’s books that visualised the alphabet? A is for apple, C is for cat, P is for plane, and so on. Well the illustrator Harriet Yakub has created a version for adults, one that looks perceptively at modern life through images, play-on words and quips. In Harriet’s world, A becomes adore, D becomes daydream, and W becomes woo, “to make you want me, bad!”.
The project came about when Harriet found herself in-between phases. She had just finished an internship, moved abroad and found herself thinking about “bigger questions in life”. During this time of uncertainty, Harriet says that thinking about simple and playful things provided an escape. At its core Makewatch is straightforward exploration of words, taking moments from everyday life and turning them into new images. “I’ve always enjoyed finding creative ways to express ideas alternatively,” Harriet says. “I like rewording simple thoughts into something that makes sense and sounds unconventional at the same time.” The title of the project itself is a play on words, merging the two key elements of the project – making and watching – into one word.
Makewatch has seen many iterations. Initially, it had no parameters, but with the help of her illustration mentor Jan Buchzik, Harriet realised the purpose and tone could be better refined with the ‘limits’ of an alphabet – “an appropriate measurement for exploring a subject around language,” she says. Then, halfway through completing the project Harriet changed her whole stylistic approach. She went back to postcards she had already completed and redid them all. This is because she wanted to find a method that “could be replicated easily 26 times without getting boring”.
The illustrator landed on what she describes as a “scratching” style. While taking a long time to achieve, the desired effect has a pleasing sketchy, organic feel about it with bold colours and lots of texture. In terms of what she depicted, Harriet knew that with such a busy style she needed to keep her imagery simple and so kept her ideas stripped-back, referring to everyday moments and scenes. Adding text to the postcards came later, though Harriet also chose to keep the text small, so as to let the illustrations “shine”.
One postcard that demonstrates the effective simplicity and interesting interrogation of language is F for Fly. In the piece, a collection of balloons float to the top of a ceiling, with multiple colours contrasting against blank walls. For Harriet, the piece marks a complex meditation; “we all know what it is to fly, but how it feels to fly is something different”. She continues: “These balloons have no option but to fly, and that must feel contradictory when they’re trapped at someone’s birthday party.”
While Harriet did stick to her predominantly illustrative approach throughout, she wanted to provide a “breath of fresh air” with a text-heavy approach to U (for understand). The light-hearted image looks at digital language by showing Google suggestions like ‘can I eat two burgers at once’ and ‘can I make my neighbour stop singing’. “I enjoy getting a giggle out of people seeking answers to unanswerable questions online,” Harriet says.
Overall, Harriet sees the main theme of the project to be “our humanity”, showing the ways in which our individual and collective experiences inform our perception of language. “Language is more than how we communicate,” Harriet says, “it’s also the lens through which we translate the world for ourselves.” Now, hoping to turn the project into something tangible, Harriet is on the hunt for a Risograph publisher who can help get the series published.
GalleryHarriet Yakub: Makewatch (Copyright © Harriet Yakub, 2023)
Harriet Yakub: Makewatch (Copyright © Harriet Yakub, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.