Olivia Twist on how she landed on the sketchy illustration style we all know and love
Inspired by her family history and local community, the east London-born illustrator has developed a consistently vibrant and powerful aesthetic.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 March 2022
Landing on a style that’s wholeheartedly your own is never an easy task. When London-born illustrator Olivia Twist was at a portfolio review in 2014, a designer gave her some constructive feedback that stuck with her ever since. “They said my work is great but I’m a visual chameleon,” she tells It’s Nice That. With an aesthetic that morphed with every project, Olivia decided it was time to find a look that felt “organic and distinctive” – but most imperatively her own.
Over the Christmas break that year, Olivia did just that as she developed a sketchy and colourful aesthetic inspired by lino and woodblock printing. “I would say I have developed my own pseudo anatomical drawing language,” she explains. “I love faces, bone structure and the way light falls on the face. I was that kid that used to stare – not in a creepy way but because I was fascinated. I’m curious and this is my way of understanding how things work.” Inquisitive about the world around her, the illustrator built a skillset that allowed her to transfer these thoughts and observations into her art pieces. Her family are from St Lucia and arrived in the UK after Windrush, which is a history that also influences her practice. Then, along with the work of Emory Douglas, Olivia also pulls inspiration from her home of east London, a “buzzing” area and community that she strives to capture in her work.
When it comes to the process behind making one of her illustrations, Olivia doesn’t need anything fancy. Rather, she utilises found materials such as odd bits of coloured cards plus pretty much anything else she can get her hands on. Black marker pens are the most visited tool, chosen for its permanence and boldness. “I love how the pen bleeds and how when the pen is running out you can use it for shading,” she says. “The different ink levels help me make black colourful in my work.” It also takes time for Olivia to make her pieces, as she’ll often work up a sketch, take some moments away from it and return to finish off the final elements such as the texture and personal details of her characters. “I love doing detail on the cheekbones, lips and hair, of course. You almost feel like a hairdresser, making sure the fade is flowing smoothly.”
Pointing us in the direction of a few of her recent (and favoured) pieces, first there’s Baking for mum, an illustration made just before lockdown. Awash in a vibrant tone of mustard yellow, the image details her brother – kitted out in sports training gear – baking a cake for Mother’s Day. It was a period filled with uncertainty, where society turned towards simple pleasures like kneading bread and cooking up sweet treats. Meanwhile The party don’t stop is a piece crafted in response to a “shoddy” landlord, she says, who’d left Olivia and her housemates with unwanted furniture piled in the living room for the entirety of their tenancy. “We hated it but then got used to having a bed base in the sitting room. I made this to talk about the difficulties of renting in London – communal living is rewarding but also challenging.”
This picture, much like the rest of her portfolio, pinpoints the illustrator’s drive to address important topics prevailing among society – including uprisings, protests and the housing crisis. “The housing market is really difficult for millennials," she says, "we aspire to buy but the process of renting and saving is long. But may as well have fun while you’re in it.”
Olivia Twist: Don't ask how were cousins by (Copyright © Olivia Twist, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.