Awkward nuance; Tim Blann on his quest to “obtain the perfect amount of ‘wrong’” in his drawings

Drawn to the tension between people and objects, Tim visually explores navigating opposing ideas.

15 May 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read


London-based illustrator, gouache painter and zine-maker Tim Blann’s practice lies “in the meeting point of illustration, design and painting.” Capturing the snapshots of everyday life, featuring “imagined objects, actions or gestures,” Tim is a storyteller, depicting tales “built around applying visual parameters to familiar situations and images.”

In an approach perhaps more akin to graphic design than illustration, Tim tells us that each individual project “usually centres around developing a distinct set of visual strategies or rules for making images.” This process always begins in Tim’s sketchbooks, crudely exploring more “formal things, like how shapes fit together or ‘behave’, or how I can exhaust a theme over a series of drawings.” 

Typically Tim takes a reductive approach to his illustrations, looking for images to communicate the most they can in the simplest way possible. “In my work, it often feels like I’m offsetting a reductive approach with elements that feel information-rich,” using the examples of symbols, as a signature, familiar visual language. He explains: “I think a lot about how to make images that feel both ‘lean’ and have inviting sugary energy.” Giving a greater overview of his work, Tim tells us that “the kind of emotional resonance rudimentary or reductive work offers is something I’m always trying to tap into,” hoping to meet the audience halfway “rather than coming all the way to you.”

With self-confessed child-like interest, Tim takes a great deal of inspiration from educational materials or toys designed for kids, telling us he loves “anything that tries to communicate complex ideas about how the world works while being completely accessible.” This notion is evident in the work he produces, fitting with the sentimentality of his reductive practice but still having a sense of happiness and elation. Almost designing to be understood by children, Tim says that “I’m always aiming to make work that similarly feels easy to read, or satisfying – whether it’s how two shapes interlock, or how an image might have some kind of logic or implied action.”


Tim Blann

“I’m interested in anything that seems to tell a story – mass-produced objects, folk art, clothing,” Tim tells us. “I’m always trying to think about objects as chunks of information or time capsules.” For Tim, objects have a twin function; telling us practical information such as “volume, shape, colour” as well as other nuanced cultural things, “about what we want or how we view the world.” This interest in duality is a recurring concept in Tim’s work, explaining that “lots of my work is based around exploring the tension between two opposing ideas and finding ways to navigate it visually.” Taking satisfaction in repurposing common visual languages, “such as using informational visual languages for ‘poetic’ means,” Tim’s overarching aim is to depict the nuances found in life and character. In visualising tacit knowledge, he “communicates universal but hard-to-describe feelings” bringing front and centre the smallest elements of our thoughts and feelings. 

Good Evening, a recent zine of Tim’s published by Native books, “explores pose and gesture over a series of black and white full-body character portraits that draw from historical costume, fashion photography and character archetypes.” Initially growing from a desire to create a figurative series as a method of storytelling, Tim successfully captures the charm and theatricality he was hoping to, in a humble, speculative publication that gives an impression of unpredictability. Good Evening was also an exercise attempting to “develop a ‘half graphic, half figurative’ approach to figurative work that uses limited materials,” in this case, using a pack of Crayola felt-tips. In this respect, Tim once again shows an element of graphic design in his work, setting himself rules and limitations to craft an outcome. 

“The project’s visual language was built around finding different ways to break down the human form into tonal parts,” Tim explains, with a result that may allude to “seams on clothing or areas of light and dark.” Within the delicate, purposeful mark-making that depicts characterful nuances, Tim also embraces the awkward, telling us that each figure “felt like a balancing act to obtain the perfect amount of ‘wrong’ in my drawing.”

GalleryTim Blann

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About the Author

Harry Bennett

After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.

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