Toma Vagner on analogue processes, ballpoint pens and illustrating for Harry Styles
We last heard from the New York-based designer three years ago, and since then she’s had a few career-defining moments, to say the least.
- Ayla Angelos
- 15 February 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Over the last three years, New York-based Toma Vagner has had some key turning points in her career. First, and most notably, was when Harry Styles’ creative director sent over an email. They’d seen her drawing of the Rubik’s Cube from her personal series Toys and were keen to use this concept as the animated backdrop to the singer’s world tour. “I ended up creating four concept artworks for his 2018 tour and merchandise,” Toma tells It’s Nice That. “Watching my work come alive on a big screen in Madison Square Garden was one of the most surreal experiences in my life.”
Toma then went on to work with various musicians and bands, creating album covers and taking on numerous editorial projects on the side, not to mention on commissions for brands and publications such as The Atlantic, The New York Times, Wired Italy, Lush, Red Bull, Working not Working and Bloomberg. Her portfolio, in turn, expanding and filling up with wonderful pieces covering all sorts of whimsical, stylised and bashfully-coloured illustrations. Like that of a recent commission for Premier Guitar, during which she was briefed to create a magazine cover for a special guitar pedal issue. A guitar fan herself, she was more than excited to take this one on – ensuing an editorial direction that focused on her interest in the instrument, plus pedals, drum machines and synthesisers.
Toma has long considered herself an artist. Upon reflection, she tells us how it all might have kicked off with a weird hobby: “I took a spool of thread and walked around, winding my room with it. My bed and table, exercise ladder, bookshelf and everything else in the room were connected with this thread. It looked like a chaotic, haywire spider web, except if that spider was on steroids.” At times, she’d decorate the room with a friend, adding in two colours and letting her imagination run wild. This creative mindset transpired into various other mediums too, like her school notebook, where she’d make up crosswords and tests like “which Sailor Moon character are you?” or “what is your main character trait?”
Then, at the age of 11, Toma started creating her own illustrations, articles and short comics for Treasure Island – a local city newspaper for children, created by children. “We were even paid a small fee for that,” she says. “It was so exciting to see my art getting published, and I still have that same feeling when I see my drawings published.” A pivotal moment indeed, her infatuation with the medium only grew as she struck a deal with her chemistry teacher in school. That deal was to get As and Bs in exchange for drawing school posters and newspapers, looking at the dangers of smoking and drugs. Toma of course accepted and was happy to put her hands towards something that she loved, instead of doing chemistry homework.
At the moment, Toma is at a point in her career where she doesn’t even need to use any outside inspiration to start making. She’s comfortable and adept in her medium, knowing exactly where she wants each piece to turn. There are, of course, hints to references like Ikea manuals, Soviet constructivism and Japanese bubble gum wrappers – things that are “ingrained in [her] subconscious” and have become well-acquainted with her aesthetic. She also sticks by her traditional linework technique, crafting her pieces in simple ballpoint pen chosen for the fine line quality and smell. Colours are added digitally or in analogue, depending on which direction her illustration is set to take. This, plus acrylic paint, gouache, pencil, textured paper and Photoshop are the tools used to create her textural pieces.
Lately, Toma has found herself “craving” traditional illustrative techniques. As such, her most recent drawings take on a more analogue method from start to finish. This includes Symmetry, Thimbles and Modular Synth Expo, the latter of which started off with a scanned drawing. “The process video looks like I did the drawing on the computer, but actually it is all done by hand on paper with close to 100 scans of my drawing,” she says of the work which features music provided by Moscow-based musician and composer Maria Teriaeva. “We made a new year resolution together with my friend in 2020, when I promised to make a process video of my work – so that’s how it came to be.” One thing to note is that the Modular Synth Expo isn’t a real event, she says, “but who cares?”
We most certainly don’t, and we completely adore the ways in which Toma’s work has evolved over the last few years. She plans to continue working in the realms of music, her “favourite type of project” and there are few key pieces in the works. This includes a new music album cover and a series depicting a darker take on nature, a contrast to her typical, friendlier pieces. Watch this space!
Toma Vagner: Quarantine (Copyright © Toma Vagner, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years 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.