Express yourself: Unlocking a new side to your creative persona
What would your signature style look like in another medium? Two top illustrators Charlotte Mei and Olivia Twist discuss the importance of creative experimentation.
This Christmas, Bombay Sapphire has partnered with London Graphic Centre to launch an innovative twist on the traditional advent calendar, intended for the creatively-minded. Titled 12 Days of Creativity, this is the latest in Bombay Sapphire’s long-standing commitment in support of the arts. A host of inspirational tutorials will be available to view from 25 December to 5 January featuring world class UK artists and Bombay Sapphire’s very own mixologist, Franck Dedieu. Plus a box of premium goodies is now available to purchase as the perfect gift, inviting you to unlock your inner artist and stir creativity.
In this new series of articles, It’s Nice That has teamed up with Bombay Sapphire to explore how creativity expresses itself in all its variety of forms. Tapping into the creative’s instinct for craft and experimentation, these features hope to incite new ideas and hidden passions.
Here at It’s Nice That, we tend to fall in love with an artist for their distinct visual style. Often this style has taken many years to develop and will probably be an ongoing learning curve for as long as the practice continues – the journey is part of the fun, right?
But no matter how strong and sturdy the aesthetic, there is one vital constant that is an inherent part of the creative process: experimentation. For many creatives, one of the simplest and most effective ways to stimulate new ideas is to try out a new medium. By grabbing hold of that new pen you’ve always to try, or by finally learning that new programme which will take your practice to another level, new mediums can give rise to an undiscovered aspect of your creative inner self.
This is the topic we’re here to explore today with two esteemed UK illustrators, Charlotte Mei and Olivia Twist. We’ve gifted these two artists with an innovative art tool each, inviting new found inspiration into their established practice while encouraging you at home to do the same. Find out more here. Both have a certifiably unique style which feels undisputedly their own but in this article, we’re exploring other, unexpected avenues of their practice which never fail to spur on more ideas. The London-based illustrator and artist Charlotte is best known for her endlessly charming paintings featuring pastel colours and a light, tactile touch. Imbued with a hint of warm nostalgia, her clients include Nike, Sony Music, Hermès, Penguin Books, not to mention a recent collaboration with Lulu Guinness.
While she is widely known for her 2D works, Charlotte in fact operates across a myriad of disciplines which keeps her on her toes creatively. She works in clay, animation, collage, comics (not to mention drawing and painting) and it is this eagerness to consistently feed her creative appetite which sustains a momentum and makes her work infinitely alluring to the viewer. “It’s definitely true that some of the best ideas, visual or otherwise, come from mistakes, so working in a way which allows for mistakes prevents me from stagnating within my practice,” she tells us on the importance of shaking things up.
Charlotte is one of those lucky artists who can make work very quickly – an element of immediacy clearly evident in the lush dabs of paint and cheerful expressions of her famously charming characters. And although her work goes through several iterations before she’s satisfied with the composition, there is a congruent hint of naivety that always injects her artwork with life. “Each version of my work teaches me something new, and sometimes that comes in the form of screwing up and realising that the screwed up version is way cooler!” she adds.
This ethos perfectly coincides with Bombay Sapphire’s 12 Days of Creativity campaign, inviting creatively-minded people to unleash their inner artist this Christmas. For a week and a half starting on Christmas Day, 12 Days of Creativity is home to a range of creative tutorials – including one from Charlotte and many other exciting artists – stirring up some creativity in the new year. Charlotte’s tutorial, launching on 1 January 2021, will take us through how she uses one of her staple media, wax pastels, and how they can be used to encourage new ideas and inspirations through its tactile qualities. Also hosting a tutorial on one of her most-used tools is the illustrator, arts facilitator and lecturer, Olivia Twist. By contrast, Olivia, who is also based in London, will be demonstrating her masterful use of the brush pen, which features heavily in her figurative practice.
The multi-disciplinary Royal College of Art graduate has been commissioned by the likes of WePresent, as well as a host of community-focused initiatives. But Olivia's relationship with the versatile tool that is the humble pen dates back to the second year of her undergraduate degree when she really came into her own artistically. She recalls a professional portfolio speed dating event “where all these cool designers came in,” she tells us. “I was sitting with this one guy and I feel bad because I really can’t remember his name.” Nevertheless, his analysis of Olivia’s work has stuck with her since: “Your work is brilliant but you are a bit of a visual chameleon.” In response, she thought to herself, “You know what, I want to be a practitioner who has their own signature style” and just like that, she challenged herself to find it going forwards.
To reach this point Olivia trailed a variety of different materials in testing, ultimately trying to find that material that just felt right. After much experimentation, Olivia continues, “I finally tried the felt tip and I loved the way it felt in my hand and how easy it was to control. I wanted my style to be something that is effortless. Something free flowing and something that I would be proud of.” Since discovering the rhythmic joys of said pens, Olivia hasn’t looked back. With time, she’s only evolved her understanding of the technique which can be seen in almost all her work. And luckily for us, it’s this command of the pen which she’ll demonstrate in her inspiring tutorial, available to view on 26 December on Bombay Sapphire’s 12 Days of Creativity.
Discussing her confident wield of the brush pen, Olivia’s tutorial sheds light on how she creates both bold and highly delicate artworks. A confident image maker, the artist is deftly capable of making black feel more colourful by adding specific details here and there, and building texture by understanding the ins and the outs of the pen she’s working with.
Although she has a masterful touch when it comes to using these pens, Olivia is far from complacent. “It’s fun to challenge yourself to keep growing as a designer,” she asserts. For instance, a while ago, she established an aesthetic which features the colour black on different black backgrounds. But that doesn’t mean the black has to appear in just one definitive way. “I’m happy to work in black conte crayons, biros, even paint markers because I love the different textures they form,” she tells us. “I think it’s easy to get comfortable, and this illustration thing is for life, so I have to shake it up for myself you know.”
It’s an attitude Olivia shares with Charlotte, who expresses the diversity of thought and emotion through a variety of mediums. Charlotte says: “It wouldn’t feel right to me to limit my practice to a specific process.” Whatever the medium she chooses to communicate in, there is one unifying element which ties all her work together: ideas. It’s Charlotte’s experiences as a person, rather than control over a material, which matter most to her. “In that sense,” she maintains, “experimenting with new media is a really important part of my creative development and often leads my work to new discoveries as process guides my evolving practice.”
The established illustrator also learns something new with each iteration of an artwork. “Something that comes in the form of screwing up,” Charlotte says on the beauty of imperfection, “and realising that the screwed up version is way cooler.” Her practice started out however with a particular focus on colour. One of her earlier memories is her painting a bunch of flowers when she was four years old. Even today, she can vividly recall the purples, reds and greens in the still life. Ever since, colour has been integral to Charlotte’s work, playing a key role in the evocation of feeling. The immediacy of putting colourful paint to canvas is what first attracted her to painting – a crucial aspect of Charlotte’s work – but with time, she’s applied her knowledge of colour to other experiments, most recently exploring the depths of digital media and moving image.
Charlotte Mei photographed in her studio by Sophie Green. (Copyright © Sophie Green)
Olivia Twist photographed in her studio by Sophie Green. (Copyright © Sophie Green)
By openly exposing herself to a variety of mediums, Charlotte receives the benefits of the tactility of analogue mediums, as well as the immersiveness of the digital. Both the analogue and digital play important aspects in her practice, not to mention in the broader world, in different ways. “You can really accelerate ideas in the digital,” she explains, “but in the analogue, a tactile and bodily mode of creating exists which is sub-cognitive and instinctive. I guess I couldn’t give up either one.”
For Olivia on the other hand, trying out new techniques allowed her to work slower and in turn, “think deeper about the critical underpinnings of my work.” By removing the comfort blanket of the pen, she can preempt composition and the line work, allowing her ideation process to become more considered and reflective. It’s a tried and tested process for the illustrator, who previously took part in an artist residency in Johannesburg taking on the challenge of working with paint, indulging in the making process and letting her work breathe with time. There, she learned more about layering and transparency and essentially, how to make her work pop. Then, a while later, during another residency at a youth club in South London, she ventured into a project with spray paints, customising donated bikes with young locals. This, on the other hand, taught her a completely different skill: the importance of planning.
As for the future, Olivia is itching to try out digital embroidery in this way, hoping to experiment with it on some fabrics she’s dyed herself. There’s no doubt this will teach her something else completely new, making room for more happy accidents which only enriches the work both conceptually and technically. Charlotte and Olivia’s work is testament to this experimental spirit, an ethos additionally embraced by Bombay Sapphire and the 12 Days of Creativity campaign, jam-packed with a host of creative content to release undiscovered creative potential.
From 25 December to 5 January, you can discover more creative tips with Charlotte and Olivia when their exclusive tutorials launch online. Put new found inspiration into practice today with Bombay Sapphire’s 12 Days of Creativity and its calendar, a joyful twist on the traditional advent calendar for the creatively-minded. The beautifully designed box packed full of premium art supplies and cocktail-making tools is now available plus several Bombay Sapphire creative tutorials which you can sign up to here. Take part now to enjoy inspiring art and mixology sessions this Christmas.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.