Getting physical: Why mark-making holds such value to creatives of all types
We may be living in the digital age, but physical processes are just as valuable to generate ideas than ever before. We welcome Jasmin Kaur Sehra and Oliver Macdonald Oulds to explain how this process encourages their creativity.
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 or mixologist 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.
Creative expression comes in all shapes and sizes and, here at It’s Nice That, we are endlessly amazed by the breadth of outputs that attract our attention. Whatever the end result however, and whatever the process that’s led to said output, there is one thing that never fails to unite the myriad of creative projects: physical idea generation.
Starting at the drawing board is the genesis of most great ideas. Artists, photographers, graphic designers all seem to work to this formula, and in It’s Nice That’s 13 years of championing creativity, we’ve seen that how creativity usually kicks off with a physical process to invite ingenious ideas in.
We’re lucky to be joined by two very different but equally talented artists to explore the matter in this partnership with Bombay Sapphire. We’ve gifted these two artists with an innovative arts tool each, spurring on new found inspiration and encouraging you at home to also get involved. Find out more here. The first is multi-talented illustrator and designer Jasmin Kaur Sehra who uses playful typography and colourful layouts to relay uplifting messages. Her clients range from WeTransfer, Merky Books, Adobe, Levis and Adidas and while her work tends to take the form of the digital, her process is rooted in the physical.
Our second interviewee is Oliver Macdonald Oulds, an illustrator not bound by a signature style, whose practice we’ve noted for its ability to record intimate, peaceful moments while being experimental at the same time. An associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins, Oliver has a unique way of capturing the ephemerality of a moment through illustration.
Despite the differences in these two creative practices, today we’re delving into their similarities. For one, they both value the time-tested method of jotting quick ideas down through mark making, doodles, sketches, or painting. In Oliver’s case, he tells us, “It has always seemed much easier to get my head around physical media rather than the digital.” The physical process is more self-explanatory to the London-based artist, something he recalls as far back as nursery in Manchester, attempting to draw Batman from imagination. He remembers how he needed help drawing the eyes of Batman, “so I asked my teacher but got frustrated with her because she’d done the eyes ‘wrong’.”
What he was getting at, though the young infant Oliver found it hard to articulate, was that he wanted Batman to look meaner, but didn’t know how to explain that to his teacher. Reflecting on the memory, “It makes me laugh as that feeling never really goes away,” he continues, “of trying to get out what you see in your head on the page.” And for Oliver, it’s that satisfying feeling of envisioning an image in the mind’s eye that keeps him attentively engaged in drawing.
As for Jasmin, on the other hand, her first memories of making art come in the form of colouring books given to her and her siblings by her parents, as well as art materials, collages and drawings. “After we finished our creations,” she recalls of this time, “we’d always stick them up on our bedroom wall alongside pieces of art we’d made at school. I loved it.” While her work is predominantly digital nowadays, it was the physical act of drawing and making which initially formed the foundations of everything creative to come. Traditional tools like graphite pencils, pastels and coloured pencils accompanied her first dabbles in the arts and she says of this crucial period in her creative development: “You have to give yourself time to learn the basics, even through experimentation, you find what works for you and what you enjoy.”
Over time Jasmin’s aesthetic and technique evolved, gradually moving to the digital sphere. But in spite of this, her work still has the bearings of the physical. With typography at the core of her work, expressive words have a hand rendered quality to them – a style crafted through years of experimenting with different pens and markers which, in turn, gave rise to different typographic styles. Placing her particular creative pathway into perspective Jasmin adds: “There is no wrong or right way, everyone’s journeys are different.”
Similarly to Oliver, experimentation has always been key to her practice, not to mention a way to unlock new mediums. It was by experimenting that she first tried digitising her painted typographic works; now, her signature aesthetic. “I just loved how everything that I learned in a traditional way could be adapted digitally and I was able to create animations too,” she adds. Jasmin admits that nothing can replace the tactile nature of an analogue process, but that being said, her work offers up the opportunity to play with “the best of both worlds” in an interchangeable manner.
Jasmin expands on her multi-disciplinary practice in an exclusive tutorial courtesy of Bombay Sapphire, released on 3 January 2021 on The 12 Days of Creativity website. The tutorials are available to unlock every day from 25 December – 5 January, coming at the perfect time to explore your inner artist. In Jasmin's personable video tutorial however, she shares the inside scoop as to precisely how she uses fine liners to create her characterful designs. Shedding light on top secret tricks to get you in the mood for a creativity-fuelled Christmas, tune in here to find out more.
As well as Jasmin and Oliver, the tutorials feature several more exciting UK artists and It's Nice That favourites, offering their take on how to get creative this Christmas. So watch out for Joey Yu, Patternity's Anna Murray, Charlotte Mei and Olivia Twist hosting their respective creative tutorials too. Each of them will delve into a different innovative arts material, uncovering special ways to use these tools, unique to each artist.
In the creative disciplines, play is wholeheartedly encouraged at every stage of one’s practice, from the early years of education to the highest echelons of industry giants. Much of this encouragement, for those who attended art school, happens during these years and it is here that all kinds of tools, exercises and briefs ensue.
For Oliver, this was certainly the case, but instead of experiencing this time as a period of creative release, on the contrary, “I find it hard to relax into,” he says. “It’s easy to compare yourself to others in these sorts of situations, but over time, I find myself still coming back to the idea of ‘play’ and testing out other compositions before settling on a final outcome.” Even though it was a concept that took longer than usual to put into practice, “there’s definitely something in it.”
When looking at Oliver’s portfolio, the terms play and experimentation come immediately to mind. There is an energy in the line work and characterisation of his illustrations, consistent across all his work whatever the medium. Recently, he’s begun working more and more with watercolours, which exemplifies the above qualities. “I’m enjoying the speed at which it works and also the fact that it forces me to accept the inherent blur and fuzziness that comes with the given medium.” In turn, the unpredictable physicality of the process invites unexpected results for Oliver, pushing him in the direction of painting as opposed to “just drawing with a paintbrush.” By this, he says eloquently, “arranging flat shapes of colour to create depth and structure in an image rather than relying on my mark making vocabulary which I could utilise in drawing.”
Demonstrating this unique approach to using watercolours, as part of Bombay Sapphire’s 12 Days of Creativity, Oliver has provided an inside glimpse into his creative process through an insightful tutorial launching on 28 December. Available for anyone to view and in turn, get inspired with the turn of the new year, the artist shares an exclusive behind-the-scenes run down of how he creates intimate moments through the medium of watercolour. The same watercolours are also available in the 12 Days of Creativity Calendar, a creative take on the advent calendar packed full of premium art supplies and cocktail-making tools.
An immediate feeling of rawness evoked from the physical image is palpable in Oliver’s work. In this way, all his work feels like it belongs in the sketchbook as they’re so intimate. And, as he admits, “sketchbook work is probably the most truthful aspect of my practice.” Oliver values the instantaneousness of an idea jotted down in its purest creative form, an image that isn’t “too overworked”. He strives to make every job for a client like a rough sketchbook draft, encapsulating that diamond-in-the-rough aesthetic. Through redrawing a character of image over and over again, Oliver is able to find “the root of the personality”, whether that’s through a hinting posture of character quirk and fundamentally, it is these idiosyncrasies that he aims to portray from the start.
Though Jasmin works a lot digitally, she still values the feeling of the analogue. As much as she loves working in digital, she confesses that she does miss the physical touches that comes with mixing paints to get that desired blend, or the satisfying movement of drawing a swooping line. Though most of her work nowadays upends in something digital, Jasmin knows, “I’ll always go back to analogue,” if she needs a return to pure artistic flow. And as all creative-minded people are aware of, there is no feeling like “being able to hold a physical or original piece of art.”
For Jasmin who works across both digital and analogue disciplines, the creative opportunities are seemingly endless. Initial ideas don’t seem to end up the way she originally imagined working between the two, but that’s part of the magic of the process. “It’s all about going with the flow and seeing what works,” she says on how her creative journey has unfolded thus far. She provides some hearty advice for anyone struggling to maintain motivation during these unprecedented times: “Take your time, there is no rush.”
Also advocating for regular breaks, something fun to offset the work balance and most of all to have fun and enjoy the process, it is here that Jasmin concludes our exploration into the joys and hurdles of the creative process, and the multitude of new avenues that go along with it. As for Oliver, he takes comfort in the simple idea of “keeping on making the work.” Never mind having to rationalise or make sense of it, Oliver has the same idea as Jasmin when it comes to relishing in the creative process as much as possible.
From 25 December to 5 January, you can discover new creative tips with Jasmin and Oliver 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 became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.