Julian Glander and Sofia Johnston collaborate on a brand new set of weird and wonderful emojis


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New York-based animator and illustrator Julian Glander is well known for exploring unearthed territories in his projects. The characters that fill his animations are often imagined beings, oddly relatable thanks to their blob form. It should be no surprise then that when we asked Julian to develop a brief to work on, the animator wanted to visualise the indescribable, looking for a creative to help him create a series of emojis for some lesser-known emotions.

Discovering the work of London-born, Leeds-based illustrator Sofía Johnston from those who submitted their work – although he’s keen to admit that there “were seriously like 100 people who applied that I wish I could have picked” – Julian says it was Sofia’s unique “sense of humour” and her specific “simple linework” illustration style which was “really appealing to me as a jumping-off point".

For Sofia it was a few months back now when she learned of Julian’s work, coming across his Vimeo whilst hunting for inspiration. Similarly to Julian, Sofia’s “practice is largely centred around surreal world-building and character creation, with a good dose of nonsense thrown in,” and so she was “captivated by [Julian’s] nonsense songwriting and squishy creatures,” she tells us. “When I saw the open Call for Collaboration with him, I just had apply for it.”

Both such fans of each other from afar, once working together Sofia and Julian kicked off proceedings by describing their own emotions which were difficult describe succinctly. Feelings such as when you’re “cold and hot at the same time, like when you drink hot and coffee on a cold day,” Julian outlined, or the sensation “of being wrinkly from being in the bath too long”. However, it was once the pair came across words for lesser-known emotions that the project really came life.

For Sofia, Julian’s discovery of the Inuit word iktsuarpok, meaning “the feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house,” was a real turning point. Unearthed from articles about rarely described emotions, the pair realised there were already enough bizarre terms for them to interpret, and so they didn’t need to develop entirely new ones.

Working from these findings also offered the opportunity to describe the rarely used words with recognisable, inanimate objects. For instance, upon discovering the term “iktsuarpok”, Julian quickly drew a house with an anxious face, which allowed Sofia to “see the starting point for a really funny character,” she explains. “I love character development so that was probably one of my favourite chats!”

Deciding upon the final list of emotions as “iktsuarpok”; followed by “chrysalism”, a feeling of warmth, peace and tranquility “like being inside during a rainstorm”; “ilinx” used to describe the strange excitement of wanton destruction; “gigil” meaning the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute; “matutolypea” a word to describe the morning sorrow of waking up on the wrong side of the bed and finally “torschlusspanik”, the fretful sensation we often feel when time is running out.

With this list of words decided upon, Sofia got to work designing characters and illustrating their forms. At this point, all Julian had to do was sit back as it was his job to reinterpret Sofia’s drawings in his 3D style afterwards. Handing over this control was “weirdly relaxing!” he says. “A lot of times getting started and facing the blank page can be the hardest part of a project. So, I was happy to let Sofia handle that part.”

For Sofia this was when her part in the project opened up the most creative possibilities. “Julian was really excited by the personality and details in the drawings, which was great to hear,” she tells us. “It was also really refreshing to design knowing that what I created would later become three dimensional. It definitely made me consider shape and line in a different way.”

Sharing these drawings over Dropbox Paper, Julian and Sofia found the process of being able to consistently chat vital for the project to come to fruition. “I’m pretty old school and am still partial to a phone call or in-person meeting as the best way to do creative work, but I appreciated how no-frills and direct the Dropbox platform was,” comments Julian.

Whereas for Sofia it was Dropbox Paper’s ability to create an in-time sequence of their workings which was particularly helpful, aiding “reflection and documentation, and it’s handy to have everything in one place,” she says. “The documents feels far more comfortable and casual than constantly pinging e-mails back and forth, and it allows you to actually chat with your collaborators, and brainstorm more like you would in person. With Julian based in New York and me in Leeds, this was super useful!”

As Sofia uploaded each of her drawings, Julian was able to quickly understand her interpretations and stylistic choice. “OMG… Sofia… these are incredible!” he comments on their Dropbox Paper thread. “I’m losing my mind, I love the personality you’ve brought to each of these words!”

The illustrator and animator then began plugging away at shifting Sofia’s two-dimensional sketches into 3D renders, sharing recordings of his process to keep Sofia informed over in Leeds.

While interpreting her drawings, Julian also picked up on the character added in Sofia’s handwritten descriptions of each word and its subsequent drawing, developing the idea to add these descriptions to the digital versions of the pieces. With the project moving on rapidly during this process Julian adds: “Sofia’s brilliant mind definitely took this one to the next level. The way she chose to visualise these ideas is totally different from how I would have done it. I’m so grateful to have had her as a collaborator on this one.”

Now printed into a series of stickers to be handed out at Nicer Tuesdays this evening (24 September), the pair appear chuffed with this unique collaboration on an equally unique subject. “The final outcome is a slightly daft but also relatable set of emojis; they aim to capture the emotions as characters, who are also experiencing the emotions themselves,” concludes Sofia. “I hope that audiences find the emojis amusing and intriguing, but also insightful, I didn’t know so many unusual emotions existed before working on the project!”

However, for Julian, in line with this project of experiencing and describing new emotions, he hopes audiences react with SLK)82374FJKSLD, a brand new emotion he’s come into contact with “which is a mix of surprise and happiness and confusion and delight!”

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.


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