How creativity has helped us connect with a global community

We look back over some of the best artworks created by our audience from across the New World programme and shared on #CreativeNewWorld. Plus we hear from the creators as well.


Over the past three months, thousands upon thousands of people have taken part in our partnership with Today at Apple: New World. Across the 21 Virtual Studio sessions we’ve hosted and the five Creative Guides we’ve published, our audience has produced a breathtaking array of artworks, covering every creative discipline from illustration to photography, graphic design to animation.

As our partnership draws to a close, we want to celebrate just a fraction of this mighty collection, bursting with originality and character, which has been shared on the #CreativeNewWorld hashtag across social media. So, we got in touch with dozens of participants, both professional creatives and keen amateurs, to learn more about their pieces, but also to understand how the New World programme has featured in their lives over the past 12 weeks.

A number of lessons emerge from these conversations. For many, the live sessions have created a sense of connection to a wider, global creative community, during a time when many of us have been unable to gather together in person. For others, the simple act of creating an original work, taking inspiration and motivation from an experienced designer or artist, has offered up a much-needed moment of light – or perhaps even just a moment of light relief. And for others, these sessions have provided an opportunity to process some of the memories of the past 12 months, as well as a chance to look ahead to something brighter: the prospect of rebuilding a new and better world.

Read on to hear from these participants, to learn more about their experiences and to see their artworks. It’s worth saying, though, that this is by no means a comprehensive gallery of all the works produced across the series. To view that, we encourage you to head over to Instagram and follow the hashtag #CreativeNewWorld.

Processing the emotions of the pandemic

Speaking to participants, it’s clear that many have used the live sessions as a way both to work through the challenges the pandemic has brought, but also to leave those challenges at the door. Debbie Willetts, for instance, joined our very first session in early February with Nuria Bellver and Raquel Fanjul of Cachetejack. For her, the brief – to create a two-frame GIF representing a personal mantra for 2021 – came at exactly the right time.

“In the extreme stresses and physical isolation that came with the pandemic, I was shocked at how quickly my resilience ran out,” Debbie tells us, explaining that her GIF of a rainbow divided in two expressed the idiom: “A problem shared is a problem halved.” This saying, Debbie notes, has struck her afresh of late. “I need to be reminded to stop being so proud!” she says. “If I just reach out, there is kindness and great advice.”


Work by Debbie Willetts created during Cachetejack’s Virtual Studio

Emma Harvey from Glasgow joined the Studio Dumbar session on animation, which culminated in the audience collaborating on the creation of a “new world map” made out of countless individuals animated tiles (the final map can be seen directly above and is available to view here). The session fell in the third week of February, when Emma says she “was starting to feel particularly stuck and burnt out”. The session offered her “the space to be creative whilst not feeling too pressured to produce anything perfect”.

Similarly, Emma Ewert, who divides their time between London and Geneva, told us that the session run by the artist duo Thukral & Tagra helped them to “look at what impact lockdown had on me personally and creatively”, during a time when they had limited access “to creative environments and creative peers”.

At the end of March, Joel Gethin Lewis and Claire Cook from design studio Universal Everything ran a session looking at hope and connecting that emotion to the body. Claire’s sister Lucy was in the audience that evening, when Claire asked: “In a time like now, what gives you hope?” Lucy recalls: “My thoughts turned to children and how we need to make them happy right now. They, and we, need some fun and playfulness to recover from this strange and sad year we have all shared.” Her creation, a costume made from her son’s pyjamas and dozens of fluffy pom-poms, was just what we all needed to see.

Other sessions were more about escapism and reconnecting with the outside world. In his session in early March, the Mumbai-based artist Sameer Kulavoor encouraged participants to look with fresh eyes at their surroundings. He started by going through his extensive portfolio, covering everything from graphic prints and books to oil paintings on canvas. Afterwards, he set the audience a brief: to create a collage from their own photo library reimagining their environment.

Amogh Bhatnagar was in the audience, dialling in from Gwalior, India, and found the session helpful in processing a year of intense change. “In 2019, I moved to the city of Ahmedabad to study design,” he tells us. “In less than a year, I had to move back home because of the pandemic. The artwork is literally a collection of objects that really defined the spirit of the city to me.” In his collage, we see streets, a picture of his college and the city’s markets. “I didn’t have much of a cultural connection with the city,” he says, “so my memories of the time there are rooted deeply in the materiality of it all.”

Lorren Allen also attended, dialling in from Bristol in the UK. “I loved hearing Sameer talk about his process and how he builds up a catalogue of images to work from wherever he goes,” she says. When it came time for the hands-on part of the session, Lorren’s mind went quickly to the lockdowns her city has witnessed over the past 12 months. “I love nature and when looking through my photos, I found a lot of landscapes, animals and plants, which are the things that have really helped me find calm in this past year,” she explains. “I wanted to create an image of the perfect place to explore, combining lots of beautiful places I’ve been recently and imagining what it would feel like to be there.”

Her final artwork contains a drawing of a ballerina (done by her boyfriend). “I like to think that I am her,” she reflects, “dancing along through a pink-tinted landscape, on my way to meet a couple of ducks, with nothing else on my mind.”


Left: Work by Justyna Procak created during Studio Nari’s Virtual Studio
Right: Work by Amogh Bhatnagar created during Sameer Kulavoor’s Virtual Studio

An excuse to get playful and creative

While it’s clear that the pandemic was on a lot of people’s minds as they signed up for the New World programme, others joined in simply for the joy of rolling their sleeves up and getting playful. Certain sessions were certainly geared more towards whimsy, such as the artist duo Thukral & Tagra’s Virtual Studio, which invited participants to design their dream virtual pet, or the session led by Dafne Boggeri (the founder of Sprint, Milan’s independent art-book salon), which focused on book cover design.

Gawon Lee tuned in for almost all of the sessions, including Dafne’s. “I loved that even a small thing can work beautifully, with a slight change in one’s point of view,” he says. Dafne asked attendees to think about what they would take with them in their backpack for a futuristic sci-fi voyage, and you can’t argue with the rationale behind Gawon’s design: “For that trip, I decided to bring a lemon as I would be quite sad if alien planets had no lemon.”

Other attendees used the Creative Guides – which allow you to complete a project in your own time, at your own pace – as an opportunity to learn skills from designers and artists they admire. This was the case for Magdalena Feikusová from Lisbon, Portugal, who decided to tackle the Creative Guide we published in collaboration with the founder of Studio Nari, Caterina Bianchini.


Work by Gawon Lee created during Sprint’s Virtual Studio


Work by Lydia Lees created during Studio Nari’s Virtual Studio

“Studio Nari is a long-term design crush,” says Magdalena. “Also, lately, I have been trying to experiment with typography and have been learning to have more fun with it, to not take it too seriously, as I was taught at university.” It’s easy to overlook the importance of play, simply experimenting without pressure. “My aim was to create something more intuitive, not to overthink it during research,” says Magdalena. “And it was great to see how you can play with type, just enjoying the process without minding all the typography rules, since you have no time to think about them!”

Alberto Santomé in Barcelona tackled one of the other Creative Guides, led by the photographer Camila Falquez. Alberto says they found Camila’s work immediately “really exciting”; reading over the Guide in full gave them the “creative trigger to set up a still life with my lovely home harvest of anemone flowers”. They had only planted them a few weeks before and, with the weather starting to get warmer in Catalonia, they had just started to bloom. “Just two flowers had come up early and beautiful, so I thought to create something with them as a tribute.”


Work by Alberto Santomé created in response to Camila Falquez’ Creative Guide


Work by Magdalena Feikusová created in response to Studio Nari’s Creative Guide


Work by Magdalena Feikusová created in response to Studio Nari’s Creative Guide


Left: Work by Bárbara Caria created during Kris Andrew Small’s Virtual Studio
Right: Work by Ramona Seidl created during Ohni Lisle’s Virtual Studio

Looking inward

Other parts of the programme were more preoccupied with introspection and celebrating your unique identity. In his Creative Guide, the Sydney-based artist and designer Kris Andrew Small took us through the process of collaging a self-portrait by combining abstract pattern, photography and hand-drawn typography, all signatures of his practice. Ohni Lisle, meanwhile, used both her Creative Guide and live Virtual Studio to explore aspects of self-portraiture and self-expression. The brief in her Guide was to create a set of stickers that you’d like your “future self” to use to communicate.

Marta Úrbez followed Ohni’s Guide with her housemates in their London flat. “It was really fun to draw for a bit after work and speak about what we each thought of our future selves,” she says. Having not drawn for a while, the fact that it was a guided process helped Marta not to feel too overwhelmed by the blank page. “I tried to make choices I usually wouldn’t have made, like using as much as I could from the material that was in front of me or drawing over something even if I thought it would mess it up,” she says. “I tried not to overthink it... a good tip for my future self!”


Work by Marta Úrbez created in response to Ohni Lisle’s Creative Guide


Left: Work by Rosa Hirzer created during Sara Andreasson’s Virtual Studio
Right: Work by Claire Prouvost created during Sara Andreasson’s Virtual Studio

Emma Hursey from Queensland, Australia, also tackled Ohni’s Guide and found the process liberating. “There are these all-too-familiar inhibitions, which can spring up when creating new styles of work,” she says. “But having this space of play with supportive, clear guides actually led me to lose that self-consciousness and just have fun exploring with a direction in mind.” Her final artwork focuses on four parts of her identity, “elements of myself that are prevalent or that I’d like to work on,” she explains: “My grief, setting boundaries, being fabulous and being comfortable where I am.”

The London-based illustrator Sara Andreasson led a session in March, as part of our programming for International Women’s Day, which was focused on accepting ourselves and the things that make us unique. Rosa Hirzer joined the session from Vienna and created an artwork all about self-reflection. “My portrait was created in celebration of my wallflower-self,” she says, “which is, at times, not easy for me to accept as a part of my character.” She wanted to visualise this introspectiveness in a favourable light, “creating a scene to evoke a certain serenity that comes with being in one’s own world.”

Claire Prouvost, a French illustrator based in Dublin, also joined this session and produced a work called Acceptance. “I have always struggled with my lean body,” she tells us, “lacking ‘feminine’ shapes like larger hips, a full breast. I have had a hard time accepting it could be a woman’s body and can be sexy and desired. This artwork is showing me slowly unveiling my body, as a metaphor towards acceptance.”


Work by Emma Hursey created in response to Ohni Lisle’s Creative Guide


Work by Darren Shaddick created during Cachetejack’s Virtual Studio

Discovering a global community

One of the core missions behind the New World series has been to foster connection and collaboration during a time when many around the world are unable to meet up in person or experience a sense of community. Darren Shaddick joined the Cachetejack session from his home in Devon, in southwest England. His personal mantra for 2021 was “Chin Up!” which feels apt for our current situation. “I made this GIF,” he says, “to remind myself and others to retain a positive outlook and be excited for what the future may bring.”

All too often, when we celebrate the benefits of in-person events, we neglect the fact that those outside of big cities often miss out. For Darren, this was one of the advantages of the series. “As I’m based in North Devon, I tend to miss out on many exciting live experiences such as this one, as they would normally be happening in bigger cities,” he notes. “Getting involved with events such as this creates a great feeling of community within the creative space. I think they are imperative to a creative person’s growth and are incredibly useful and insightful for emerging and established creatives alike.”

Similarly, for Leyth Makdessi, who dialled in from Beirut, the session run by illustrator and animator Rama Duwaji allowed him to feel connected. “It was a refreshing experience that I haven’t had in a while,” he tells us, “to be part of a worldwide creative community event and for free. It felt like I was back in a studio with classmates and colleagues.”


Work by Aditi Kulkarnir created during Sameer Kulavoor’s Virtual Studio


Work by Donna Lennon created during Konstantinos Trichas’ Virtual Studio

Konstantinos Trichas’ session revolved around the sheer joy of postcards and had us all yearning to travel again. But more than that, it created a real feeling of togetherness. Maria Mylona joined the session from Athens, in Konstantinos’ native Greece, and created a series of three postcards representing her home city and her own connections to it. The session came after a tough few days for Maria personally and she was surprised by how connected the session and the creative brief made her feel. “I didn’t know how a virtual community could help you feel happier and more creative in harsh moments,” she says. “I felt my chest opening to the world and my community.”

The New World programme has clearly played an important role in keeping people connected, inspired and creatively motivated during an ineffably difficult time. Yet one of its key missions was also to teach creative skills to help us all in rebuilding a new and better post-pandemic world. Looking ahead to the future, this notion of community is perhaps the most important legacy that New World could ever hope to have – reminding us all that there is such a thing as a global creative community and that it is supportive and strong.

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Further Info

To see more of the artworks created by our audiences across the New World programme, follow the hashtag #CreativeNewWorld across social media.

About the Author

Matt Alagiah

Matt joined It’s Nice That as editor in October 2018 and became editor-in-chief in September 2020. He was previously executive editor at Monocle magazine. Drop him a line with ideas and suggestions, or simply to say hello.

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