Artist Interview: Jacqui Oakley

Jacqui Oakley is an illustrator who lives & works in Toronto. I love her bright, bold style and the depth and range of her work. Be sure to check out her website. Her hand lettering makes me swoon!

When did you first become interested in illustration?
I fell into illustration quite by chance. Since I was a small kid I always wanted to do art although I didn’t know what “doing art for a job” actually meant. After school I went to university for Art and Art History only to discover that the art portion wasn’t very critical and it wasn’t pushing me enough (I could be quite lazy back then). A good friend was in Sheridan’s illustration program (Oakville, ON.) and I was amazed by the use of experimentation in media and concept while balancing it all out with a foundation of life drawing and classic art skills. Once I got into the program I was drawn to the fact that illustration communicated with a larger world audience and tackled modern day issues. The combination of art and commentary really appealed to me.

When did you decide to make it your career?
When I graduated, it really seemed like the only choice. It was hard going at first, I waitressed for a while while trying to get my work out there and also working on my ‘style’. When I graduated I didn’t yet have a portfolio I was really proud of. Living in Toronto, I was lucky to be surrounded by a group of peers from school who were also trying to take a stab at freelancing, so we ended up challenging and encouraging each other. I don’t think I could have stuck through the tougher early years if it wasn’t for them. Running your own business takes time to get your name out there; just knowing that people have a similar excitement about art, collaborating on shows together and having the knowledge that you’re not the only one who’s having a bit of a struggle, really helps.

Who would you say has provided the biggest source of inspiration in your life? Why & how do they inspire you?
I think the biggest inspiration in my life has been my parents and the childhood they gave to me. I grew up in different parts of the world (Africa, England, the Middle East and Canada) and I think the world around me was constantly exciting and changing. I think it trained me to look closer at things around me and appreciate. I often wonder if it’s why my work is filled with pattern and colour. Whenever I try to simplify it just creeps back in there! To this day travel is not only a welcome relief from my regular routine but it always refreshes my need to make art.

Also, if I was to pick someone, I would say my Grandma Irene. She has an outgoing fearless personality I’ve always envied. She’s also is a constant learner. She learned to swim when she was 65 just so she could join us in the pool in the Middle East. A few months away from 90 yrs old she still goes dancing 4 times a week and swims on the off days, How can that not be inspiring? I could barely do that at my age!

What are your favorite tools to work with?
Paint and ink. I’m usually inspired by colour and pattern but lately I’ve really been trying to work on becoming looser in my work and having an interesting ink line. It’s been a new challenge. Hopefully there will always be things down the road I want to keep working on and add to the mix. Once you lose that need and interest in growing as an artist it’s time to move on to something else.

Can you walk us through your creative process?
I start off brainstorming with words and small doodles of random ideas that come to mind, then maybe collecting a bunch of reference images and inspiration (usually way too much), before then moving on to rough drawings. I always try to fit into an illustration something that inspires me whether it’s a colour, a certain composition, or a certain line. Sometimes jobs can have dry subject matter but if you find can something that gets you inspired, a final piece always looks better and the process is more enjoyable. Following the roughs, I wait for approval from the art director or do revisions then I blow it up to the size I’m going to work with and transfer it onto gessoed print-making paper. These days I work in acrylic paint, usually blocking out a few areas of colour and adding some texture with a dry brush technique. Then I go onto inking lines, tying to keep these loose, and then maybe a few spots of colour again in acrylic or coloured ink. Sometimes, especially for smaller spot illustrations, I’ll ink the lines by hand, then scan and add the colour digitally.

Which project has been most rewarding for you so far?
It was really fantastic to be able to finally collaborate with my husband, Jamie Lawson on the Two Crown King album packaging. The band gave us carte blanche with the imagery and so of course I had to paint a foreboding lion which my husband worked off for the internal design. It was wonderful to be able to bring to a project both our skills and to highlight each others.

What’s it like working across the hall from your husband? Do you ever wish you had more co-workers around?
Most of the time it’s fabulous, I have a tendency to become obsessive with what I’m working on and he is very good at reminding me to take break and actually eat. He’s also the person who most understands what I’m trying to accomplish both with my art and with my concepts. Being a designer and an artist, Jamie can give good critiques which aren’t always what I want to hear, but nevertheless it’s always helpful. Hopefully I do the same for him. Also, I think we both understand what it means for us to run our own business and how important it is for us to integrate both work and art into our lives. For, us and most illustrators and designers, this is not only a job but it’s a fully integrated part of our lives. Saying that, both loving what we do or being busy running our own business, we can forget to make time for other things in life. It’s the beauty of working for oneself but also a challenge.

I think more co-workers would be strange. I like the idea of working in a studio with other artists to bounce ideas off of, but I prefer to have my own space to be get wrapped up in projects and listen to my own music and get lost in podcasts or sci-fi audio books.

My favorite piece of yours is the Love You Make print. Can you tell us a little more about the process behind that print?
Thank-you! Drew Carson from Help Ink contacted me to do a illustration for his series of posters. Help Ink gets designers and illustrators to make art prints with 40% of the profits go towards a designated charity. The sales from my print The Love You Make, helps Smile Train, a charity that helps children with cleft palates. With this project it was amazing to be able to help a charity and to be part of a group of talented designers and artists. I also had such fun being able to paint lettering (always a treat) and to use one of my favourite Beatles quotes.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
I have never worked in book illustration before, but somehow this fall the stars aligned and I have three book releases. One is a children’s book, Lighting Our World, for Kids Can Press which focuses on colourful lighting festivals around the world seen through the eyes of children. I loved working on project since it brought back so many good memories of my own travels as a kid and made me want to check out more places. There’s a Viking festival every year in the Shetland Islands which looks incredible. Not only does everyone dress as Vikings but they set a full size galley of fire.

I also have The Complete Novels of Jane Austen coming out in October and The Complete Sherlock Holmes out in November from Amazon. I worked on these with the brilliant and lovely guys, The Book Designers, who designed beautiful box sets which house the hard cover books. I’m very proud to have worked on this. At the end of the day, I completed 132 full page illustrations for these volumes in two months. It was an exhausting and challenging process but I learned a lot from it and it made me work quickly and get a lot better at inking. Hopefully there’ll be more interesting projects like this down the road!


One Response to “Artist Interview: Jacqui Oakley”

James Pouliot

September 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Simply beautiful. I love the subject matter and the art. Truely a gift to share this.

I have just done a short photo documentary piece on an artist which I think you might find interesting on my website. Full of color and symbols, and I truely think you may enjoy it.

Go to: under people, and click the artist (you will know here when you see her)



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