Today we are sitting down with the master of the coloured pencil – Jack Oliver Coles! Jack is based in Newport, Wales and talks about combating the white page along with his time at Cardiff School of Art and Design.
Hello Jack, lovely to meet you!
First of all, the main thing that drew us to your work is your wonderful use of coloured pencils! We find that the old school pencil is lesser used in the digital age, thus what made you call the coloured pencil your own?
I really love digital work and I’ve tried many times to get into it myself but it’s never quite clicked for some reason. There was a point in university when I realised that if I was going to try and turn illustration into a career that I needed to create a cohesive body of work and be mindful of the fact that I’d need to use materials that I could afford to keep buying when I graduated. Pencils offer a lot of control and perform consistently so I’ve always favoured them to paint, coloured pencils were a good choice for me because I really love using colour in my work. There was just something about the texture of pencils on cartridge paper and how approachable it is visually that just really worked for me so I ran with it.
Your work features no outline and just a steady use of your hand, how does your work begin? Is it a long process from start to finish, and what are the main obstacles that you overcome in your process?
It’s quite a long process and there are lots of steps that I have to go through in order to get an illustration finished. I sketch everything on paper, scan everything, compose the final illustration on Photoshop, print out the plan, use a lightbox to redraw the image with coloured pencil on cartridge paper, and then colour everything in. The hardest thing about working without outlines is making sure that shapes are defined and that similar colours are distinguishable from one another so colour planning is very important.
Congratulations on your First Class Honours!
Jack studied Illustration at the Cardiff School of Art and Design and graduated in 2016. How did you find studying Illustration Jack and do you feel it has benefited the young creative you are today?
Thank you! I was pretty shocked when I found out my grade. My illustration degree was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had and it was a last ditch attempt at university because I’d dropped out of two degrees previously, Computer Games Design and Animation. Illustration gave me the opportunity to explore lots of different ways of working and made me analyse constantly the ways in which I worked. Illustration is ultimately all about communication and I had to become conscious of what my work was communicating when it was removed from me and my ability to explain it. My tutors were all incredibly passionate about the subject and really pushed everyone to question everything we did visually. I’m so happy with my entire university experience and I'm so thankful for the support and direction I received from both the tutors and the friends I made there.
We notice that you love to illustrate people in your work, is there any particular reason for this or do you simply enjoy capturing everyday expressions and characteristics?
There’s something about people that gives them the ability to communicate so much with so little and that’s really fun to try and get down on paper.
What do you find the most challenging to capture on paper? (We all know fear of the white page is very real!)
The fear of the white page is so real and the best way I know to combat it is by doing all of my preparation on cheap, loose sheets of paper. Knowing that at the end I’ll be redrawing everything on cartridge paper my sketches can be a complete mess and that’s okay because you can just throw things away if they don't go to plan.
Being based in Newport (UK) what is the creative scene like in your area?
The good thing about Newport is that Cardiff and Bristol are both so accessible, so even if nothing is happening here you wouldn’t have to go far to find something. The local university here used to have loads of creative courses but a few years ago it merged with another university and relocated all of the creative courses to a new campus in Cardiff. Diverting all of those people to an already bustling city just doesn’t make any sense to me. In fairness though there could be stuff going on here but joining in with social stuff like that has always been the part of being a creative that I've struggled with.
As a last note, what is a piece of advice you would like to give your younger self?
Keep making work and keep showing it to people.
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