An image from a series entitled Last Trip, by Mathis Rekowski
Illustrator Jonas Bergstrand, who is based just outside Stockholm in Sweden, found himself yearning for something that didn’t seem to be there in his own digital work. “I used to love the precision offered by digital tools, but after while I thought my work lacked warmth and life,” he says.
Taking a step back from your own work to examine its integrity is a brave step for any creative, but for Jonas it gave his work a new dimension. “The near-perfect, to me, is now much more interesting to look at than the dry, cold results of a process that rules out the element of chance.”
“Bold computer graphics can look too slick,” agrees Bristol illustrator Ben Newman (bennewman.co.uk), whose designs have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4, the NSPCC, Tate Modern and various independent publishers, notably Nobrow. “Working with handmade textures creates a more organic feel and warmth.”
Eoin Ryan’s style is grainy and geometrical
Ben’s work often beautifully emulates a woodcut feel, and in his new exhibition – his first solo show for three years – Ben takes a leap into 3D craft. Entitled Masks, the show, launched last month at the Nobrow shop and gallery in London, features collaborations with Felt Mistress, Sahar Mantle and Ben’s father Colin, a talented carpenter.
“The actual 3D construction of the masks is almost identical to how I work in 2D,” says Ben, “so it has been a very natural progress. Computers can’t offer the same tactile experience.” His enthusiasm for the personal work in Masks, which runs until 11 November, is evident. “I really enjoy experimenting without any pressure, and I have found that the ideas begin to snowball. It’s the challenge of trying to create a lot with a little that excites me and pushes me forward.”
Part of that different reaction that ‘handmade digital’ art provokes lies in its ambiguity, says Irish illustrator Eoin Ryan (eoinryanart.com). “Some people aren’t quite sure how the image has been created, whether it’s digital or not. Textures add a depth and atmosphere that people respond to.”
Princess and Totem by Kate Hindley
London-based Emily Alston (emilyforgot.co.uk) agrees. “It’s more honest and resonates well.”
Another reason for the popularity surge surrounding the crafted look is that companies are seeking something more authentic for their ad campaigns, according to the London duo Jitesh Patel and Alex Hammond, collectively known as 2&3 (centralillustration.com/artists/2&3/). “Crafted-style advertising provides a friendly, homely feel,” Jitesh says. “Large global companies favour this technique to appear more engaging and softer than perhaps they are.”
The recent popularity of “handmade digital” art might also be a reaction to the world of social networking and online shopping we live in, says London creative Suzie Webb (suziewebb.co.uk). We are, perhaps, rapidly becoming less in tune with our surroundings – “devoid of touch”, as she puts it. “I think we fell in love with handmade illustration this past decade to make up for the lack of the handmade in our everyday lives”. Our marvelling at craftsmanship in physical objects creates a yearning for a similarly “real” look in art. “We still want to be part of a world where ink runs, coffee stains and paper rips if you pull it,” Suzie says.
There is a kind of comfort to be found in such imagery, reflecting a bygone era where life was simpler and perhaps more secure, as Lesley reflects. “Fifties illustration styles are so popular. Maybe it’s a reaction to the current climate and uncertainties of modern life.”
Work by Kate Hindley for the Girls Who Draw postcard book Menagerie
“I think the sense of nostalgia associated with the handmade feel can create added charm and appeal,” says Worcestershire-based illustrator and character designer Kate Hindley (katehindley.co.uk). Her drawings could be pages from an old children’s book – they’re full of playful detail you can almost reach out and touch.