GLOBAL VOICES SERIES – London Artist Jessica Man

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This is part of an on-going series of interviews by Yinsey Wang with East Asian voices around the globe. The series aims to introduce perspectives from different walks of life.

Jessica Man is a London-based artist, who is inspired by colour, textiles, fairytales and shapes. Having been chosen as a guest artist for the brand PAPERSELF, specialising in paper eyelashes and temporary tattoos, Man is reinventing the way we see tattoos with her eye-catching and adaptable designs. She is making them wearable in a new way, like putting on jewellery to match our outfits. Always with her trusty notebook at hand, Man keeps her ideas flowing by taking in inspiration from her environment. She shares her approach to the creation and design process with Yinsey Wang in this exclusive interview.

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Tell us about the origins of your passion for art.

I think it stems from experimenting as a child. Growing up, I was naturally more drawn towards my coloured pencils and stashes of paper, rather than dolls. I have a memory of myself colouring a man’s face in green in a colouring book, with my dad telling me that it wasn’t a human skin colour and that I was doing it wrong! I questioned this: “why not?” and simply responded that the man looked happier in green. I’ve been curious about creation ever since! I had a free way of thinking and was kind of rebellious, I suppose. I marveled at how expressive art could be, more than anything else.

When you practice expressing yourself artistically, you start to observe and see the world differently; this can often be surprising and humorous! It is unpredictable nature really captivates my interest.

You have mastered many different types of media, but which one do you feel is your strongest or you are more comfortable using?

Currently into ink pens and watercolours. Pens, for focusing on details and watercolour, for hinting colours. To me, it’s quickest and easiest to combine these two together for illustration purposes, and kind of effortless but gives an elegant outcome!

You are a guest artist for the brand PAPERSELF. Tell us about the inspiration behind the designs you created for them.

The aim of these temporary tattoos was to embrace them as something that could be incorporated into an everyday lifestyle instead of something that is labelled as a decorative tattoo for a simply one-off occasion. So, I took to the approach of how women normally like to accessorise with jewellery or real flowers to go with a favourite outfit on a day-to-day basis. It gave me the idea that these everyday items could be translated into painted diamonds, crystals and flowers as designs as apposed to something else e.g. birds and words. It ran with the concept that these tattoos would be imitating wearable jewellery and flowers that can be applied, which is a playful twist to conventional real jewellery & flowers.

I had been collecting flowers throughout the year, then using the old traditional method of squishing them flat to dry into yellow pages for weeks on end before taking them out. I’ve obsessively managed to fill my room with a variety of collaged dry flowers in frames. The illustrations are of actual real flower types in the U.K from my dried flower collections and the jewellery are of a variety of trinkets from trips I took travelling around the United Kingdom.

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Describe your typical working process.

I’m likely to have a small sketchbook and pens in my bag, in case I suddenly see something inspiring that I need to take note of or draw. They may have notes on exhibitions I’ve been to, books I’ve read, what I felt happened at a particular place, some colour combinations I saw that I found intriguing, patterns from doodling, and so on. It’s a great resource when I need to be creative and go back to previous ideas.

After that, I whack on some music, put the kettle on and so begins some major tea drinking… solid market research and the creation of mood boards of colours, patterns, photography and collage. It goes a long way in terms of gathering my thoughts and knowing a rough direction of where I am going (which could change!). Then, days and nights of continuous free hand drawing and painting, which I love! I may go through drawing ten or more of the same thing with slightly different variations in colour, size and detail before I pick only maybe three out of the batch for some good computer editing afterwards. 

Which artist inspires you the most and why?

I’m finding it impossible to narrow it down to just one; there are so many great artists out there in different mediums. I hope you will let me be cheeky and get away with mentioning two. Forgive me, as I am about to fully express my art geeky knowledge!

My background is originally in textiles design and Issey Miyake has always inspired me. The ways he shapes his clothes and manipulates geometric shapes, alongside the clever use of block colour combinations and intricate fabric finishes, are so enticing to me! The man’s a genius. The composition of his clothes is something to be deeply admired.

I have a weakness for florals, so I love William Morris’s work, which is completely different. It’s so kitsch and has a timeless grandeur attached to its style, the detail is just incredible. The way he turns florals into patterns is a time consuming and delicate skill, considering they didn’t have computer programs to help them achieve this in the 18th century. I have a book of his work and I flick through it all the time for ideas. In fact, Liberty art fabrics are doing a wonderful job of creating work in that style, I walk through their shop floors quite often.

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You are also a talented singer and guitar player! How do you manage to keep up with so many interests?

I would say, post stick notes to manage my time. I make notes to ‘make notes’! That is partly true, but in all honesty… when you are passionate about something, you are happy to make time for it.

Thank you for saying I’m talented but I’m really no Whitney Houston!

If interested, here is a link to my YouTube, I am open to feedback, questions and suggestions. Thank you! 

What are the next stages of your artistic development?

Hopefully, I will see if there are opportunities to expand my line of designs with PAPERSELF. Hopefully there will be more to come, watch this space!

I am also working on some private drawings and paintings in the meantime, which I may turn into prints. I’ve been looking to put work into a gallery for a long time, in which I may invite my talented art/design friends and associates to collaborate.

As for music, I am in search of a decent Gu Zheng (Oriental flat harp) tutor that teaches in London. As soon as I heard how my mum’s old and un-used GuZheng is going to waste in her Hong Kong home. I felt sorry for the instrument and flew back immediately to carry it back to London. Don’t tell my guitars I did that though, they will feel like I didn’t love them enough to do the same for them!

If you could work with any individual on a creative project, who would it be and why?

Tim Walker, the British fashion photographer. His fashion photography style is unique in a way of how he designs his sets and props to tell a story, usually with fairytale-like ideas in unconventional ways. A little while back, I went to his exhibition at Somerset House Strand and the experience walking through whilst viewing his work was inspiring. His work is so visually surreal and bizarre, but oddly nostalgic; this is probably down to his fairy tale themes! I thought… what an honour it would be to contribute some paintings or fabric to his sets or props for his photography.

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