[Art Schooled] A day of creativity with Marcus Oakley
Graphic artist Marcus Oakley recently spent some time with my class at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design for a day of creative weirdness.
The day started with a talk from Marcus Oakley about his career and creative process. In it he revealed many fascinating details about his career. For example, he identifies as a “graphic artist” rather than an illustrator. The differentiation isn’t because he has anything against being known as an illustrator, but rather he simply thinks the term better suits his style of working better.
Marcus also covered how you make money – or as he put it “hot dosh” – as an illustrator. “Hot dosh” isn’t a phrase everyone can pull off…but with him it seemed natural, fitting his quirky persona.
One of the most insightful elements of the talk came when Marcus delved into the early stages of his creative process. He constantly seeks out inspiration – or “visual ambience” – within day-to-day life; anything, from typography at a fair ground to the artwork on an ice cream van. Such things then inspire him to dream up “silly ideas” that are then turned into visually striking, humorous artworks.
In the afternoon, we moved on to a drawing workshop led my Marcus. The workshop tied in with our current drawing-based project, all about the scientific theories of D’Arcy Thompson. During the first few weeks of the project, we had all interpreted D’Arcy’s work a variety of different ways. We had been drawing everything from skulls to swarms of cells, while considering his theories relating to gravity and all forms of other related sciencey stuff. Marcus’ workshop served to give us yet another fresh perspective.
Before the workshop began we were each given a free pen to draw with – proving once and for all that free stationery will excite a group of art students more than any guest lecturer ever could.
The free pen we were given was actually so that everyone created drawings of the same line weight. We would be drawing collaboratively. Split into groups of 6, we started with a blank piece of paper. First we were asked to draw any animal. Then we passed the paper on and drew any vegetable on our neighbour’s piece. Swapping again, we drew a mineral (by far the most confusing category) on the third piece. We repeated this process until we had several drawings filled with a eccentric mixes of subjects and styles.
The pieces of paper quickly filled with everything from clouds raining diamonds to mer-birds attempting to eat giant leaves. Giraffes proved to be the classes favourite motif.
Much to Marcus’ delight, everyone got stuck in immediately. There was no sneaky use of pencils or tentative mark making. Everyone went straight in with brave lines, totally committed to making nonsensical illustrations as bold and energetic as possible. Marcus couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) teach us to copy his style, but he did give us a clue into how he achieves the wonderfully spontaneous feel to his work
The second drawing task was a little trickier, challenging us to engage in a spot of fantasy. This time we were going solo. With a list of 10 “effects” (including doubled-gravity, x-ray vision and inside out) we were once again to draw animals, vegetables and minerals, but this time imagining what would happen to them under these conditions. A silence fell over the class in this second half. Drawing inside-out cats proved to be a lot more difficult that outside-in carrots. Before long however, we each had a sheet filled with an assortment of illustrated oddities.
Whilst arguably slightly less enjoyable, this second task was more thought provoking and served as a reminder never to underestimate the power of imagination!
Before deciding to go back into education, I had an internal debate as to whether art school was the right fit for me. Activities like this workshop however make me particularly glad I did. You could technically gather a group of creative friends and throw a drawing party, but being honest (unless you have had experiences like this) you probably won’t. And it is even less likely you will get the expertise or encouragement of someone like Marcus Oakley outside the walls of an art school.
Drawingsssssss, at The Whitespace Gallery, Edinburgh
By the end of a day spent drawing, we were all creatively drained, but happy with the weird and wonderful things we’d conjured up. Before he left, Marcus invited us to attend his exhibition, suitably titled “Drawingsssssss”, at the Whitespace gallery, Edinburgh. The following Thursday, I went along with a couple of friends from class. We discovered a room filled with black and white drawings, colourfully washi-taped to the walls. Invigilating the exhibition himself, Marcus chatted to us for over an hour. Topics included everything from our thoughts on the exhibition, to opinions on the new Bladerunner movie.
My friends and I – like so many creatives – dream of putting on our own exhibition. It sounds like invigilating a show however is a whole different challenge. Marcus described it as like sitting inside his head all day long for an entire week. He distracted himself with doodling, reading and chatting with the public, but couldn’t resist constantly critiquing his own work. As creatives are often their own worst critics, we could all imagine how invigilating could be as torturous, as it was rewarding.