Dive into the colourful world of Manjit Thapp, the London-based artist who brings all kinds of female beauty to life with a very personal style that mixes digital and analogue techniques and tools. By drawing inspiration from what surrounds her, she isn’t afraid to undertake a wide range of projects that nurture her artistic journey, from making a fan art zine of Wes Anderson’s movies to illustrating feminist books, to reinterpreting fashion shows or collaborating with brands and magazines on commissioned projects.
You graduated from the Camberwell College of Art, where you studied illustration. Since then, you have been extremely active. It is impressive to see how you manage to work on such a wide range of fields. How did your background lead you to art? What sparked the interest in illustration especially?
I can remember always enjoying art but started drawing a lot more when I was in secondary school. I became quite obsessed with it and was drawing all the time but had no intentions of exploring it as a career.
Your work is interesting as you mix digital and analogue techniques: you first sketch manually, then scan the sketches to finally add the colours digitally. How did you come up with this creative process?
When I first started making art, everything was done traditionally. Then, when I was around 16, I got a drawing tablet and started practising with digital art. I would either make something purely traditional or purely digital. It wasn’t until later when I started experimenting and mixing my favourite aspects of both.
Visual arts require being creative but also skilled. However, I feel that using digital is easier and faster. Since you combine both in your work, what’s your opinion on this? Is there any that you feel more comfortable with (analogue or digital)?
I wouldn’t say one is easier or faster than the other. I think maybe we pick up the one we enjoy using the most the fastest. It took me a while to get the hang of drawing digitally and getting drawing with my graphics tablet. For me, nothing beats the unpredictable nature of traditional media, but I love how much I can play around and experiment with digital art.
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The digitalisation of art is creating new, unexplored possibilities. Do you think that digital tools are getting ahead of ‘traditional’ ones?
Technology has vastly improved; Procreate is such a great tool and really mimics drawing traditionally. I don’t personally feel there should be a competition between traditional and digital art though!
I feel that some of your illustrations reflect something very personal, especially the young white-haired lady that you portrayed many times on different backgrounds. We may think that you are depicting yourself somehow. How does your work reflect the world you live in?
I definitely try to mimic in my art the way that I’m feeling sometimes or will include things that I visually like, such as colours or symbols. In that way, my works are personal but in a subtle way, which I like.
Your work refers a lot to feminism; for example, you’ve illustrated several books like The Little Book of Feminist Saints or The Bigger Picture: Women Who Changed the Art World. Does it relate to you on a personal level? Do you feel that now, female artists are being more admitted/allowed into the conversation?
Being a feminist, I loved the opportunity to work on those books, especially as I always end up learning so much at the same time. I love that there are more female artists who now have more of a platform and space to share their work with social media like Instagram as gallery spaces have historically lacked female presence. Sometimes, it feels like the emphasis always has to be made that they are ‘female’ artists rather than just artists like men get to be. Male artists don’t have to answer questions about being feminists or being male in the industry.
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Many of your personal projects are cinematographic representations – I’m thinking about the forty-page zine where you capture scenes from some of your favourite Wes Anderson’s films. How important is cinema in your life? How does it influence your work?
To be honest, I don’t watch as many movies as TV shows! If I’ve watched something that has had a big impact, I love creating fan art; this is how the Wes Anderson zine came about. I love the narrative, characters, visuals and colours in his movies, and it was a project I always had in my mind to do. It remains a favourite.
In addition to cinema, fashion is another important aspect in your work. You illustrated collections like those of Alexander McQueen or Ashish, and in your project Street Style, you depict some interesting looks seen on the street. How do you find a meeting point between fashion illustration and your personal style? And how important is fashion in your daily life besides art?
I really love fashion illustration and I tend to do bits and pieces of it in my personal work more as ‘downtime drawing’ if that makes sense. I love taking a designer’s work and drawing it in my own style. Fashion is important in my daily life because if I feel good in what I’m wearing, then I feel so much more confident.
You’ve worked on commissioned projects for brands and magazines. How has collaborating with big names such as Adobe or Google nurtured your artistic journey? Have you ever felt that working in commercials jeopardized your creativity?
Getting to work with bigger brands has been very rewarding, but I’ve come to learn it’s the actual project brief that makes a project more fun rather than who it’s for. I always love working on personal work as well as commission work because that keeps my creativity flowing, and often, it’s in my personal work where I get to experiment more and see my work evolve and grow.
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A lot of companies collaborate with young artists in order to promote their brands. The campaigns are shared on digital platforms, and especially on social media. Do you feel that art, in general, is becoming a marketing tool more than ever?
I love seeing brands hire and work with artists to create material. To me, this is so much more visually engaging.
Your projects range from illustrations for books to photography collaborations, to video animation and even fashion. How do you find a balance between all of them? Is there any specific field that stimulates you the most?
I love getting to work on a range of projects and seeing my work in different mediums. Book projects are a lot of fun because although so much work and time go into them, it’s so rewarding to see the final product. I also enjoy animation; I’m definitely a beginner but I love seeing my work come to life however simple my skills are!
What are your projects in the upcoming months? Where do you see your work going?
I’m working on a project now which I’ll be able to announce pretty soon! It’s happening in the summer and it’s something that has been on my list of dream projects and something I’ve never done before. I’m so excited about it but nervous too! I love seeing my work in print form and made into things, so hopefully, much more of that.
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