Interview with Jacqui Oakley

Today we are going to have an awesome talk with Jacqui Oakley. For those who don't know her, she is an amazing illustrator from Canada. Jacqui has a very unique style that mixes hand drawings and illustration with a hint of watercolor, and the result is always on point. Check out the interview for some behind the scene talk.

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Want to buy some amazing illustrations from Jacqui? visit her shop at

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Interview with Jacqui Oakley

1. First of all welcome to Abduzeedo and thank you for the opportunity to interview you. Let's start with the usual, please introduce your self and give us a little background on Jacqui Oakley.

I was born in Canada, moved really quickly to be raised in Bahrain, Zambia and Libya, while my parents travelled for work. We also went back and forth from England, where my parents are originally from & my siblings were born. In 1989, when I was teenager, we finally settled down in Canada, So now, I've been a freelance illustrator for about 10 years having clients such as Rolling Stone, Financial Times (UK), LA Weekly, The Boston Globe, ESPN, etc. I work on these illustrations in my Hamilton studio/home just outside of Toronto in Ontario, Canada & I also teach part-time at OCAD U, (Ontario College of Art & Design) in Toronto.

Interview with Jacqui Oakley

2. How early did you find the love for art and illustrations?

When I was really young I had a strange fondness for drawing mazes. That might have come more out boredom on long plane trips rather than interest though. But I guess I've always loved patterns and colour and really enjoyed the images my parents picked up from travels. I remember staring at Batiks from Malaysia, images of Thai gods & scenes of African Villages. I also loved looking at pictures from non-fiction books. Anything sci-fi or horror related aways grabbed my attention. Also, I enjoyed drawing birds and animals, especially ones from different countries. In Bahrain we only had geckos, goats and camels so visiting Canada with its multitudes of squirrels was pretty exotic at the time. So, drawing animals that from distant places was fun, and I guess that stuck.

Interview with Jacqui Oakley

3. How did you turn your passion into your profession?

I knew I always wanted to do 'art' but was never sure of the direction. I went to the University of Toronto for a fine arts degree but found I wasn't learning enough technique. I needed to be pushed and the talent coming out of Sheridan's Illustration program (Oakville, ON, Canada) was really appealing. So I switched and just fell into illustration without really knowing what it was at first. After I graduated I loved the idea of showing 'art' to people in their everyday lives, rather than to a few in an art gallery, and also the idea of being able to add to the dialogue of present issues. After school I waitressed for a while but then discovered it was sink or swim time. I focused fully on illustration after a few months and I've stuck with it ever since. It was sometimes tough at the beginning and there've been ups and downs but it's been well worth it.

Interview with Jacqui Oakley

4. I notice a lot of your work are actual paintings, explain to us the process you go through when creating an illustration.

I start off with brainstorming with words and small doodles of random ideas that come to mind, then maybe collecting a bunch of reference images, and onto roughs and linears. Once a linear is approved I blow it up to the size I'm going to work with and transfer it onto paper. I used to work a bunch in oils but these days I usually block out a few areas in acrylic paint, trying to keep it loose and keep texture in there with dry brush. Then I go onto inking lines, and then maybe a few spots of colour again in acrylic or coloured ink.

Interview with Jacqui Oakley

5. What's your favorite type of work? The one that gets you really excited to start, and when you done you wish that was more.

My favorite work really depends on the article or idea that's proposed to me. If I can conjure up visuals rights away then I can get really excited. I love when a painting is so engrossing it doesn't feel like a job anymore. Of course it's amazing to work on larger pieces for art shows and I'd love more of an opportunity to do that. Some recent jobs I've really enjoyed have been the EP cover for Two Crown King – the band was totally open and supportive of my ideas, and I got to collaborate with my husband who's a graphic designer. It's the first time we've done that together which was awesome!

Interview with Jacqui Oakley

6. By your process we can tell that you don't get too near a computer, how do you feel about that living at times where everyone is getting their work done on a screen. Do you feel more of an artist than an illustrator because of that?

Even though it doesn't look like I do, I spend most of my time in front of the computer. So, much of a freelancer's time is taken up with emails, contracts & promotion, so I'm often staring at the screen like everyone else. When I'm working on a complicated linear I often draw pieces separately and then scan and move them around in the computer. I find this allows me to experiment a bit more with the composition. Sometimes, for final illustrations, I ink the lines by hand before adding the colour in with Photoshop. I always prefer a hand drawn feel, so I try to maintain that and stay away from images that look too 'glossy'. That said, there are lot of artists I know who work fully in the computer and I really admire their work. For me, I just enjoy the spontaneity of working more by hand. Since I spend so much time on the computer, it's nice to have a break and paint by hand, listen to some good audio books, and see where it takes me.

Interview with Jacqui Oakley

7. We have a lot of users that are just starting up on the design world, what tips and advices you have for them?

It's tough at first going out on your own. Remember that everyone has had really slow times. Just keep promoting yourself and doing good work and it'll pay off. It's silly, but don't forget that you enjoy art & design. Sometimes when art becomes a daily routine it can seem like a job. So, try and remember to work on personal projects when you can, collaborate with friends, & continue looking at things to keep getting excited & add to the vocabulary of your work. It'll come through in the end.

Thank you Jacqui, was great talking to you and we wish you the best on your career!

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