After studying Fashion Design at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen, Scottish born (and now London-based) artist Jessica Bird found her voice with the help of a pack of coloured chalks, drawing bright nudes, often with striking faces. Her confident ability to capture people and their moods has led to her work with many fashion clients, and last year she won the documentary award category at the Fashion And Illustration Awards. We shot her wearing our AW21 collection, and she also created a number of illustrations for us. Here we meet our maker!
JMD: What is your starting point for a new work of art?
JB: I work in a few different ways depending on the type of piece I'm creating, but the starting point is always with charcoal. With all of my reference imagery in front of me I'll produce a number of charcoal drawings. I often incorporate the blind drawing technique, where you look at the subject you're drawing but not at your page until you've completed the drawing, to warm up and keep things loose. Then it's manual editing process as I draw, as I select which elements are necessary and effective for the piece to work. If I'm adding colour I'll layer up acrylic paints and pastels.
JMD: When do you know something is finished?
JB: You just know. It's a feeling. Sometimes I'll ignore it but then I'll always regret moving past it because it tends to look overworked or the additional work ruins the intuitiveness of the piece. Especially with blind drawing - it's almost impossible to rework an element of one of those pieces without ruining the flow of the piece; it's a quality of charcoal line that's hard to replicate even by the same hand.
JMD: Describe your work space and working practice?
JB: I have a studio in Stoke Newington that I share with a costume/set designer. My side of the studio centres around a long trestle table, the space is very colourful, lots of inspiration, magazine pull outs and drawings covering the walls - these change regularly. The desk tends to be hectic if I'm working on a piece, it's a messy, dusty process! I have a large set of architects drawers that hold my entire portfolio of work, prints and many years of life drawings.
JMD: Do you keep sketchbooks? Have you always drawn?
JB: I don't actually, I've always found them quite restrictive - I prefer to work on a larger scale even if that is just sketching. I do keep what could be called a 'deconstructed sketchbook' which consists of drawings I've done which maybe haven't worked as a whole but there are elements that I like or sections that could inspire new work. I have always drawn, my mum encouraged me creatively from a very young age and I kept sketchbook back then, I'd take a wee one with me to the museums in Edinburgh and draw the stuffed animals or draw actors in films that I liked.
JMD: Colour features heavily in your work, has it always been this way?
JB: Yes I guess it has, when I started life drawing in London 6 years ago when I moved here I took a box of coloured chalk pastels with me that I'd been given for Christmas. I would choose 3-4 colours of varying tones to describe the model in front of me and that really ignited my relationship with colour because you start to realise that nothing is the colour you think it is if you really look and that we are all seeing colours slightly differently.
JMD: Who are some artists who have inspired you?
JB: Oh so many ... my uncle Stephen Bird is an incredible ceramic artist. Egon Schiele, obviously ... his lines are second to none. Scottish painter, Joan Eardley whose portraits of Glasgow's tenement children I remember seeing and loving from a young age. More recently Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Matisse and the Fauvist moment, Chantal Jofe to name a few!