Ana Jaks breaks down how she enlivened a shopping centre
Bristol-based illustrator Ana Jaks reveals how a personal challenge resulted in her illustrating and enlivening a local shopping centre
Up until 2014, everything I created was handdrawn or hand-painted. Then came the Wacom tablet. Where I’d previously spent hours practising my techniques on paper, sheets of wood or spoons, I now become fixated with learning how to create everything digitally. My career has definitely benefitted from the countless hours spent trying to navigate different software, and days have been saved once I discovered I could change the colour palette of an entire project for a client without having to start over! But last year I decided that I wanted to challenge myself.
GETTING THE PROJECT
When I moved to Bristol last September, after completing an artist residency in a primary school, Facebook commissioned me to create the visual identity for its House of Us event. It was totally digital (bar a seesaw that they wanted me to paint by hand) and was a chance to put my digital skills into practise.
I worked alongside a paint technician, who got me all the right paints, taught me how to care for brushes and supplied everything I needed. Naturally, after managing to complete two projects involving paint that the clients didn’t hate — and with a basic knowledge of materials — I decided it was now part of my profession and something I could (naively) offer.
Now desperate to make the leap into mural painting — or anything outside the constraints of my laptop screen — I started contacting businesses in Bristol and tweeting that I was available for work. Almost instantly, The Galleries shopping centre asked me to come in for a meeting, and within a month I was asked to transform the upper level of the centre.
I felt as though I’d managed to blag myself into a situation I wasn’t capable of doing, but I wanted to expand on my current skill set and The Galleries gave me the platform to do so, which both terrified and excited me.
The Galleries made it clear that it was essential for this project to feel representative of all people that used the space; diversity and inclusivity were important, and we wanted all people, regardless of age, race or gender, to look at these illustrations and feel represented.
I was asked to create four digital illustrations that would be used as window vinyls and two murals that followed the same theme, all having to be bold and colourful to liven up the space.
As this was considered a community-based project, the brief asked for the visuals to mostly be made up of people eating, drinking, shopping and spending time in the city. A lot of my previous work is character-based, but this brief in particular really helped me build on my style and has made me far more comfortable with drawing people.
As the brief asked to include parts of Bristol that were loved by the community, I requested that we contacted schools in the city and asked students to draw what they loved best about living in, or visiting, Bristol. Despite The Galleries being very open to having my interpretation of the city within the final artworks, I wanted to involve the community as much as possible so that our audience felt as though they could relate to the content.
This meant that I could include parts of the city they enjoyed most or considered most important in Bristol, such as the SS Great Britain or fish from the aquarium. Later in the project I also got to meet a group of the children who sent in drawings and had them paint part of the mural with me, which was lovely!
ROUGHS & VISUALS
After many meetings and a large amount of drawings sent in from students, I had plenty of resources to use as inspiration for sketches. The roughs for the digital illustrations were done as usual: a couple of options for each scene
in simple line drawings so that the client had a variety of options to consider.
However, this was the first time I would be handing in roughs for murals. Unsure on the best way of doing this, I created a variety of sketches alongside coloured samples so that it was easier for The Galleries to visualise how it would look on the wall.
Considering cost, I tried limiting the palettes, and for ease of painting, I attempted to create designs made up of simpler, smoother shapes that I assumed would be easier to paint. In total, I was given a 10-day deadline to paint both murals, and so it was important to consider what could be done to an excellent standard in the short time frame.
I tried incorporating as many parts of the city as I could from the students’ drawings, but was also keen to keep my style — featuring abstract patterns and unusual shapes so that the murals felt more visually engaging and not overly literal — to catch the essence of the city rather than just snapshotting well-known scenes. Bristol is
“It’s important for everyone to speak to as many people as possible through their illustrations”
fun, lively and creative — I wanted the artwork to really reflect this.
MATERIALS & PREPARATION
Once the design for each mural had been signed off, I made sure I had a roller, tray and a variety of thick and thin brushes for each colour in my chosen palette. The paint I use is Dulux Vinyl Matt in shades of blue, pink, black, yellow and red that I’d picked from the Dulux Online Trade Expert, where I always try and match my digital palette to mixes that are available to buy.
All together I had around 10 pots of paint, as I also decided on buying a variety of different shades to use as skin colours for the larger mural. Diversity and representation is important, and as an illustrator I think it’s also important for everyone to speak to as many people as possible through their illustrations.
I also made sure I had good masking tape to use for straight lines, plus cling film to wrap around the brushes when they weren’t in use, so that the paint didn’t dry up and ruin them.
I started on the smaller, six-metre wall first, which was definitely a learning curve for me. Foolishly, I started with darker colours rather than lighter, working from left to right instead of mapping out the entire design by scaling it to size and then applying it.
Painting by layers, and lighter to darker is how I usually prefer to work. Applying the darker colours last means that application is smoother and gives you the opportunity to neaten up the lighter layers with darker lines over the top.
On completion of the first mural, I decided that with the second one I needed to be a lot more patient! To do this, I upscaled everything and used the heads of the people as markers. This allowed me to constantly be aware of how everything behind them should be placed in relation to their unique positions.
My painting assistant made sure that all areas were double coated for a smoother finish, using a black Posca pen in some areas to ensure straighter, sharper finishes.
Admittedly, up until the moment I was faced with a six-metre blank wall, I was convinced that the transition from on-screen to off-screen would be easy. Mural painting is easy, right? Wrong! Oh, how I was wrong!
Within the first 10 minutes of painting I realised not everybody has a steady hand, and after a day of painting my entire body was stiff. I learned that it isn’t natural to be hunched over for eight hours a day.
The last thing I hadn’t prepared myself for — or even considered — was that I would be painting live, in a busy shopping environment full of people who are open and welcome to comment on what you’re doing.
This was probably the most terrifying part of mural painting — but also one of the most rewarding. It didn’t take long before I got used to talking to complete strangers, giving out my details for them to see more of my work, and getting to know the very community this entire project had been created for.
0101 Jaks painting the second, 10-metre mural. “I tended to carefully mark out the outlines first with a brush and fill on the gaps with rollers.”02 These are examples of the types of materials Jaks used for the project.03 “An example of me discovering that it’s easier to put a darker colour over an lighter area circles are my favourite.”
04 A finalised, digital version of what Jaks intended to paint gave the client confidence in what she was doing. 04
0505 “I think I found the suspension bridge in the background of the mural the most difficult part to paint.”
0606 The illustrated mural includes people eating and drinking within the shopping centre. Jaks wanted the project to feel as inclusive and diverse as possible.