Artist Spotlight: Ollie Mann


Written by Dont Panic
30 Tuesday 30th May 2017

We catch up with London-based illustrator Ollie Mann to discuss his year so far, working as a creative in London and satirising contemporary politics through art...

Hi Ollie, how're you finding 2017 so far?

To start with 2017 felt pretty good just because it wasn’t 2016 anymore. But so much has happened and it’s been really unpredictable; it’s hard to believe we are not even halfway through.

On a personal level, I’ve been very busy which I enjoy. I’ve been able to do a lot of my own projects that I have had on my list for a while but I’ve also had some great opportunities to do more professional illustration work, which is something I’ve been working toward and trying to build-up. I’m excited to see what the rest of the year has to bring, but for the moment I’m just going to focus on putting more of my work out there.

Have you been pursuing illustration for long? What's your background in it?

I’ve been drawing my whole life. But it’s only recently that I’ve tried to make it into more of a career. 

I haven’t had any formal training and I’m not sure whether I could justify the time and money now. To start with, drawing was something I did as time out from my day-to-day life, but by doing that I feel I’ve been able to develop my artistic muscles and I’d like to move to a point where it plays a much bigger part in my career.

My main job is in TV production (primarily comedy/current affairs), which isn’t typically “artistic” in itself. However, it does have a lot of creative elements and I’ve found that the work forces me to really take notice of what’s around me and has actually helped me with inspiration for my illustration on a number of occasions.

How've you found working as a creative in London?

London is great. I think it’s the best place for me to develop the kind of work I’d like to be doing. There is so much going on all the time: exhibitions; shows; constant stimulation. But also the people. I feel like I’ve had a chance to meet so many people who are doing the type of thing I’d like to be doing and have encouraged me or helped me along the way. I’ve been particularly struck by the way that networks can affect you in unexpected ways; a lot of the work I’ve done has been through recommendations or word of mouth, which is really satisfying.

How did your UK politics character cards (Tiny Tim etc) come about? What inspired them?

Those cards are a spin-off from a project I did in November last year following the US election. I was drawing a Trump “Top Trump” card a day just to try and capture how ridiculous the whole thing felt. He had become this cartoonish character in real life and I wanted to explore that. 

So when the snap election was announced, my immediate thought was “Snap Election Snap”, building on the card game angle with a larger cast of characters to have fun with. Although the overall tone of the election here is very different, there is still a huge amount of material that begs to be made fun of.

For example, following the fuss around Tim Farron’s views on gay sex it seemed fitting to have him awkwardly dressed in leather stud gear. Similarly, I’ve been obsessed with that photo of Theresa May stalking down the street flanked by policeman ever since it came out a couple of years ago. Her behaviour around the election so far felt like the perfect opportunity to revisit that and the Evil Queen/Cruella de Vil/Galactic Empress vibe she was giving off.

What's your take on current affairs, in the UK and beyond?

I think it’s exhausting. With Brexit, Trump, the election and everything else that is going on around the world, the mountain of new news each morning can feel pretty relentless. While it can have its benefits when coming up with ideas for my drawings, it’d be nice to have a break every now and again.

Having said that, the UK election is particularly interesting. I find it fascinating watching these politicians trying to prove to me and everyone else that they can run the country while simultaneously naming all of the Harry Potter characters and eating their lunch like a human being. I don’t know how relatable I really need them to be on a personal level. I’d like them to be competent, tolerant and fair but they don’t have to be my best mate (in fact I’m quite happy they’re not).

And Trump is always in the background, ready to burst in and do something completely insane. I don’t think he’s evil, but he does come across as a brat who didn’t know what he was getting himself in for or what he is doing now. It’s the people behind Trump and the sustained attacks on the free press in the US that seem much scarier at the moment.

How do you think satire can be effective? Do you hope to incorporate politics into your work moving forward?

I think satire is a good way of getting into political issues that can seem quite impenetrable at times. 

I love the idea of taking people who’ve puffed themselves up publically and puncturing them slightly. Not in a mean way, and definitely not in a sophisticated way either. But it can be really satisfying to take people who are focussed on being so sincere all the time and talk seriously about serious things and strip that down to something two dimensional and crass. 

In the past I haven’t really made a conscious effort to make work that is overtly political or satirical. But there has been so much that has happened recently in the political landscape which has captivated me that it’s happened naturally. 

I’ve really enjoyed the need to react quickly and capture a moment before it becomes old news. That’s something I’d definitely like to keep doing – whether politics is involved or not.

One of your pieces made it into the Sunday Times! How did that make you feel?

It felt amazing, especially because it was an idea that had popped into my head during a last-minute placard-painting session at a friend’s house the night before. It was a pretty rough painting on the back of a cardboard box, inspired by Theresa May’s visit to the White House and the awkward hand-holding moment. 

Although it just felt like a bit of silliness at the time, I was kind of bowled over by how positively people reacted to it during the march – it was the first time I’d had that kind of immediate reaction in real life rather than on social media.

What inspires your work more generally?

I spend a lot of time looking at other illustrators. Instagram is my favourite social media outlet, because you can take little intervals out of your day and be exposed to such an incredible variety of visual styles and ideas that can spark something in the imagination or plant the seed of something that can inform your own work.

One of my favourite illustrators is Kate Beaton because her cartoons inject lots of sarcasm and sass into historical and literary references, which the English graduate part of me is obsessed with. What’s not to love about ‘Dude Watchin’ with the Brontës’?

What are you working on currently? Unveiling any projects soon?

I’ve just illustrated a book for Penguin Random House that’s about to be released. It’s called Alice in Brexitland and - as you can tell from the title – it fits in pretty well with the satirical theme! Lucien Young, a brilliant comedy writer, wrote it and it’s actually quite weird how perfectly Brexit fits into Lewis Carroll’s classical nonsense narrative.

It’s currently available for pre-order on Amazon and goes into shops on 1st June.

I’ve got a few other things in the works; more picture collections and a couple of comic strips. I do still have an ambition to develop a whole deck of the Top Trumps once I can bring myself to start drawing his face again.

Thanks Ollie. You can check out much more of the artist's work via his Instagram and website.

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