About the artist
This week we meet Jack Charles, a digital artist from Brighton, England. His background is in Psychological & Behavioural Sciences which he studied at the University of Cambridge. He describes his artistic style as abstract-experimentalism, which he creates exclusively on his iPad Pro using a combination of photos and digital painting. His main influence is hip-hop music, in which he feels its use of sampled music has a direct parallel to his art, where he extracts image samples to create a brand new artwork.
How did you first get into digital art?
New year’s eve, 2017/18 – I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a post from an artist I follow, Adebayo Bolaji. For some reason, this awoke something inside of me and for the first time in my life, I felt compelled to draw.
I picked up a pencil and paper and began sketching a face. After about 20 minutes, I remembered I had an app on my iPad called Adobe Capture, that converts raster images to vector files. I took a photo of my (terrible) sketch, and then imported the vector file into another app, Adobe Sketch, and began forming a collage with stock images, painting over them, cutting and replacing, until about midnight that evening.
When finished, I had created my first self portrait, that showed the previous year, as well as my goals and ambitions for the following year. It took about 3 months for me to pick up a stylus again, but from that moment until now, I have painted virtually every single day, and it’s become a compulsion, an addiction, to being productive and creative.
Why did you choose digital art as your medium?
Necessity. Really, I ran out of paper after the second piece that I made, and instead of buying more, I simply turned to digital art. The versatility of the medium made so much more sense to me than investing in analogue materials; the infinite nature of the digital canvas for deleting and redoing or editing after the fact, as well as the reduced financial investment required in order to constantly create. As a medium, I can work on a bus, at a desk, even on the toilet, which combined with the fluidity of the uploading process – the ability to instantly post paintings on social media and receive instant feedback from my audience – has drawn me into making a full time living from this creative compulsion, something I never envisaged when I began this journey a little over two years ago.
Which artistic styles are you particularly drawn to?
I gravitate towards hip-hop, film and architecture as art forms, but specifically within the realms of painting it’d have to be abstract expressionism and cubism. They’re purely aesthetic relationships though, I don’t have a particularly emotional relationship with my art, at least not at a conscious level. It just flows out of me and the deal I made with myself is that whenever inspiration strikes, I HAVE to capitalise on it. It’s simultaneously cerebral and meditative when I’m creating, and that’s probably why I don’t feel like I have an emotional connection to my art outside of the compulsion. As mentioned, the art that touches me emotionally is not actually painting.
For me, art is all about creating spaces, creating an area that can be filled or experienced across time, and I like my spaces to be full of other art forms than painting.
Tell us about the process you use to make your art
Like most artists, it varies. I could have an image stuck in my head, like a song that becomes an ear worm, and I simply have to get it out of my head in order to get on with my day. Almost like having something stuck in your throat and instinctively, you feel compelled to remove it. Other times I have something I want to say, but I don’t want to use words to express myself, so I turn to painting. Other times I simply pick up my Apple Pencil and begin sketching, whatever forms come up I go with and experiment.
I work exclusively in Procreate for my paintings and they have an extraordinary amount of customisation options, from brushes to layer options, and once I feel satisfied that I’ve removed an image from my brain, I experiment with these different blend modes, or redo a section of a painting with a different brush for example.
Hip-hop’s influence always plays a role here; the sampling culture pioneered by the geniuses of the movement, whether that’s J Dilla, DJ Premier or RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, taking something disparate and making it part of a composition in a way that not only influences but becomes part of a greater whole through a rebirth within some new expression, that is the kind of process I love the most. I also love the conceptual and narrative aspect of hip-hop, and aim to reflect that through my work, but sampling definitely plays a role in my process.
The recombination of collage and painting, with hip-hop and narrative, those four parts are probably the constituents of my process, although I’m always looking to develop this, ask me again in six months and hopefully I’ll have another answer for you!
I complete the works with post-production in Adobe Lightroom Mobile or Pixelmator Pro. This enables me to bring out certain textures, adjust hues and lighting conditions, or to remove certain aspects entirely. This is probably the most experimental part of the process, and I often spent a comparable amount of time in the edit as I do with the painting itself.
My background as a scientist definitely comes into play here, and it is very rare that I paint something and say “I’m done”. I’ll change a variable many times while keeping the rest of the composition the same, much as you would do when conducting an experiment according to the scientific method.
There’s certainly a rigidity and formality to that process but it always feels like playing to me; it’s fun for me to bridge those skill sets and apply an analytic slant to my creative output. It keeps me humble as well, as I never assume that what I’ve created is a finished product until I’ve let the software show me other options. In that sense it’s a very collaborative process between me and my iPad, there’s a definite synergy to the creation between us.
What inspires you?
I’d like to give some generic and vague answer like “beauty is the glue that binds us to creation etc etc”, it seems a lot of artists are more familiar with cliches than originality, but the main things that inspire me include seeing compassion, suffering, heroism. Anything that reflects a quality I wish I had, wish to develop, or wish to remove, inspires me because the creative process for me is more about personal development.
What is your motivation?
Following on from the previous question, I see art as all about creating spaces, and that includes creating a space for me to exist. In order for that space to be optimally shaped, the form I want to take on; it must be attuned and developed through constant improvement of the self and reduction of the ego, which means I have to be constantly vigilant about what I expose myself to, albeit that which is within my control. So when discussing inspiration, it’s important for me to be conscious about what aspect of myself I’m feeding, and the form that that can produce in me.
I see myself and other people as a 3-dimensional graph made up of disparate sets of information (or blobs), all morphing in a constant fashion where some will interact with others, some will dissolve over time, but ultimately the goal is to allow these sets or blobs to interact freely and become a single unity, without imploding. Art for me is the way we can balance the structure of those units, with the objects and information that fills them. Through the expression of ourselves we can create or we can destroy, and art provides a toolkit for traversing this dimensional landscape.
If you could take only two of your images to a desert island, what would they be and why?
The first would certainly be my family portrait, for obvious reasons. Secondly, I would take a gigantic canvas made from all my paintings so far, which is currently about 650 in the past 2 years. I have trouble remembering who I am sometimes, and those problems with identity are often remedied in the short term by remembering things I’ve achieved so far, and how far I’ve come from the person I used to be. This huge canvas would serve as a daily reminder of the lessons taken on board, the situations I painted them in, the landmarks of life that they captured for me.
Describe your style in three words.
Abstract-Experimentalism & Portraiture
Tell us about any memorable comments or responses you’ve had about your work.
Anytime someone cries when experiencing an artwork is special, the few times that has happened with one of my paintings has been fucking magical and I will always cherish that feeling.
Name three artists who inspire you.
Picasso, as he taught me that art is never to be taken for granted, as the scent of creativity is something many lose outside of childhood, and those of us with that fire in our nostrils should, as Dylan Thomas put it, “rage against the dying of the light.”
Kanye West, as he reminded me that the renaissance man has died, but that I should do everything in my power to resurrect that ideal.
Ant Fox, as he reminds me that one must always send the elevator back down.
How do you think you’ve improved as an artist compared to when you first started?
Honestly I’m not really sure how to take that question, I mean obviously I’ve improved, and I’m sure I’ve improved in very predictable ways, whether technique, composition, eye, marketing, salesmanship, many ways. I’ll leave it there…
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started making art?
Nothing. If i knew the temporal investment I would be making over the following two years, I would have been shocked and may have given up before beginning. All i have done for these two years is work 13+ hours a day to the exclusion of friends, family, relationships, socialising, other ambitions, sleep, my health, financial security, social mobility – it terrifies me now and I’ve already lived it, much as I would turn down the opportunity to know the day of my death, nothing I would advise could provide an advantage over experiencing it organically and without forewarning.
What devices/equipment do you use to create your art?
An iPad 9.7” 2018 model 32GB and Apple Pencil 1st Gen.
What software do you use to create your art?
Procreate 5, Adobe Lightroom Mobile, and Pixelmator Pro.
Do you use images from stock sites in your work?
Yes, a lot of the time, whether as an inspiration for forms, or to become part of a composition itself, the use of stock imagery is very important to my work artistically, but also allows another collaborative aspect to my work. It’s not just me and my iPad, but also these other creatives who share their work freely on these sites. In a way it’s very representative of the social-media generation that I collaborate with many people digitally, but in the analogue world my work is very isolated, although I enjoy my own company.
Do you think digital/new media art is still to be recognised as a valid form of art?
Honestly I think the people that don’t view it as a valid form of self-expression can fuck off; the world has changed, get used to it.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and and art with us, Jack!
Discover more of Jack’s amazing work in his entry in our Artists’ Directory.
Products mentioned in this article
Apple iPad Pro: https://amzn.to/2RPRC7n (affiliate link)
Apple Pencil: https://amzn.to/2RLqsyr (affiliate link)
Lightroom Mobile: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/adobe-photoshop-lightroom/id804177739
Adobe Capture: https://www.adobe.com/uk/products/capture.html