Noma Bars feature is in his capability to create soulful and emotional illustrations, which can be provoked by discussions and make reflection with the audience. He uses simple shapes, bright colours, and strong symbols to speak up about the war, violence, social inequality, ecology and medicine…
Next year, Noma's career turns 20 years. All this years, the artist with enviable persistence makes his method better and he is not going to run away from modes, which appear in his head almost unmanageably.
— I thought for a long time what my first question for you should be about. The variety of your work and projects is impressive. I want to ask about everything at once. I couldn't think of anything better than to start our conversation with a question about how your typical day goes. How does it start and what is it filled with?
— I usually get up at 7 am, make breakfast for my daughters and get them to school. I live near the Highgate Wood in the north of London, which is known for not many people - that is why sometimes I have a walk at the beginning of the day. After, I take my notebook, pen, coffee, and come to the wood but for a work this time. I start brainstorm, make sketches and spend here biggest part of my day. In this place I can get lost and come up with new ideas.
About 4 pm I come back to studio and move my sketches into the computer to send it to the client. It can be 1 or 10 briefs. I am working with some projects at the same time and for each of these projects I have accurate space in my head. When I am working in the wood, at the studio, walking home and even in night time — it is always in my head. So, my day can be ended at 2 or 3 am.
— Lots of projects. For Apple, Pfizer, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times…
— When I searched information about you online, each site showed new works unknown to me. That is, I see several illustrations on one site and think: "Oh, this is cool!" Then I go to another site and see more illustrations. And so on. Third, fourth site. Different projects and illustrations on different topics or events — it's hard to count them. And then I asked myself: "Where can I see all illustrations of Noma Bar in one place?" I haven’t been able to find such source. So I want to ask you: where can I see absolutely all your work?
— There is a book, which called «Bittersweet» and it is divided into 5 books, every of this books are devoted to different subjects: politic and war, sex, portraits and so on. The books were divided my jobs on the topics, sections.
Sometimes, I do job but the client publish it after 6 month. It is hard to control. Next year, it is going to be 20 years since I have been published my first work. About 5 000 of my jobs you can find on the site of my agency, on Instagram and Facebook.
I try not to publish complicated stories on social media cause you need to be involved into the the story or event to understand it clearly. For instance, now I am doing illustrations about cancer of a bladder and it is complicated story. Or the illustration about writers' strike in Hollywood — to understand you need to know the local details.
— One of the latest works that you showed on your Instagram is an illustration for books by Margaret Atwood. People in Ukraine know Margaret as the author of The Handmaid's Tale. Tell us how did you collaborate with her?
— We cooperate with Margaret through our agents but we don’t communicate directly. And I know that she makes comments sometimes by her own. The result of this work were two covers for her books: The Handmaid's Tale and Testament.
This was like army operation because it was a new book and they send me an envelope with the summary of the book not via e-mail to keep it under wraps.
— In your portfolio there are works for famous world brands and media. When I asked John Holcroft (this is an illustrator from the UK) about working with famous brands, he said that it's not always as cool as it seems. Because in corporations there are many people who make decisions and want to make changes to the illustration. This can make the illustrator's idea worse. What experience do you have with famous brands and media?
— First of all, I do not show works or my sketches, that I really do not like. So everything that I will send I know that there is an idea and thinking behind it. Working with me, my clients has already known my works, approach, and they know what do they want and need. For instance, when I worked in Victoria and Albert Museum, board with 20 people I had been waiting the feedback for a long time, cause the work contained a lot of stages. So things like this can happen. Working with Apple our head communicated with Steve Jobs directly, or someone from the tops. So that is why I have good experience with cooperations.
There is no difference between small or big brands, I usually invest my energy and experience into it.
— How many illustration offers do you get per month?
— I don’t know, it can change. It could be a day with 3 offers and sometimes 2 per week, it depends.
— What do you need to agree to take part in the project?
— The story. When I start to read the brief of future project I know if there is a story to illustrate, something to discover. I was offered to create something for e-cigarette and things like that but I refused, because I am focused on some more important stories.
— Almost all interviews ask you about a method or approach. About how you manage to create very minimalistic and wordy illustrations at the same time. I also want to ask about this. But my question will be: how does your method or approach change or improve over the years? Maybe you have an example.
— It keeps changing. In terms of telling the story, I'm still looking for distilling stories and this is something that hasn't changed. To remove all sectors, find and show the main point. So i am doing the same job as I was doing 20 years ago. Reading the brief, I had 2–3 ideas for client some years ago, but now I get him 20–30 ideas. I don’t know how did it happen but something has changed inside my head and I am finding more and more ideas. Sometimes it is hard to choose one which is better and I get it to the client and he makes a decision.
Something has changed in terms of form, the digital pen and the computer mouse have made their changes. When I look at my early illustrations, for example Saddam Hussein, they seem much more hermetic than what I do today. It had its own charm. But I still use the same method and process over the years. I believe in constant hard work and mastery. This is a daily craft. Every day you wake up and do almost the same thing, very slowly and carefully.
— Can you remember the most difficult project or topics or tasks for you?
— Well, I'm known for illustrating complex stories. That's why most of my stories are complicated. For example, three illustrations for Presbyterian intensive care units in New York. I made them for free and it was a very complicated story about new cancer treatments. At first it seemed impossible, I said to myself: "I don’t know where to start…", because there were many terms and words that could not be illustrated. But now these works are in the collection of MoMA and I have received many awards for them.
Sometimes difficulties arise when creating animation. Because there is a completely different way of thinking during the creation process, a constant, not static, movement of an idea. By the way, this is related to your previous question. But the difficulty is that if the client wants to change something, it can break your whole idea. And it consists of a whole chain of images.
It's difficult with portraits. I devote a lot of time to them. Despite the fact that they look very simple, there is a lot of thought and time behind them. For example, you portray Putin. He wants war. How to show it? And I represent planes, bombs and dying people — this is Putin today.
— You made several illustrations about Russia's war against Ukraine. They were for different media and reflected the content of the article… How could look like illustration about the war, reflecting your personal attitude?
- I need to think. I can show some sketches in 20 hours. It will definitely be something anti-war, but I can't give an answer right now. I think that almost all illustrations, to a greater or lesser extent, always reflect my attitude to this topic. Perhaps it will be something like David and Goliath. Someone who seems strong and big attacks the weak and small, but the result is unpredictable. And the winner is not the one on whom everyone bet. This is the start of brainstorming! But I need a little more time to somehow oppose and show extremes, injustice.
— What allows you to create new projects and don't stop? How not to get tired of the work that you have been doing for many years?
— All the things that I do are somehow from the world of art. Be it my main job or my daughter's doll project. I try not to miss the exhibitions that open in London, and I constantly do sketches. My life, work and hobbies are closely intertwined and I don't try to run away from them.
Everything inspires me! For example, a lamp is behind you. I look at her for a long time and see a face with a mustache or a lion in a ring. Almost always, when I look at something, something similar happens. Here is my first macbook. When it broke, I painted my disappointment on it because it was my presentation for The Guardian. Later, this image turned into the face of Steve Jobs.
One day I saw one dog sniffing another and immediately sketched. Later, it turned into a digital drawing and even into a real three-dimensional object. So everything around inspires - the little things that we see every day or banal things.