Gaurab Thakali: "I take the creative style of the music into the visual side"

Miles Davis 1972, personal silkscreen project

With clients ranging from The Guardian and The New York Times to Carhartt, Boiler Room and Camden Town Brewery, you’ve probably seen the vivid colour palettes and jazz-infused imagery of London-based illustrator Gaurab Thakali without even knowing it. We recently caught up with Gaurab to ask him a few questions about his work…

When did you begin illustrating and why? And how come you chose illustration above other mediums to really push forward with?

I probably started around 2008-09, when I was at college. It was just one of those things I really enjoyed doing. I never really thought of it as a career. It just fell into place after university.

I read that skateboarding has been key in your life. Tell me a bit about how skateboarding has influenced your work.

As much as skateboarding is a physical practice, it’s also about creatively tackling obstacles that are in front of you. People who are involved in skateboarding are generally quite creative too. It’s quite a graphic heavy world, art is everywhere so I guess that’s where the connection is and it sort of led me into following the illustration path that I’m in right now.

Archie Shepp for The Barbican Centre

Your interest in jazz is clear. How has jazz as a music form influenced the way you see visual art?

Jazz musicians can break free of structures and take a music form to somewhere else. I take the creative style of the music into the visual side. And when you look at the visual side of jazz from the 50s and 60s and the record sleeves, there’s so many interesting visual things happening and I guess I try and record it in a way.

Are there any particular album covers that have been influential to you?

The whole Blue Note repertoire is amazing. Also, there’s an artist called Mati Klarwein who designed Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and I guess that would be one of my favourite covers.

What is a typical step-by-step process of the creation of your work, from idea to physical or digital fruition?

At the start its always a bit of research. Then I start sketching ideas down, working out the composition and the lines that can enhance an image. Then once the sketch is complete, I take it onto the canvas and draw it with paint, scan it or use digital techniques.

Posters for Nicholas Daley

I read that each commercial brief helps you “learn, adapt and communicate different stories visually.” Does your process differ much from a commercial illustration to a personal project?

With commercial stuff, there’s normally something a client sees in previous work which they like and point out, so it’s quite straightforward. However, there’s still room for experimentation in that same style or technique they’ve chosen. But with your own stuff you can do whatever you want and try out new techniques and add something new to what you’re already doing.

Do your best pieces normally come from your own projects?

I’d say the personal ones. You have more control over it and they always lead to more work too.

Dorothy Ashby risograph print, personal project

What is the best brief you’ve ever been given, and why?

My favourite one was five years ago when me and my friend were given funds to travel to Nepal for a month and do loads of artwork when we were there. My friend was taking photos and I was doing loads of drawings there. Part of the deal was to put on a joint exhibition when we returned. I basically used all the drawings I did, enlarged them and transformed them into screen-prints. They were all observational drawings of Nepal and the people. I think that was my favourite project.

How do you go about seeking to evolve your artistic ability, whether from a technical or theoretical standpoint? Is your ability something you consciously work on?

I think its half and half. There are always things I note down which I would like to add to my work and sometimes I just let things develop by themselves.

Poster for Hannibal Buress

And what particular aspects do you try and improve upon and how?

Drawing is always at the heart of it. It’s always trying to improve the way I draw people or places, or the way I use colours.

Finally, what are your unrealised artistic projects or dreams?

To keep working and developing. And once lockdown is a bit calmer probably to create a body of work to exhibit and have a proper solo show.