“Playful and abstract”
- A Chat with Toni Ojo

Creating art that speaks to her younger self and striving to encourage the industry to support young black artist, 21-year-old, Toni Ojo is a Kent based UX Designer/Researcher and freelance Illustrator. Toni has curated her playful and abstract aesthetic through her drive to become a creative educator, hoping to guide others in the industry as well as continuing to create her illustrations.

Like many other creatives, Toni found inspiration during lockdown, creating works like Self Care and Quarantine & Chill. As well as being commissioned by the BBC to illustrate, Charles Wooton for their Black History Month campaign.

We have all seen the rise in black illustrators getting more opportunities over the last year and through it, we have seen immense amounts of talent from digital artists of all disciplines.

We spoke to Toni about her experience so far in the industry and her creative process.

How would you describe your work and style?

Playful and abstract. I’ve always been drawn to bold exaggerated colours, especially in nature, so I make sure to reflect that in my digital illustrations. I avoid making anything look too realistic because I don’t find much joy in creating an exact copy of what I see or imagine. The outcome would be too predictable. Instead, I like to break up my illustrations into fragmented shapes and blocks, filling each one with colour. Depending on how far I go with it, the illustration can end up looking like an abstract colour-by-numbers sheet. I think that’s one of the most recognisable elements of my work.

What are your aims when creating your work and what inspires your process?

I’ve been drawing since I was quite young when all I wanted to be when I grew up was an artist or an illustrator. I rarely set aims when creating but I think subconsciously I aim to create art that my younger self would have loved to see in books or on TV. So if I create a portrait and I can imagine it as a children’s book character or if I create an indoors scene and I can picture it as the backdrop for an animated TV series, then I feel like I’ve done a decent job. That thought of a younger version of myself inspires my creative process, it’s always intuitive and I just have fun with it.

Quarantine and Chill

What has been your favourite project/piece to work on and why?

Definitely Quarantine and Chill. I created it during the first lockdown, last March. There was a sense of purpose in working on it and I feel like it has a lot of character. I wanted to symbolise the weird times we were in with something light-hearted. It’s Netflix and Chill: The Pandemic Edition. I left the girl and guy expressionless so that more attention was focused on the setting. The reference to tissue-roll hoarding is my favourite part. It was nice to know that it made people laugh. Working on the BBC X Black History Month commission of Charles Wootton was a close second.

BBC X Black History Month commission of Charles Wootton

How do you think the media and creative industry can offer more support to black creatives?

They need to be less mediocre in the way that they show support. Launching an event to support black creatives is fine. But there must be strategies put in place to make sure that each event is tailored to the needs of black creatives - on an individual basis as well as a collective. The creative industry’s regular show of support comes across as lazy: a brief panel discussing diversity in the industry and an internship or two encouraging applications from ‘under-represented communities’. Their methods are always very short-term.

The industry/media would benefit from questioning how they can provide long-term value for black creatives. A more sustained offer of support would be an investment. Organisations like Kwanda are doing a great job of this by allocating capital into black communities around the world and donating to grassroots organisations. Through them, I was awarded a paid scholarship for the UX/UI Design course at Love Circular, which has elevated my career prospects. The creative industry could establish something similar to support black creatives directly.

Girl with the Gold Tooth

What are your goals for 2021?

I'd like to graduate with a first and apply for a masters in design anthropology or behavioural research. The goal is a career as a design researcher/strategist (among other things). I see myself as quite an academic creative and I often prefer design studies to design practice. So I’d love to establish myself as a creative educator this year. The plan is to eventually direct creative workshops, public speaking at design/innovation conferences, become an advisory board member somewhere within the creative industry and maybe even be a guest lecturer one day. I guess I’ll see how this year goes.

I’ll continue freelance illustration. Seeing my illustrations in print would be amazing. I came close to illustrating a book last year so maybe it will happen for me in 2021. Although I enjoy digital design, I’d like to work on more tangible projects by integrating my design ideas into physical spaces. I’m interested in immersive design, installations, multi-sensory experiences and visual merchandise so I’m keen to collaborate with experiential designers and try some creative direction. The last goal - finally launch my website. It’s a work in progress.

   Check out more of Toni’s work below!

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