Gradwatch 2021: Illustrator Sâde Popoola, College of Lincoln

British-Nigerian illustrator Sâde Popoola (aka Shadz) says from an early age she enjoyed drawing so much that she wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to do it every day. Initially, her intention was to study architecture or interior design at university. It was only after her sixth form art teacher recommended she try illustration that she felt it would be a better fit for her.

New to the art form, Popoola decided to attend the University of Lincoln after her interview there because the course offered her the opportunity to try out different aspects of illustration, plus the final year taught them about life as a professional freelancer. 

How It Feels. All images: Sâde Popoola

“The most important thing I learned at university is how to work both independently and under pressure,” Popoola tells CR. “Only having practical lectures twice a week (plus the pandemic causing lecture time in third year to decrease further) meant that I had to adapt to doing the majority of my work on my own and in my own time. Although it was difficult, I believe it has prepared me for life after graduating.”  

Adopting a minimalist style, Popoola enjoys working with a limited colour palette and using shapes to add detail to a piece. “Over the last year I have increasingly been developing my digital illustration which has enabled me to utilise texture to add more depth and develop a print-like look,” she says.

Speculative illustrations for Pact Coffee

“My initial inspiration for my style was pop art. I really liked the limited but bold use of colour and how despite only using simple shapes, the content of the artwork was still visually clear. Since then, I’ve developed this style by incorporating shape, textures, colour, realism and digitalisation.”  

Popoola’s portfolio is a mix of vibrant portraits, editorial spots and posters, and she enjoys the variety. “I like being able to create a range of work because I have different processes for each, meaning it never gets repetitive,” she says. “Also, depending on the nature of the work, I get to experience having full creative freedom if it’s a personal project as well as working with others if it’s a commission or collaboration.” 

Light Is Right

First To Go

Here For Support

One project that caught our attention was the series of posters Popoola created in her third year which allowed her to confront racial issues in film and TV. Adopting the standard composition and layout of typical film posters, the illustrator swapped the glowing quotes, the enlarged names of big (predominantly white) actors and reams of credits to tackle inequalities within the industry. What brings the posters to life are the striking, beautifully-textured illustrations that sit front and centre. 

Popoola is currently looking for an in-house illustration role that would allow her to hone her skills and utilise what she’s learnt so far, but she is also keen to work on some personal projects outside of that. “While I took a creative break after university, I’m getting back into developing new and existing skills to further improve my portfolio,” she adds.

Casting GamesOne In Nineteen

The projects she’d like to continue working on are those that allow her to advocate for minority groups. “My dream brief would be a public campaign that allows me to spread a message of equality on a large scale,” she says.

“I hope my work is relatable for those who don’t often see themselves, their interests or their struggles represented in art. Additionally, I hope it helps people view things from a different perspective.”

World Happiness Report illustration

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