Gradwatch 2022: Bola Meshioye, Manchester College of Artwork

Originally from Nigeria, Bola Meshioye’s work is firmly rooted in an appreciation for her home country, culture and people. Primarily a digital artist, the illustrator also enjoys working with traditional media including pencils and ink to create her colour-drenched artworks.

Meshioye moved to the UK in 2019 to pursue a higher education in the arts, opting to study illustration with animation at Manchester School of Art. “I chose this course because I knew I wanted to become an Illustrator, but I also wanted to learn how to animate so that I would be able to incorporate moving image into my future practice,” she tells CR.

Her first year on the course proved to be a big challenge, not only because the illustrator struggled to settle back into an academic environment after her gap year, but also thanks to the onset of the pandemic. “I found the lockdowns pretty challenging because I have ADHD and find it hard to stay motivated without some sort of structure,” she explains.

“I tried to take advantage of the extra time I had by experimenting with animating on Procreate and Adobe After Effects. Looking back, I feel like this was an important period for my art; I had all this free time to reflect on who I was as an artist and form new career goals for myself.”

Another upside of the pandemic was that Meshioye had a lot more time to spend back home with her family in Nigeria. During this period, she threw herself into her culture and, in particular, the traditional practices of the Yoruba tribe. This in turn had a big influence on the direction she took during her final year. “I would say my style is constantly evolving but my current style is influenced by Nigerian literature, 70s Nigerian highlife posters and the late Nigerian photographer J D Okhai,” she says.

One of her most significant personal projects to date is Ori, an intricate illustrated portrait series that seeks to share Yoruba mythological stories through ancient hairstyles and symbolism. She has also created a collection of book covers for Of This Our Country, a compilation of short stories by different Nigerian authors that reside both within the country and in the diaspora about their personal experiences.

A key piece of advice that has served Meshioye well throughout her degree and helped her develop her style today is to be looser with her sketches. “I used to be very stiff with my drawings and wanted everything I created to be perfect,” she says.

“However, when I started caring less about the final outcome and allowed myself to enjoy the process and make mistakes, I found that I enjoyed creating much more, and was able to better develop ideas and grow in my practice.”

Looking ahead, Meshioye’s long-term goal is to build a successful freelance illustration practice, with a view towards creating more posters, book covers and even album art that celebrate her culture and the topics she feels passionate about.

In the immediate future though, she is excited to put down roots in Manchester and become more involved in the local creative community. “During my time at uni I loved being able to walk in knowing that I would be surrounded by peers who would also be creating, because that inspired me to keep creating,” she says, “so I would love to share a creative space with other artists in Manchester in the near future.”