“My brothers and I were allowed to draw on one wall in our childhood home. I think that really encouraged us to have a crack, and validated the purpose. I can also recall being about five years old and pointing out corrections to my mum’s Batman she was drawing for me,” says Ollie Macdonald Oulds, “insisting that his eyes needed to look meaner.”
The artist has built up a stream of artworks and illustrations with recognisable motifs and scenarios he’s evidently drawn to, such as characters in the street. However, there is no sign of his repertoire hemming him in, with a rotating arsenal of materials and an experimental execution bringing variety to his work.
He believes in working with “whatever you have to hand”, but his younger brother Leo, also an artist, has been pushing him to think more carefully about materials. “You do notice a difference when working on better paper,” he tells CR. Since lockdown he’s been using a Japanese watercolour set, with all their “vibrant pigments” that “layer over each other and retain their individual colours rather than blending into a stinky muddy mess”.
Macdonald Oulds studied illustration and animation at Kingston School of Art, including a year abroad in Switzerland. “I didn’t speak a word of Swiss German, so I relied on the visuals doing the talking,” he recalls. During his final year back in Kingston, he made efforts to collaborate with students on other courses, from fashion to graphics to product design.
“Making friends on those courses has benefitted my understanding of where illustration can fit in,” he says, and so far this philosophy of cross-pollination has rung true. His work has been used as a charming embellishment to Palace’s 2021 collection and is regularly brought to life in print, including his ongoing work on Aux zine, a magazine run by prison-based social enterprise InHouse Records.
Music has trickled into his practice in other ways. “If it aligns with my ethics, I will try to turn my hand to drawing most things,” he says, but he’s naturally predisposed to depicting people hanging out, playing sports or making music. His lockdown-era music practice sessions quickly resonated with people online, with his loose, colourful style echoing the tangible energy of a musician in mid-flow.
It manifested itself in his collaboration with producer Tom Misch, who enlisted Macdonald Oulds to create the album artwork for his Quarantine Sessions album. “I’m also a big fan of the Bikelife kids going round pulling wheelies, I’ve been sketching some of them from Instagram videos too.”
His work was originally inspired by a range of sources. “For a long time I just copied the work of Raymond Pettibon and before that, I just ripped off Egon Schiele when I was in college,” he says. Over time, he’s learned to look beyond these key players and “connect the dots” to the peers they came up with. “So go back from Pettibon and check out Gary Panter, for example. You realise that you’re being influenced by people you haven’t even heard of.
“I’m also a big fan of a few Instagram accounts that geek out on this golden era of illustrated dust jackets – Martin Salisbury, for example. Chloe Cheese does a brilliant job at shedding light on a lot of lithograph artists that I hadn’t heard of, such as her own work and her dad’s, Bernard Cheese,” he explains.
Macdonald Oulds is currently teaching in Antigua, which has expanded his palette of references, leading him to discover more Caribbean artists such as Frank Walter, Hector Hyppolite and Albert Huie.
While his personal work continues to evolve, he has been attracting commissions from brands, including contributing illustrations to the promotion of Manchester United’s adidas kit release earlier this year.
“There are quite a lot of rounds of amendments when working with a brand on the scale of adidas, as there are different departments operating within; cultural, legal, artistic, they all have to sign off. You have to accept that occasionally you’ll have to kill your darlings,” he explains. But ultimately, it’s one of a growing list of significant projects – “these are proper pinch-me moments,” he says.