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Interview: Yo-Janda

Aloof aims to shine a light on the best brands and companies operating in the independent market right now, from all over the world. Those under the radar of the wider consciousness but with great stories to tell and a unique perspective on the nuts and bolts of building a brand.

Aloof sat down with Manny, the brains behind Yo-Janda and co-founder of the new and exciting Mush Studio, alongside his partner, Kushiaania and their cat, Kubo. With a background in Graphic Design & Illustration, we spoke to Manny about how relocating influenced his work, creating characters and being inspired by brands with a strong illustrative voice.

Aloof Studio (AS): What is your preferred choice of equipment/tools when it comes to making your work?

Yo-Janda (YJ): I’ve always been confident drawing with black pen, using pencil is too much pressure to create something perfect! I also love using Illustrator to bring my work to life but when I’ve been staring at my screen all day at work, using pen and loose paper is definitely refreshing. I’ve also picked up a new hobby of working in sculpture and messing around with clay. I try to stay away from paint- it never seems to end well.

AS: Who and what are the biggest influences on your work?

YJ: I get inspiration from all sorts of things. It could be a cartoon on the TV, a clever lyric, phrase, or even a joke I’ve heard. I get inspiration from artists like Jean Jullien and Christoph Niemann who create work that have both humour and a strong message within a simple illustration. I also find inspiration in clothing brands that really connect with the world of Illustration. I remember watching the documentary Carhartt WIP: The Big Geezers Tour 2007 and being blown away by this crew of illustrators from all walks of life coming together, slapping up artwork on a European road trip and thinking to myself "I’d love to be part of something like this!"

Also, seeing brands like Stussy and Human Made, who have such strong illustrative voices is amazing, and I’m continuously inspired by the relationship illustration has with streetwear.

AS: Do you feel like being from London has had a big impact on your work?

YJ: I’m not actually from London originally. I was born in Birmingham and moved many times before landing in good ol’ South London. It has definitely impacted my work, mainly because of the people I’m surrounded by. The city is full of creative thinkers and I think being here has made me see why it’s important to find your own voice in an already saturated scene. London has definitely helped me grow and I don’t plan on moving away anytime soon.

AS: Carhartt and Nike feature quite heavily in your drawings and otherwise on your feed. How important is Menswear to your work?

YJ: I have a strong interest in Menswear when it comes to my character illustrations but I can only draw the fashion I surround myself with. I don’t think I could draw a character in the latest Yeezy’s, but I can definitely draw one in some beat-up Converse. I’m a big fan of Carhartt and I think their logo just makes everything look cool. I remember back in the day putting a Carhartt sticker on my shitty notebook and thinking “now that looks cool!”

The type of Menswear I find interesting is the sort of style I was drawn to when moving to London, my friends were wearing the coolest headwear I’d ever seen and were talking about trainers like they were celebrities. I find that the creative and streetwear scenes play off each other so much and I like to explore that within my work.

AS: Your style flicks between quite detailed illustrations, to much looser, throw-up graffiti-esque pieces. Does the concept in your head define how you think something should look? Or is it a much more organic process of trying things out in different styles before finding the right one?

YJ: That’s where the Graphic Design side of me comes out; I’m always thinking about which style would best portray the message I’m trying to put across. I used to struggle with the idea that a great artist should only have one style, which is instantly recognisable. Right now I’m enjoying flicking between different styles, sometimes clean and tidy and others messy and abstract. I find joy in creating work where I can inject as much of my own humour and personality as possible.

AS: Can you talk us through the Bush Boy making process? Do the drawings or the figures come first?

YJ: The Bush Boys are actually something that came about one day when bored at my desk at work, and I ended up drawing a very simple sketch of a bush with eyes and trainers. My friend loved it and put it up near her computer. A few years later I decided I wanted to dabble in sculpture and the drawing came to mind instantly. I knew it would be fun to bring an old drawing of mine to life. The figure itself was made of very basic materials, a toilet roll tube and some used matches. It was quite therapeutic cutting up each individual leaf from magazines and gluing them on. Now the making process starts with finding interesting pages in magazines and thinking “how would they look if these pages came to life?”. Fluorescent orange pages might have huge glaring eyes, whereas pages full of camo print might have shifty, mysterious eyes.

AS: We get the feeling that the Bush Boys are introverted characters. Do they take on their own distinct personalities during the creation?

YJ: They definitely start to form personalities in my head and that helps with the direction I take it in. For my very first Bush Boy I went a bit long with the leaves and then decided to make the figure taller than I originally wanted. The character formed in my head was quite shaky and unsure of itself, probably because I was too! What I learnt from the first Bush Boy making process allowed the second one to ooze more confidence and presence. The magazine pages I use for the leaves play a huge part in the character of the Bush Boy. I’m currently working on a Bush Boy made from a leather bound cover so you know he’s going to be a suave motherfucker!

AS: Have you had many opportunities for commercial work?

YJ: I’ve been involved in some really great projects as both an Illustrator and Graphic Designer. Whilst finding my feet in the design world I was honoured to work on projects that focused on important issues, like helping vulnerable children deal with bullying in a project for MTV by designing online story-telling scenarios. Through Mush Studio, Kushiaania and I had the pleasure of working with Ribena and to showcase our illustration skills on one of their promotional campaigns. We’re planning to do more commercial work through the studio in the future so be sure to watch this space!

AS: All the merch on your shop is unavailable. Will there be opportunities going forward to pick up more prints, totes and tees?

YJ: I have things in the pipeline I’m working on before putting it all back out there. When I started my day job at a T-Shirt printing studio I was so hyped, I started printing all sorts of designs on tees and totes but now I’m trying to move more towards lifestyle items and prints. I still love designing T-shirts because I think they’re such a great canvas to get a message across, but right now I want to focus on stuff I can be more hands-on with.

AS: What can we expect to see in the near future from you?

YJ: My partner and I are focused on getting Mush Studio off the ground, taking on freelance projects that’ll help build a strong portfolio of illustrative work. I’m also taking my new clay sculpture hobby seriously and looking at the world of art toys. It’s been a long time coming as I’ve always loved small figures and cool looking toys. I’m in the process of creating a series of badass looking pigeons so keep an eye out; they might be shitting on your shoulder very soon!

Keep up with the latest from Yo-Janda here


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