Illustrator Charlie Davis’ whimsical characters are enviously joyous

Charlie is always looking to tell a story filled with lots of warmth, exaggeration, and shapes that stray from reality.

London illustrator and designer Charlie Davis spends a lot of time observing people and day-to-day life – being "downright nosey", he says.

But you can see the benefits of this in his distinctive, delightfully chaotic and bright illustrations. They're filled with whimsical characters (humans and animals taking on human characteristics) who're exaggeratedly joyous and cheeky – enjoying a drink by the sea, a quiet cup of coffee, or a musical jam by a fountain.

Using texture, warmth and comedic expressions, Charlie's scenes are a feast for the eyes, providing you with the excitement of observing each character.

Charlie spent a lot of time drawing "undeniably odd things" as a kid, filling up his school books, playing guitar, painting skateboards, or trying to be the next Van Gogh with acrylic paint.

After studying illustration at Falmouth University, Charlie – who's always found "great pleasure from creative expression" – has been lucky enough to make a living out of design and illustration. He has illustrated packaging material for coffee and food, menu covers for Zizzi (he's done loads of these), maps, murals, editorial, and of course (our favourite), his personal projects. Charlie has always dreamed of publishing a self-written picture book, and hopes to do this in the near future. 

Most recently he centred his illustration narrative around summer by the coast (seen here). The scene is such a perfect representation of what makes summer so wonderful, we just wish we could jump inside the illustration and grab a 'cold one' next to his characters.

Charlie tells us about his style, creative process and inspiration.

Miriam Harris: How would you describe your style?

Charlie Davis: "I would say my style is whimsical, always looking to tell a story that is full character and expression. Texture plays a big part in my style and like to use it to add warmth and richness to illustrations. Another feature of my style is trying to let shapes stray from reality and be exaggerated in areas to create quirks and personality. I feel that an illustrator’s style is like there handwriting, and will have a distinctive characteristic somewhere within their work even if similar to another's style."

Image: Cropped from an Autumn/Winter artwork for Zizzi Italian restaurant

MH: Tell me about 'Summer by the Coast' – where did the idea stem from?

CD: "The idea for this came from the fact summer was coming to an end and I wanted to bottle it up in one illustration that could deliver the joy of being outdoors, having a drink and enjoying being by the sea. I'm pretty sure my time down in Cornwall is coming back to influence this illustration too."

Image: A lower crop from 'Summer by the Coast' illustration

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MH: Why did you choose a portrait composition?

CD: "I chose portrait for this particular illustration as I wanted the viewer to go on a journey from the horizon (the sea) and follow the story that was being told down to the pub at the bottom. I find that often the format for my work takes on long formats as I look to depict multiple scenarios within one illustration."

MH: What was important to capture?

CD: "The key thing I wanted to capture here was 'good times' and an illustration that had this strange light, not a typical blue sky and yellow beach summer scene, but an honest account of being slightly merry by the coast."

Image: Sketch of 'Summer by the Coast' illustration

MH: Talk us through your creative process.

CD: "I begin any project by trying to picture the illustration in my head, once it's in there it's pretty exciting as then you've just got to bring it to life.

"I will then create small thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook, very loose and fast, exploring possible executions of the layout . From there I will develop the sketches into larger drawings and will play around with them until they give a clear indication of composition and content. once I'm happy with the pencil drawing it can be taken into photoshop to be coloured up and have textures applied."

Image: Cropped from 'Summer by the Coast' illustration

MH: What inspires you?

CD: "I'm inspired by times gone by, especially the honest aesthetic of illustration and design that was printed and hand crafted. Inspiration often comes from seeing a beautiful illustration someone else has done, then absorbing all the techniques and styles of others to develop your own style (not daylight robbery!) but an appreciation and understanding of how to make something unique. Other times inspiration for creativity jumps you and you just have those lightbulb moments, and that could be anywhere, on the toilet, before sleep or down the pub (be wary of the latter, could turn out to be a terrible idea)."

Image: Cropped from artwork for Lowres

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MH: Do you venture out for observational sketching often?

CD: "I spend a good amount of time observing day to day life, I've always done that, overly observant...downright nosey! I will sketch people on the train or in a cafe and try and get down the essence of that moment or that character. I think it helps when it comes to ensuring personality or emotion comes across in an illustration."

MH: What have been some of your recent projects?

CD: "I've recently finished an interactive children's book which was great fun. I've also worked on the catalogue for the London Wine Fair recently which was a pleasure. Now I'm planning on writing and illustrating a children's picture book which is something I've always wanted to venture into."

Image: Cropped from illustration for the London Wine Fair

MH: What’s been your favourite so far and why?

CD: "A memorable project for me was the Menu covers for Zizzi Italian restaurant, the briefs were so much fun, incredibly playful and the creative direction was very trusting of my style and vision."

MH: What is your most important tool right now?

CD: "I'd have to say the Wacom Cintiq tablet (see our review for the Wacom Cintiq 27QHD) combined with Adobe Photoshop is a Godsend. Besides the trusty pencil for sketches, The Wacom tablet and Photoshop does allow for the style that I've developed today and can't imagine working without them." (See our reviews for Wacom's Intuos Pro, and MobileStudio Pro tablets). 

Image: Cropped from Spring illustration for Zizzi Italian restaurant