Artist & Illustrator
What She Does
She’s a big draw.
Manjit Thapp is an artist and illustrator from Birmingham, England, but even if you’re in another country (or on another planet), you’ve probably seen her work. The 27-year-old has worked with Apple, Google, and Coty on corporate projects, and released her first graphic novel—Feelings: A Story in Seasons—earlier this year.
Here’s how Manjit learned to harness her “big doodle energy,” where to check out her latest solo art show (it’s called My Head is a Jungle), and what she does to get an image out of her head and onto a sketch pad.
You’re famous for fashion illustration and graphic art, but you have a new solo art show launching this month. How did you prepare for a gallery exhibit?
A bit slowly. [Laughing.] It was 2 years of work! First, I looked back on a lot of my old pieces. I realized that over and over again, the icons and symbols I’d use related to a jungle. I kept using jungle animals and vines as a vehicle for exploring my feelings… Like how we push our emotions way back into our minds? It feels like we’re pushing them into a really dense, tangled jungle of memories and feelings… And the way our feelings sometimes get overgrown and totally take over our logical thoughts? It felt so real to me.
Have you ever been to a jungle?
I have not! I would love to, obviously, but—actually, you know what? I’d probably be too scared to go into a jungle. At least by myself!
Why use your art to spotlight mental health?
Probably because I definitely channel my emotions through my artwork. It’s very subtle to other people, but I can always tell, “Oh, it was winter when I made that. Oh, I was feeling a little bit heavy during that illustration.” And art is such a great way to acknowledge and honor your feelings, but it’s also a great way to raise awareness about something. And we should all be talking more about our feelings, so they don’t get overgrown like a big jungle vine.
You released your first graphic novel, Feelings, this year. What’s the process of creating an illustrated book?
First of all, it’s a long process. It took me about a year and a half! It started as a small comic about Seasonal Affective Disorder that I made in [college]. It was only 6 pages long. So developing it into a bigger book was a big challenge. I had to think about the narrative, how the structure of the story would flow, and do the text before I did the illustrations. That was new for me, and scary! But I’m glad I pushed myself, because people reach out and tell me how much they love the book.
You’re Insta-famous. How does social media inform your work?
On the one hand, I love how easily it connects artists with people who love art. I really like hearing what other people think about my work! It also keeps me productive, in a sense, because I know that people like to see new things. That said, especially lately, it does feel like a lot of pressure to “figure out” this algorithm, and to feel like you always need to be posting. I don’t love that side of things, because as an artist, it’s important to let your brain rest a bit. You can’t always have something new.
Art is your passion but it’s also your job. Can you still draw just for fun?
I’ve learned how to separate work from fun. If I want to draw to wind down, I’ll usually do some fashion illustrations where I work from a reference, like a runway photo or something in a magazine. It’s easier in a way, and I love fashion, so it’s also really enjoyable for me. That’s my “relax” mode of drawing.
What were you like as a little kid?
Always doodling. Always. I was into anything creative when I was younger. In school, I started drawing all the time—my notebooks, my worksheets, anything I could draw on, I would. It was quite obvious to my teachers and my parents that I was going to be an artist… To their credit, they never disparaged it or said “that’s not a real job.” On the contrary, the teachers put my art up all over school! And I think all kids should be treated like that! It helped me see art as a real career or a real skill that I should work hard for and study.
What did you learn at art school?
That I can’t work in a giant studio with a lot of other people! Working in a shared space at [college] was really hard for me, because I always felt so distracted. I don’t like silence either, though, so I’ll run a TV show in the background.
Which TV shows are the most conducive to making art?
Real Housewives is my favorite thing to work to. I love having it on in the background. Potomac, New York, Beverly Hills, all of them. Having them screaming, there’s something very relaxing about it!