Artisan Article – Milan Designs

Milan is a Bournville-based illustrator and art tutor and a selection of his Birmingham-themed greeting cards have been available in our gift shop for the last year now. His cards are proving very popular and this year he has even released a new “Winterbourne” design that has thoroughly charmed the Winterbourne staff and will hopefully, charm visitors too.

I have been fortunate enough to have worked on many projects as an artist and illustrator, including public art trail projects in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital. I have produced illustrations for Birmingham Hippodrome, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Florence + the Machine.

Milan working on The Big Sleuth Trail

Milan working on The Big Sleuth Trail

After graduating in Illustration in 2011, the illustration ‘Dorothy in the Deadly Poppy Fields’ was featured in ‘Best of British Illustration 2012’. I am a passionate follower of children’s picture books and some of my favourite illustrators are Benjamin Lacombe, Chris Riddell and PJ Lynch.

Dorothy Illustration by Milan

Dorothy Illustration by Milan

The work itself is fully pencil illustrated, using lots of references to help focus the mood of the illustration. My imagination drives my illustration work, and I use references (e.g. fabrics, drapery, nature) to help visualise the scene with accuracy. Once I have hand-drawn the piece, I scan the original and digitally colour the illustration, after turning the original into a translucent digital layer. This allows the qualities of the pencil textures to remain, whilst offering flexibility to under paint the illustration with precise colours which can be tweaked and tailored until I am happy with the balance of colour and contrast.

I altered my approach when conjuring a line-based style designed for greeting cards and event covers. Essentially hand-drawn illustrations, Chinatown Birmingham and The Electric Cinema are coloured and embellished with scanned, original watercolour textures to minimise the digital aspect and celebrate a more organic aesthetic.

Milan's Illustration of Birmingham China Town

Milan’s Illustration of Birmingham China Town

Milan's Illustration of the Electric Theatre

Milan’s Illustration of the Electric Theatre

In the last five years, my illustration has evolved again. Whilst retaining the atmosphere and whimsy which varnishes the more textured, picture book style, the designs have become more dynamic and considerate of a broader environment. Rather than tightly cropped vignette illustrations, sprawling, colour-soaked illustrations which have demanded more thought, planning and time to puzzle together. The more recent illustrations (Toronto, Bournville Chocolate Box, visit my Instagram profile for updates on these) tip 2000+ digital layers. Each layer being a particular tone, gradient or architectural component within the illustration. At this point I will mention that the fan on my laptop blows very hard as it attempts to cope with very large files and digital software. My laptop and I remain on speaking terms but have now built in respite after such heavy projects.] These illustrations are still ultimately hand drawn and built upon rough sketches. I have swapped pencil for a laptop track-pad and illustrate everything by touch. What it takes away in the sensitivity and warmth of pencil-rendered illustrations, it adds in a whole spectrum of colour palettes which led me to a lot of research in classic 1950s advertising posters, from Cadbury to Kew Gardens.

This has opened the door for a lot of exploration into colour palettes which has become a signature of my work. A confidence to express imagination is something I would encourage every artist to spend time doing to develop a voice to really be in love with what you do, something that is so unique to the arts.

In the last few years, I have worked on a 6-metre-wide mural on display at Resorts World Birmingham, led drawing workshops at Selfridges during Mental Health Awareness Week and launched a collaborative illustration with Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell OBE among others during Bournville BookFest.

Milan's artwork for Birmingham Book Fest

Milan’s artwork for Birmingham Book Fest

Christmas is my favourite time of year and I spend a lot of time planning new illustrations for Christmas cards and art prints. I sometimes include characters as Easter eggs (hidden surprises) in my designs to add a personal touch to each piece. My childhood inspires a lot of my work and perfecting the feeling and atmosphere of Christmas is something I try to achieve and immortalise every year. In 2020 I launched my first charity Christmas card depicting the historic Great Western Arcade in support of Guide Dogs.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year” 

– Charles Dickens 

Milan is a Bournville-based illustrator and art tutor, delivering portrait-drawing classes in Birmingham. A selection of his Birmingham-themed greeting cards are available at the Winterbourne gift shop.

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