Raj Dhunna is the talented artist we’ve been working with on the 32 Matryoshka doll illustrations that have featured across our social media channels throughout the world cup.
With the tournament having a first day off for two weeks today, we thought it was a good time to chat with Raj about his work and how he got into the world of illustration. Here’s what he had to say…
How did you get into the world of illustration? Were there any particular artists that inspired you?
‘I found something that I enjoyed so much that it started to be the main thing of interest in everything I did. Drawing things on everything and using it as a tool to distract myself from anything I found boring. I took art as a subject during school, college and then in university I got my degree in Visual Communication (Illustration). I am constantly trying to improve my drawing skills and understanding of what makes a good illustration. Using pocket sketchbooks and taking them with me to different places to test my technique and skill is a thing that constantly inspires me.
Things embedded into pop culture such as films, tv ads and album covers that included illustration or graphic art would always draw me closer and I’d then imitate what I’d just seen and re-draw it. I used to have these hip-hop posters scattered all over my bedroom walls along with football cutouts, postcards from the Tate and fun little illustrations from animated films. These are the things that I would use as a point of reference for my work.’
How would you describe your style as an illustrator? Has it changed over time?
‘I try to take learnings from artists that I admire, and adverts or anything graphic that has stood out to me and I can understand why I like it, how can I use it, and where does it fit.
I would say my work is quite graphic, figurative, and starting to sway between the abstract and detailed. I’ve always been confident in drawing people and have always wanted to add in something with a concept, and I’ve managed to do that with my more recent work.
But also, I like hiding a identity (such as facial expressions) by just showing their body position or body language, as that’s already an indicator as to what could be happening. I try to get my love for drawing and idea for compositional play in my illustrations, but sometimes it flops and I have to start again. Whoops.’
Is it a difficult world to stand out in and develop your own style?
‘I don’t feel like it has been so far (touch wood). I tend to work on things that I enjoy, and have never chased a ‘style’ of working that felt uncomfortable for me to pursue. There are some cool image makers out there who do their thing. I try not to focus on their work but focus more on mine and how I can communicate messages clearer in an applied art sort of way.’
Sport features in your work quite often – what makes it such an attractive subject for an illustrator?
‘The reason why I enjoy making football bits is because I must enjoy what I’m making. Football is up there in my list of my interests. From the footy kits I loved as a kid, to playing the game and making friends on and off the pitch. Sports has had such a positive impact in my life, I love to give back in some way and try and get people to enjoy what I make.
The scenarios in football are sometimes so bonkers that they can’t be ignored. I like to make my work so other people can enjoy it, because If I’m into it…then surely other people must be too?!’
It seems like there’s been a boom in football illustration over the last couple of years – does this make it easier or more difficult to get your work noticed?
‘Either way I don’t feel like it affects me personally – making sports orientated work is something that I will produce either way. It’s always brilliant to get projects that are related to my interests, and I would love for more to come.
A lot more people in the creative industry are certainly displaying their interest in sports a lot more loudly now which is good I feel, and makes for more conversation.’
What was the biggest challenge when creating 32 illustrations for this project? Have you done anything on this scale before?
‘This project with Umbro was a brilliant one, and has been my favourite project to date. Creating the 32 international dolls to represent the 32 different countries taking part in the world cup was a challenge that I loved solving.
The format of the doll was the most enjoyable part – how will the doll be read? And how to distinguish one doll from the others.
The idea behind it – Top half: A face that represents the country (Loose representation), The man wearing a footy kit of that nation (loose representation) and an Umbro logo in the centre.
Bottom half: Country flag in the background, a footballer in the team’s colours with an Umbro ball in play, number on the back is where the team were ranked in the world on the first day of the tournament, an indication of the football pitch & the countries name at the bottom of the doll.
I loved getting the idea and putting my own ideas into it to create this fun project that shows a cultural reference to where the games are hosted, and a campaign that a lot of people can enjoy looking at.’
Do you have a process that you work through when creating your illustrations, or does it change depending on the project?
‘I draw some wiggles and scribbles in my sketchbook and tend to work things out visually. Write down the stuff that I must include or exclude, and work up a selection of ideas with the size in mind. This method applies to every project I work on, as it helps me understand how I can apply my ideas and skills to make a project come alive and look exciting!’
What have you thought of the tournament so far?
‘England are playing some stylish football & they’re knocking the ball about confidently. I am part of the ‘football’s coming home’ crowd – but generally proud of how we’re playing ball.
Initially I thought the pace of the tournament is slower than what I remember previous ones being, but I’m losing my voice in games so something’s gotta be good. And the amount of action and goals that are happening is crazy, one 0-0 draw so far across the whole tourney is so good.’
Who’s your football team? Have you ever been inspired to create any illustrations of them?
‘Liverpool FC. I love that team maybe a little too much for my own health. I would like to produce more stuff relating to Liverpool, but illustrations that show what I notice in football is an idea I’m still keen on putting together.’
What advice would you give to young illustrators trying to get themselves seen?
‘Keep chipping away, and work on the stuff that motivates you. It shows in your work. I by no means think I am the finished article. I’m still finding ways to improve my work, but I know that if I was not drawing what I wanted to be drawing, some of the magic would disappear.’
Thanks to Raj for taking the time to answer our questions – his illustrations will continue to feature across our social media for the rest of the tournament. See more of his work at rajdhunna.com