Oliver Macdonald On The Intersection Of Art & Music

Over the first few months of quarantine, while we were all in different degrees of isolation, artist Oliver Macdonald Oulds found a way to connect with others in a meaningful way through what he calls #facetimedrawing.

Oliver met up with different musicians for an hour via FaceTime, in which they would jam or practice while he illustrated them and their space. Oliver virtually hung out with family, friends, and even strangers he had never met before. He illustrated musicians of all kinds, doing their thing in their own unique way, as they performed music on drums, bass, horns, violins, and of course, guitar.

After finding his series of portraits online, we had to reach out to this artist to interview him about his approach to creating his unique brand of art, along with the challenges of doing so during quarantine. 

We’re stoked to meet online and learn more about you and your process! To start off, could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your past experiences?  

My name is Ollie Macdonald and I am an illustrator from Manchester, UK but currently based in London. I've always been keen on drawing, and as a kid I would pass away the hours drawing Batman figures or copying from my Pokemon cards. 

What sparked this idea of illustrating musicians while they played their instruments? 

I started the musician series over Zoom out of a general fatigue at the same conversations everyone was having at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. I still wanted to 'hang out' with family but didn't really want to rehash the same anxiety-causing conversations. It would have been pretty normal for me to sit and draw my cousin whilst he practiced guitar prior to COVID, so I just suggested that we try and do similar but via Facetime/Zoom. The series sort of snowballed from there. I would pitch it as an hour of shared practice time. If the musicians were practicing their craft, then I felt it was only fair if I tried my hand at watercolour (which I wasn't so confident in).

How did you get in contact with so many different musicians? Are you a musician yourself?

I’m not a musician myself but have always enjoyed the crossover between music and art. At University, I was really hooked on the jazz illustrations of David Stone Martin, which I think still influence the way we perceive the way jazz looks. I wanted to try to push away from just biting that style. Instagram was the main link to reach out to most of the musicians, one or two via Facebook, and word of mouth sort of just spread for a month or two.

In your posts you mention trying out a variety of different art supplies and techniques during this series. This is really cool because in a way it mimics how you illustrated a variety of musicians and instruments as well. Are you adding any of these tools to your daily practice moving forward?

I was always a believer in the idea that you should be able to make a brilliant image with whatever is at hand, biro, and scrap paper. But it was my birthday in April that my younger brother Leo, who is also a talented drawer, hooked me up with some Japanese watercolours, which immediately brought about a change in the quality of colour and layering of the paints. I also got into the habit of trying to do one image just with dip pen and ink, as a means of complimenting the two techniques. 

It must have been such a unique experience to have this sort of fly-on-the-wall point of view of what tends to be an intimate (or sacred) moment for many musicians. Out of all these sessions, do any stand out? Do you have any favorite moments?

I'd never really thought much about the Amazon Alexa before, but seeing Femi Koleoso of Ezra Collective playing drums and commanding his Alexa to play Newham Generals or Tony Allen was really fucking memorable. It was hard to not just sit back and watch that one. It was one of those sessions where practice began to blur the line with performance due to the level of technique. 

What do you find most challenging about doing this sort of art?  What is most rewarding?

One of the main challenges was trying to not art-direct the angle and the shot too much, as I wanted the drawings to be an honest representation of the musicians space but there were times where i'd leave out details. Artistic license and all that fun stuff.

Can you compare the use of your tools and techniques to that of a musician?

I can't compare what the process must have been like for the musicians playing their music to me making my drawings, but I know that the tempo of the music definitely influenced the pace that I was working at - and the risks that I would take with the mark-making on the page.

Who are some of your favorite musicians, and do any of them inspire you visually in your overall style?

I think the Beastie Boys have been an ongoing inspiration for me in the past couple years. I don't even like all their music, but as an attitude towards making music and videos, they really give me courage- a stripped back, D-I-Y, 'use what you have type' energy. I really enjoyed listening to their audiobook and proper recommend you search it out. Other notable mentions go to Stones Throw and Jeff Jank, Jamie Hewlett/Gorillaz, and Reid Miles era Blue Note.  As for what I've been listening to lately; I've been smashing the new SAULT album and bits of Demae, Cotton Jones, Kevin Morby and Benji B's radio show thrown in for good measure.

Thank you for letting us into your world of art today.

Thanks for reaching out, and it was a true pleasure!

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