From tattoos to travel, architecture and AI, we sat down to talk about the creative eye, process, and mindset of design, with illustrator and graphic artist, Marcus Oakley.
Sitting down to meet with Marcus amid the annual Fringe Festival August madness of Edinburgh feels a bit like entering a bubble: the outside noise dims, and the mind fizzes as he speaks with urgency. There’s a quiet hum of energy that emanates from him, a creative pulse that is at once shy and confident. Here’s a man who isn’t afraid to colour outside the lines and challenge his perspectives and viewpoints while absorbing the world around him. For us, the result of this has been an exceptional collaboration of vision, borne of old friendships, an open mind, and impressive skill, all beautifully showcased in our new packaging.
A LONG-STANDING FRIENDSHIP
Marcus Oakley was introduced to us through our friends at A-Side Studio; we’ve worked with the team from the very outset; if there’s anyone who knows our brand, vision, and direction, it’s these guys, so we knew working with Marcus was going to be special. His work graces our Charlotte Road mural in Shoreditch, London, and today his designs – from the nomad figures – to bold typography – shape the continuing evolution of the Origin brand. The packaging – along with some cool new merchandise – incorporates a range of nomad characters to showcase our coffee collection, with bold, clean lines, sharp edges, a classic monochrome palette, and plenty of Marcus’s personality.
Before meeting Marcus, the intention had been to lead the chat from questions; turning up to meet him, he launches straight into conversation, leading down a much more organic route; you get the impression that this is a side to his trade that he doesn’t feel comes naturally to him—his self-confessed “fizzy brain” evident in the myriad of topics he covers, and yet he excels in his ability to speak eloquently about the creative process and his work, the conversation effervescent.
We sit, and Marcus orders a peppermint tea, confessing that he doesn’t drink coffee – while dressed in a trendy pair of glasses, plaid shirt, and worker’s jacket – a creative uniform if ever there was one – but it all seems incredibly authentic, almost accidental, and entirely humble. “When Alex at A-Side approached me about this project, I wondered I might not be considered as a good fit!” He needn’t have worried. Marcus’s designs are built from his sharply curious mind, brilliantly aligning with our brand and identity.
Hailing from Acle, known as the ‘Gateway to the Broads’ in Norfolk, these days Marcus resides just across the Firth of Forth, with his son, and partner, in Dunfermline, Scotland. Marcus’s designs – illustrative, graphic – are found across a broad range of objects, brands, and mediums. Throughout his career, while remaining true to his style, he’s been a chameleon, adapting to landscape, to learning, audience, and project, and it’s evidently shaped his mind and his work, melding thought and design with pen, ruler, or paint, depending on the mood.
A CREATIVE BACKGROUND
Marcus speaks fondly of his formative years studying Fine Arts and Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts before landing a role as a designer of t-shirts and textiles at the London clothing brand, Paul Smith. Marcus believes that those distinctive and yet overlapping worlds of creativity fuelled his curiosity and provided him with a wealth of experience that, when he chose to set out on his own, prepared him brilliantly. Over the years, Marcus has mentored and taught numerous students, participated in exhibitions (and put on a few of his own), and contributed to campaigns, projects, and designs, from book illustrations to our coffee packaging.
“Packaging really interests me,” Marcus said. “I love the evolution of the art as it is placed into the world and used: it becomes a new art form in its own right; it takes on its own life.”
With the designs developed for our packaging, Marcus notes that each is crafted with the idea that if it were to take on a solid, sculptural form it would be able to stand on its own, a character with a story.
“As a retired skateboarder, I can never resist sneaking in a pair of wheels here and there, too.”
Skateboarding appears to have been an early influence on Marcus’s creative mind, and while he prefers to take to two wheels now, cycling with his 2-year-old son in tow, he still recalls the brilliance of that DIY mentality he associates with skateboarding, when skateparks weren’t a thing, and making a ramp to practice tricks on, was the norm.
“Skateboarding felt a little like being part of a tribe—a place to belong, something that is very human, much like the clothes we choose for ourselves, or the brand of coffee we drink: we’re aligning ourselves with people of a similar ilk, stating our place and views on the world.”
Along with the fun of procuring timber and tools to create a skate ramp, Marcus also recalls enjoying the contradiction of the screen-print art that adorned many skateboards. “You at once appreciated these pieces of art and understood that they weren’t permanent—they were to be changed, worn down, and damaged the more you used your board.”
A younger Marcus, testing out a homemade skate ramp.
INSPIRATION IS EVERYWHERE
Marcus seems to have an ability for absorbing style and inspiration. From brutalist architecture, to typography, nature and travel, his gaze is insatiable, and his work as a response is thoughtful yet spontaneous, and playful too. From a commission of daily drawings for the New Yorker, to wondering how to make the best use of a cabbage delivered in an organic vegetable box (a still life paint opportunity, of course), Marcus describes himself as endlessly curious, and we couldn’t agree more, marvelling at how he can turn his mind from one project to the next. For this, is seems he’s patient to the process, aware that routine is integral to the work.
“There’s very much a discipline needed to be creative,” he agreed. “There’s no other consistency, other than the dedication to the practice, really. The exploration of form and sculpture, edges, shape and confinement… I’m always seeking out visual ambience. I know that some days it might take six or more attempts to get the thing I’m working on looking and feeling right: you must be convinced by it yourself, before you convince others.”
Perhaps this self-convincing is why Marcus doesn’t feel the need to work too hard on proving his work to others, enjoying a sense of mystery –known to colleagues in the past as ‘Mysterious Marcus’ – while at the same time, not presenting an exclusive world through his work, either; quite the opposite, his work feels inclusive and open to organic change.
“I’ve had people ask if they can use my work as a tattoo; I love this idea of the small way my work will change – can be changed – as it transfers over to the individual.”
Marcus doesn’t give too much away on his Instagram, either, only using it as a “portable, curated gallery”, with nothing personal shared. He speaks of an exhibit he put on, in 2016, in Edinburgh, titled ‘Crunchy Pump’. The exhibit was put together simply with a desire to provide a space for others to come and go as they pleased; no admission fee, no agenda.
“I remember there was a bus driver who popped his head in, curious by some of the sculptural pieces placed in a window,” Marcus says. “He wouldn’t have necessarily taken time out to make his way, with intention, to an exhibit, but the curiosity and openness provided a way for him to participate.”
For Marcus, this idea of art evolving, goes even further.
“Part of the enjoyment of this exhibit, was printing out some of the designs, and uploading them for printing. I’m fascinated by this idea that the image I create then goes on to become something else, transformed into all these zeros and ones as it enters a digital world.”
Despite his interest – and close work in a digital format – Marcus believes that art is a form of expression that the likes of artificial intelligence will never accomplish.
“AI isn’t intelligent. It’s simply gathering data: to create art is a truly unique, human experience. I love watching my son, who has these crayons shaped like pebbles, reach for the colours of his choosing, making those decisions, based on the world he’s discovering: that viewpoint is wholly his.”
Explore Marcus’s designs across our full speciality coffee range