Illustrator Charles Bailey uses a deliberately naive art style to talk about difficult subjects

Somerset-based illustrator, Charles Bailey channels the likes of Quentin Blake and Spike Milligan in his naive, expressive artwork, which explores complex themes.

Visual communicator Charles Bailey has always wanted to do something creative. Ever since he was young, he's had a passion for art. However, it wasn't until he looked into further education that he understood the possibilities in the creative industry.

Studying illustration at Exeter changed all that. There, his eyes were opened to the various paths he could take as an artist, and since graduating in 2019, he has gone on to become a full-time freelance illustrator with the WWF and the Mental Health Foundation on his client list.

It's easy to see why Charles's career has taken off so quickly. His charming art style is packed with playful lines and expressive characters that leap off the page and the screen. His illustrations still manage to be completely unique, representing a blend of Quentin Blake and Spike Milligan.

"Their unique styles have deeply influenced my own work, and I strive to emulate that same sense of playfulness and joy in my art," he adds.

And just like his idols, Charles likes to keep things traditional when it comes to his mediums. "I love drawing with pencil in a sketchbook because I find the lines and textures so satisfying," he tells Creative Boom. "While I sometimes work with acrylic paints and inks, pencil remains my favourite tool. After sketching, I use Photoshop to work on the colours digitally."

One surprising word keeps cropping up when describing his art style: naive. Charles adds that this style could be seen as childlike or simple and that it also creates a playful aesthetic in his practice. "I enjoy simplicity within art," he reveals.

"Looking back to my inspirations of Blake and Milligan, you can see a very simple and childlike aesthetic within their work, similar to how I use simple lines and block colours, emulating a simple yet captivating design."

Far from being oblivious, though, naivety has a unique role in Charles's art: it allows him to tackle big ideas more deftly. "I've often been told my work carries a lot of emotion," he says. "Using a naive art style helps me and the viewer engage with difficult subjects more easily. Its simplicity and innocence make it easier to discuss complex emotions and themes.

"This comes in handy, particularly when working in an editorial manner, as the subject matter can often be emotionally challenging. Using a naive art style to aestheticise the subject matter can create an approachable and engaging way to draw the reader in and assist them in understanding the emotions attached to the subject matter."

Regarding subject matter, nature is a recurring theme in Charles's portfolio. It's an element he puts down to growing up and living in the countryside of Somerset. And these surroundings were only thrown into further relief when he moved away from them.

"It wasn't until I left to study illustration in London that I truly began to appreciate the beauty of my rural roots," he says. "Nature has since become a central theme in my work, reflecting my connection and appreciation for the landscapes and environment that shaped me."

But this doesn't mean Charles stays local. In fact, he recently jetted all the way to Bangkok for his first solo exhibition, Rhythm of Rain. "The exhibition explored three different stages of melancholic emotions through imagery inspired by the notion of a rainy beach," he says.

Presented as a journey through three distinct areas, the artworks depict different emotional states. Digitally created pieces capture internalised struggles, while a series of eight acrylic paintings meditate on reflections. Finally, a large-scale, hand-drawn, and digitally coloured animation documents the feeling of catharsis.

Besides visualising these emotions, the exhibition was important for Charles because it allowed him to open up about his emotions, something that he knows many men struggle with. "I hope that other men may find comfort in this notion and feel inspired to begin communicating their own feelings," he says.

"Overall, I was thrilled with the exhibition's positive reception, and I'm grateful to have had such an amazing experience in my career. I look forward to future opportunities with Balcony Space, the facilitators of the exhibition."

Having finished his exhibition in Bangkok, Charles is looking forward to diving back into his editorial work and setting aside some time to knuckle down to commissions. "Additionally, I'll be dedicating more time to work on my illustrated goods business, Bigfatbambini, by expanding my range of greeting cards and venturing into new independent shops," he concludes.

"My wife Rosie and I are also currently working on a very exciting new project: growing a baby, which is due November 2024!"


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