Cars, bin bags, sidewalks and busy people are caught candidly amidst their daily hurry; what you're observing here are the diaristic works of Julian Alexander. Through a dusky, smoggy, almost sepia-tinted lens, he documents his New York City surroundings in real-time, illustrating recognisable objects and faces, perceived in such a way that it's like you are strolling alongside him too.
"I make a habit of walking wherever I can," he tells us. "I'll walk for miles and just look around at things." Julian observes everything from the macro details like the ocean or the trees to a singular trash bag on the street or the creases in someone's clothes. He also ingests plenty of manga and comic books to spark his inspiration, usually on his commute. Once the ideas start flowing, he'll start sketching up his penal compositions.
"That's where my palette comes from," he explains. "I grew up in cities, and part of growing up in a city is being aware of our surroundings. You can't just get into a car and ignore people until you reach your destination. You'll have to take the same train and walk down the same blocks with everybody else. The thing is, as often as people are together in close quarters, they rarely interact with each other. Everyone is just going about their separate lives in plain view. I always liked this kind of shared privacy, so I'm primarily interested in telling stories that feel ordinary and common but also sincere. I obviously want my artwork to look good, but I'm not particularly interested in sticking out in a crowd."
Although he's received a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Artis, Julian's skill set goes far deeper than what can be learnt in school. He's a keen observer – a hawk scanning the streets of his hometown for interesting compositions, objects or people. Often he'll take a picture on his phone while out a walk to refer back to, snapping someone's coat or the bumper of a car, for instance. When he's drawing a person, though, he'll pause and screenshot a video or film he's been watching and add it to a reference folder. Next, he'll scribble his findings and work on the compositions using a mechanical pencil on tones paper. "I find that white paper makes the designs feel too flat," he adds, giving a reason for the silver tone of his work. Photoshop sometimes gets used, too, but only when he's adjusting the lighting and exposure. "It's important that the digital image looks as close to the original as possible."
By working this way, many might feel a sense of familiarity when pondering his pieces. "I want people to feel sentimental and nostalgic at the very least," he explains. "My favourite reactions are the ones where people tell me that my drawings look like their friends or their neighbourhood because they look like my friends and my neighbourhood too. The most successful ones work as time capsules and remind me of the times I had feelings I couldn't describe any way other than to draw them. Even for people who can't directly relate to my life experience, if something is genuine, it will make them feel something. I want people to appreciate the realness."
There's another branch to Julian's practice – he's also a painter and creates work informed by a similar process to his drawings. At the moment, he's currently experimenting with this medium, and, in his words, things are starting to get a little interesting. "But I've been keeping them under wraps," he says. He's been brewing a new style behind the scenes, one that's more about "capturing feeling and mood" rather than "accuracy and detail". It's never disappointing to see where an artist turns to next – more soon!