Illustrator Charlie Davis crafts serene landscapes and perfectly poised figures with sweeping shapes of color, light, and texture — using muted palettes and a film-like grain to create translucent forms that overlap like laminated layers of waxed vellum. He says he has been influenced by American artist Edward Hopper, who’s known for depicting scenes of modern life with sharp shapes and soft tones. But Davis’s style is his own. His portfolio includes work for Adobe, Cadbury, Playboy, Smirnoff, Audi, the Daily Telegraph, and more.
Davis grew up in a quiet neighborhood in southeast England, pencil or pen frequently in hand. He has always had the urge to create. “I’ve always had a love of drawing and art in general,” he says, “It’s just a thing that’s always throwing itself at me. I’m constantly thinking that the things around me would make exciting illustrations; the people, interesting subjects.”
That irresistible urge to draw led Davis to a four-year illustration program at Falmouth University in Cornwall, England. The artist learned how to draw realistically using meticulous lines and delicate shading. But as his skill progressed, he realized he needed to develop his own style. “At first I thought I needed to create things that were relatively accurate, but then I realized that it’s important to have a style or your own illustration language,” he says. “I started getting inspired by 1920s Art Deco travel posters and painters like Edward Hopper.”
Davis loved Hopper’s sense of serenity and mood, his use of simple shapes and limited palettes. It’s easy to see the similarities between Hopper’s and Davis’s work, but Davis has embraced an even more stylized and polished style. His figures are sharp and pure. And unlike Hopper, Davis works mostly in the digital realm.
Most of Davis’s pieces start as rough sketches on paper. “Tablets are amazing, but I still find that you just can’t beat drawing on a bit of paper,” he says. The artist photographs those sketches and imports them into Adobe Photoshop, where the majority of his work takes place. He uses the Photoshop pen tool with a Wacom Cintiq tablet to trace his sketches, pulling out refined shapes. He layers those shapes, using varying blending modes and film grain or noise filters to create translucency and texture. Davis typically works at 300 dpi and twice the requested image size for the final illustration. His canvases are gigantic and contain an immense number of pixels. Still, he’s able to work quickly and efficiently with Photoshop running on a standard Apple iMac.
Davis lauds the precise, granular nature of Photoshop and its endless array of out-of-the box filters and brushes. “Kyle Webster’s brushes are brilliant,” he says. “I find that there's enough variety there to get any kind of desired effect.”
He posts most of his work on his personal website and on Behance. And in fact, Behance is how the artist got one of his “big breaks.” Talent scouts at the UK-based illustration agency Handsome Frank found Davis’s work on Behance and reached out to him for illustration work. He’s been a full-time illustrator with the agency ever since.
Now Davis lives in a relatively busy neighborhood in London, working in his home studio for clients across the globe. He recently had the chance to create a mural for London’s Covent Garden. The mural spans several stories of a brick building and is part of a series of art instillations placed around Covent Garden in honor of urban bees. “They just sent me one line, ‘urban bees,’” he says. “It’s always nice when you get that much freedom to explore possibilities.”
The end result was 15 vertical meters of colorful flowers, a departure from Davis’s standard pallet of muted tones. The mural shines brightly in Covent Garden, but the artist hasn’t spent as much time outdoors since the spread of the COVID-19 virus. He, like most of us, has been socially distancing and keeping to himself. Thankfully, it’s not a huge departure from his pre-COVID-19 life. “I’m one of the lucky ones because I was already working pretty much in isolation before lockdown,” he says. “I still have the joys of the internet and I can work remotely with others.”
Advice for staying inspired during a pandemic? Davis recommends regular exercise and taking lots of breaks. “Whether that's just going for a run or just going outside and taking your mind off it,” he says. “It’s just not being too hard on yourself and not putting too much pressure on being creative all the time.”
Where does Davis go from here? He hopes to further evolve his style and explore working in new mediums. “The goal is to just develop the style and hopefully evolve in a way that's exciting and relevant,” he says.
As far as subjects, Davis looks forward to freely observing and illustrating the people in his busy London neighborhood. “When it comes to personal work, it's quite important to be interested or passionate about it,” he says. “For me it's often bars, pubs, restaurants — places where people interact. It will be nice to get back to that.”