A hand with painted nails holds a fineliner pen and draws a black and white design © Chromakane/Jessie Cohen

Chromakane for the soul

While the life of a freelancer is by nature somewhat solitary, these workers were perhaps the most prepared when lockdown restrictions were imposed. Indeed, it was during the first lockdown in the UK that graphic designer Jessie Cohen’s fine art alter-ego ‘Chromakane’ was born. In the months that followed, her creative life has enjoyed inspiration, experimentation and collaboration – all from the comfort of her home studio.

“Chromakane is my lockdown project,” laughs Jessie. “I was in between jobs and drawing was something that had always given me a different kind of creative release than my day job. Drawing every day, especially drawing organic forms, gave me that sense of release.” A portmanteau of ‘chroma’ (meaning purity or intensity of colour) and ‘akane’ (the Japanese word for deep red), Chromakane is a project that allows her to play with multiple media, combining traditional techniques with digital and use the power of Instagram and other channels to get online feedback from her fellow artists and art lovers.

Drawing every day sounds like quite the commitment until you realise that repetition isn’t something that features heavily in Chromakane’s working style. A piece of artwork could just as easily begin with a pencil as a stylus – or a brush, or a spray can – and develops out as she sees fit, with most pieces ending as prints (“my core product is art prints, original canvases and screen prints”) but always with one eye on the future. “My concept for the project is to take all of my illustrations and visual ideas and translate them onto as many canvases as possible,” she explains. “Exploring different techniques when it comes to print and reproduction. Working in more three-dimensional ways, getting my work onto fashion products or ceramics – even tattoo art.”

A black and white illustration in a black frame, against a wall. The picture is of finely drawn flowers and leaves, with a black hand in the centre, holding a stem. There is a gold leaf moon in the background.
© Chromakane/Jessie Cohen
A black, white and gold illustration of figs and butterflies, printed on paper and lying flat.
© Chromakane/Jessie Cohen

However, once a graphic designer, always a graphic designer. And as such, all Chromakane’s work tends to undergo some level of digital ‘clean up’, either in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, where she might also add in new colours before outputting the piece onto the Canon PIXMA PRO-10S printer in her studio. “Printing with the Canon printer I’ve noticed that I get a result that I don’t get when I’m using other mediums – even drawing with a black marker. The depth and intensity of the black almost feels like a screen print,” she says. And while she experiments with textured digital fine art surfaces, such as Hahnemühle German etching papers, lately she has been printing on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Pearl. The smoother surface lends itself well to her new and experimental finishing touches, such as 24-carat gold leaf, a process that she admits can be “pretty tricky – very hit and miss – but part of the charm, I think.”

While having the opportunity to focus undisturbed on work can be excellent for productivity, we humans need each other for our mutual wellbeing, to share ideas and learn. For Jessie, this meant seeking out a like-minded community of artists and creatives online. “There’s been a great effort from the online community to be more present and active. So, I have been connecting with others, and able to share skills and opinions with other artists, especially on platforms like Instagram.” It is in this way that she has become involved with ‘Art is the Cure’. The platform, founded by the world-renowned pop and street artist Rich Simmons, came about through an epiphany he had following his autism diagnosis (“Something sparked in me, and I realised those four words is what I was supposed to be doing”). Art is the Cure brings artists together as a means of “inspiring people by educating them about the power of creative therapy”.

A woman sits on the floor surrounded by fine art prints in the Japanese style. They predominantly in black, grey and red. She has shoulder-length dark hair and wears a beige skirt, white sneakers and a bleck vest-style top. On the left and right of the shot are two tables, one with a green plant on top and a black and white printed textile in front. The other with some books stacked on top and prints in front of it.
‘Chromakane’ was born in Jessie’s home studio, where she spent lockdown developing her style, experimenting and reaching out to other artists for inspiration and comfort through online communities.

They hold talks and workshops to spread the message of the healing power of art in all its forms and Jessie was given the opportunity to share her story with the network “to show how art is therapeutic to me, how I overcome challenges – whether mental challenges or professional challenges – through creativity.” As an ambassador for the organisation, she uses her practice as a platform to talk about their work. “I’ve had creative or artistic ability ever since I was a kid, but a lot of people don’t realise that they have a creative skill, ready to be unlocked,” she explains. “They may think that it is exclusive and just for artists, but it’s not. There are so many forms of that you can channel – whether it’s music or cooking. And it really does help to find that release. It can keep you grounded during a difficult time.”

The lockdown project that’s taken flight shows no sign of slowing down and Jessie is now able to divide her time between freelancing and Chromakane, taking her work in as many different directions as possible – including her first curated exhibition in Paris as part of Galerie Sakura’s Sneakers Generation, where she has on show a custom designed white Nike shoe, inspired by her original art prints. She hopes to take part in more shows in the future, “depending on how things open up now galleries are welcoming artists.” Lockdown has certainly restricted access to art and Jessie looks forward to a time when more galleries feel comfortable to invite viewers in as they traditionally did, pre-Covid. “It’s difficult with finding new places for people to engage with art in a physical space. In the meantime, I’ve been working with online galleries, and I’m loving the online opportunities to experiment and network, meet other creatives and collaborate.”

See more of Chromakane’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard