Surrey-born talent Jade Pearl is an abstract artist and creative designer with a focus on digital art, illustration, murals and art direction. Oh, and she’s also an international model... Triple threat, much?
Southern Comfort—one of the world’s leading whisky brands—called on Jade to create a limited-edition bottle to celebrate Mardi Gras this March; as well as producing a strong piece of art, she was also blessed with the mentoring support of BMIKE, a US street artist. Having created his own version of the Southern Comfort bottle in 2021, together they explored themes of togetherness and self-expression, with Jade drawing direct inspiration from the community around her.
With her confidence up and bolstering women of colour in the arts now firmly at the front of her mind, we hooked up with Jade Pearl to talk all things process, the importance of developing your own style as a creative, and how she went about twinning her South London hometown with the spirit of New Orleans.
“I’m so grateful this happened—it always amazes me who sees my stuff on Instagram. At first, I didn’t believe the email was real, inviting ME to design a bottle!”
COMPLEX: Jade, you’re a bit of a triple threat: you’re an abstract artist, a creative designer, and you’re an international model—but what came first?
Jade Pearl: The modelling came first. I’ve been doing that since I was 17 but it’s dwindled since my art took off and my passion for design came to the fore… I actually won a competition and was the first Black model for boohoo.
You’re from South London, right? What’s your history/relationship like with the area in 2022?
I was born in Surrey, moved to South London and then back to Surrey. I know it’s not South-South, it’s the backskirts of South London, but growing up in Surbiton, it’s my fave place ever! I don’t know what it was, but growing up there, I adored it—there was so much to do and I could quickly pop into London with my mum. I went to uni in Pimlico, living near Brixton for four years… The culture down South is just different and it’s where I feel most at home.
As a UAL Chelsea College of Arts alumnus, who graduated with a first-class degree nonetheless, how did you make the transition from student to creative professional? That ‘shift’ can often be a challenge for people…
To be honest, I was lost for the first two years. I went travelling for modelling for a bit and spent some time in Cape Town. I broke my foot out there—I fell off a treadmill in front of an entire fitness class, landing on my ankle—and I was bed bound for the following month. That kicked me back into reality! I couldn’t do modelling, so I started drawing again. My manager, at the time, he knew my real passion was art and really encouraged me. My art came from a place of being low, down and having no self-worth, so I was drawing and doodling, giving myself affirmations in my own work, for my-own-self. That’s literally how it spiralled. It was all a big mess of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’, but the art made me happy. He encouraged me to ditch the modelling and really push this forward. I started posting randomly on social media and began drawing over my modelling pictures—that was when people really started to get into it and brands started to get in touch about content creation. I didn’t realise it was a ‘thing’ that I could get paid for and have a career as a freelance creative. As I became more confident, I moved away from digital and back to tactile stuff, canvases, and bigger collaborations organically came in.
Your sustainably-driven fashion collection, FORESEA—which uses seaweed yarn and recycled plastics—was showcased in Las Vegas. Has an international aspect always been important to you?
Most of my clients who want to buy my artwork are in the States. I really wanted to push my brand and I went on a course that, if successful, would allow me to showcase my work there. Using my capsule collection, I got a place next to all of these big brands who were showing their new collections to buyers in America. I had no idea what I was doing; people wanted to place orders but I was totally overwhelmed and not ready. Everything was hand-knitted. I thought it would just be people saying “that’s nice” not “that’s nice; can we order it for our stores?” It gave me perspective. I wasn’t mentally ready for a business like that and wanted to focus on the actual art first. I’m hoping to start releasing again in 2023, but it’s going to be totally different.
You’ve had a busy couple of years as an art director, including a recent campaign for Will Smith’s autobiography. Do you have a set creative process when a job comes in?
Will’s team got in touch and gave me creative freedom, which was really cool. I think every brand I’ve worked with has given me that freedom as they like my style, which is really nice. I’ve never done a window display before so that was really cool too!
Which artists do you look to for inspiration? Any other go-tos that get the creative juices flowing?
I’ve never looked elsewhere in the creative world for inspiration, ever—even when I was at uni. I feel like, and this might just be me, but if I look at other artists I’ll subconsciously copy. I don’t want to do that. I’ll always draw inspiration from my own research, without sounding big-headed. And if I’m having a bad day, I don’t create—I’ll go and see my family in Surrey, hang with my mum and the dog.
How did your current work with Southern Comfort and Mardi Gras come about?
I’m so grateful this happened—it always amazes me who sees my stuff on Instagram. At first, I didn’t believe the email was real, inviting ME to design a bottle! If I’m being honest, it’s one of my biggest collabs and Southern Comfort has a great reputation so it’s going to boost us both. I want to work with brands that are authentic and classic, which they are. It also takes me back to my uni days… I do say no to work if I don’t like a brand or think we’re a fit.
New Orleans-based street artist BMIKE mentored you on Mardi Gras. Tell us more about the mentoring experience and what it entailed.
Brandon—aka BMIKE—mainly mentored me over Zoom, due to travel restrictions. Him being from New Orleans, he was able to paint a picture, given I’ve never been to Mardi Gras before. He was lovely. He also got me the job with Will Smith—they were looking for a London-based artist and he put me forward. He was super-honest and out-there with it. He encouraged me to add feathers, tiny details, that will make it more authentic to someone from New Orleans. It was a great experience.
What parts of UK life reflect the values of Mardi Gras?
I was thinking about celebration and to be authentic and stereotypical, I tried to put in characters that represent class backgrounds—not cultural backgrounds. We’ve got a football hooligan, because you can’t get away from them in the UK, and then the girl next door on a night out… Also bringing in the fashion, so hoodies and street culture marrying with the Mardi Gras theme. British people celebrating Mardi Gras, basically!
When it came down to actually designing the bottle, how did you begin?
I made a mood-board incorporating elements of Mardi Gras and UK culture, then moved onto the iPad. I had the skyline, big tall buildings of London as lines, so abstract elements from the UK, putting things like beads as a Mardi Gras element at the forefront and just marrying the two.
When do you know when a job/design is finished?
I’m a perfectionist, for sure, but when it comes to abstract, they’re so emotionally free that I can let go easily. When I finish a painting, I step back. Sometimes I can see a bit of something missing, but I usually wait a day, then go back and I’LL know. When it’s done, it’s done and I move on, let it go. I don’t want to go back to an emotion and fix it.
How did it feel to see your bottle design for the first time?
It was crazy! I’ve got bottle No. 2 here and I’m not opening it [laughs]. I want No. 1! I was in shock because when you’re seeing it on a digital screen, it’s hard to imagine it as a bottle. It looks so cool. I love it.
Is there anything you’d take away from this experience as a gem for the future?
BMIKE has given me the inspiration to go for it, so I’d really like to mentor other people. I wasn’t sure I was ready but he’s given me a push. I want to give opportunities to artists from other cultures; for example, you don’t see many Indian girls in art. I’ve had a few women contact me, asking for advice, and as a Black woman wanting to be properly in the design industry, I know it’s going to be hard but I want to show other girls you can do this. I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I want to make that space. Maybe an agency…
Are you heading to Mardi Gras in March? If so, what essentials will you be taking?
Someone needs to invite me! I’d have to take a notebook—I need to write things down—100% my phone, my skincare products because I’ve struggled with acne forever, medjool dates because they’re my favourite thing in the world, and one of my crystals for protection.
And who would you want to invite to the ultimate Mardi Gras after-party?
Everyone in my family will be crying if I don’t choose them so we’ll make it a family affair. I should be down with the hype more but family is super important to me and I’d want my family to have the experience.
What’s next for Jade Pearl?
I got a job with adidas during lockdown—they kind of made the role for me. I’m Creative Director for the Maker Lab in the Oxford Street store, so I’m in charge of the creative around in-store activations, the next one being International Women’s Day. I’m adapting my skills to retail, as I’ve not done it before, so I’ve found the learning on internal workings really interesting. Behind the scenes, I’m busy building the Jade Pearl brand—I’m thinking cool suits and dresses—and putting my art out there and seeing what collaborations come about.
Any advice for aspiring creatives?
Consistency is key! Consistently not giving up, consistently knowing you will get there… And evolving your work. My early work is nothing like what I do now. Be clever with how you create; not everyone wants to commercialise their work but you kind of need to, in some way, to get out there. I look at the elements people like and build on that.