A New Stage: Using Creative Cloud to Give Shakespeare a Modern-Day Makeover (Part 2)
As part of our mission to foster creativity for all, we’ve been working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to help teachers integrate digital learning into their classroom with our free digital learning guides and teaching resources.
We recently commissioned research which found that 77% of 11-18-year olds struggle to understand Shakespeare plays because of the challenging language. So, we tasked five incredibly talented UK artists to give some of Shakespeare’s most famous scenes and characters a 21st century makeover using Creative Cloud tools.
We caught up with three of them – comic artist and illustrator Amrit Birdi, illustrator Jack Teagle and Adobe UK’s Creative Resident and illustrator Octavia Bromell – to find out more about their creations and their advice for young people looking to break into the creative industries.
Why was the Reimagine Shakespeare campaign important for you to be a part of?
Jack: We all grow up with Shakespeare as a big part of our education in the UK. I was lucky enough to see a lot of plays growing up. My parents used to take my sister and I to outdoor local productions in Cornwall, to help inspire us. It was a big honour to be able to create artwork based on something that plays such a big part of our country’s culture and history.
Octavia: I take a lot of inspiration from art history, and classic works of literature and paintings – I love the depth that classic art has. I leapt at the opportunity to be part of something that would encourage students to get involved in a fun way with what they’re studying at school. I am a visual thinker, and I always connected better with classroom materials when there was another element to the text itself. So, it was great to be a part of that experience for people studying Shakespeare now!
Amrit: I see it as an essential duty of any working illustrator to actively encourage and inspire new talent and hope they can learn a little something from your experiences.
I did study A Midsummer Night’s Dream at school, but being honest, I didn’t relate to it back then. Looking back, I should have loved it – Shakespeare is full of nuance, betrayal, action, comedy, love, tragedy and death, all things that are very common across comics, games, TV and film today. These aren’t new ideas.
What is the inspiration behind your Reimagine Shakespeare artwork that you have created for Adobe and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)?
Jack: I wanted to update the setting in Macbeth to make the artwork contemporary and draw young people in, but I wanted to also merge it with the original. That’s why I kept things ethereal, magical and creepy, and why the characters were holding swords yet also driving a car.
I wanted it to feel otherworldly, like the three witches – a little out of time, like these characters had broken through the veil of reality and could travel through dimensions.
Octavia: The first meeting in Romeo and Juliet takes place at a banquet. One of the most common settings for social interactions we have today are cafés, so it felt like a natural setting for our lovers from fair Verona!
One of the things I’ve always loved about Shakespeare is the depth of his work – within different plays and poems, there are themes and hidden references that tie it all together. I loved adding these into the illustration, I think it gives it so much more depth, which is the appeal of the plays in the first place!
Amrit: My inspiration was to bring together the classic humanity and humour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and combine it with a hyper-modern dystopian cityscape often found in the comics and games of today.
I wanted to create something that would make 14-year-old me completely fall in love with storytelling, using a visual art form such as comics through Shakespeare!
Octavia Bromell, Romeo and Juliet (Adobe Fresco and Rush)
Could you talk us through the creative process you went through in making these images?
Jack: I work in a very comic book style. I like to think of things in terms of very bold, clean line work, usually in ink, with bold, flat colours which are then built up with texture and shading.
For me, a large part of making an image is the planning, I make a lot of sketches and move things around in the composition until they’re just right. When I know I have everything lined up perfectly, it gives me the confidence to jump into the final artwork.
I like adding in a lot of hatching and line work using Adobe Draw. I love making work with an old medieval forced perspective that’s slightly naive, while still looking modern and comic book like.
Octavia: I start every illustration with a mood board to kick start my creative process, and really get me in the zone. It also doubles as great reference for the actual drawing. From there I made some sketches, playing around with different character traits and surroundings. Then I drew the piece itself in a combination of Adobe Fresco on the iPad Pro and Adobe Photoshop, I love being able to seamlessly switch between mobile and desktop drawing, it’s one of my favourite things about using Fresco! The cloud storage means I can make a change and seconds later it’s reflected on my desktop.
Amrit: First, I broke the original scene down into pages and panels. Then I took the script breakdown and produced comic page layouts, using the pages and panels as a guide. This part of the process is the most mentally exhausting, as you’re trying to balance correct page flow which will guide a reader’s eye, assess overall composition to make the page work as an entire piece of coherent art, and plan for text/dialogue.
My Adobe Photoshop layout files tend to be loaded with lots of layers, which lets me switch between ideas and allows for maximum flexibility. It can be important to keep things quick too and not override your creative instincts by over-thinking – so using the layers and free transform tools I can re-size, move, flip and rotate panels quickly and simply.
I then move on to the longest, but actually simplest part, which is finishing the lines work, filling in areas of black, adding hatching, playing with textures and deciding on the lighting. It’s like switching a plane to auto-pilot at cruising altitude, it feels automatic. After this, I imported my art into Adobe Illustrator and used my library of comic tools (e.g. speech bubbles, fonts) and added the letter art.
Jack Teagle, Macbeth (Adobe Draw and Photoshop)
Why do you think it’s important to bring creativity into the classroom?
Jack: Sometimes school used to feel quite daunting for me, but creativity helps you to realise how fluid ideas are. I think sometimes things can feel locked down in history or textbooks, and that we don’t have permission to play with those ideas.
Being creative while learning helps to break down those doubts. Instead of just learning from or memorising a textbook, you’re making sense of the subject matter and problem solving. You never know if it could help to lay the foundations for writing, dance, art, or for it to take root as inspiration in any part of your life.
Octavia: Every single person on the planet is completely unique, and I think it’s important to recognise that we all learn differently. For some people, they get a huge amount from just reading text. But for others, it doesn’t get them firing with excitement. Bringing creativity into the classroom, for me, is just an excuse to let students learn how they want to learn and find significance from their own unique significance.
The beauty of art is that it’s totally subjective, and we all like different things, so I think this campaign and the fresh approach it brought to classic literature enabled classrooms to be as interesting as possible, to everyone.
Amrit: The unquantifiable nature of creativity should be encouraged as much as possible – at the very least as a thought process or problem-solving approach.
You don’t have to be an artist, actor, singer or otherwise exercise your creativity – to me, the difference between doing a ‘good’ job and a ‘great’ job is to be creative along the way, no matter the field.
Amrit Birdi, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Fresco)
What would be your advice to any young people, either just starting out in their careers or looking to break into the creative industries?
Jack: Try not to focus too heavily on copying other people on social media. Work in the most natural way to you and build on your personal strengths. You’ll develop your own voice. Take risks! You have your whole life ahead of you.
Have fun, break things down, rebuild them, turn them inside out! Experiment. I find humour and not taking something seriously really helps me to go wild with ideas.
Octavia: I think the biggest misconception around art is that you’re either talented, or you’re not. I didn’t properly pick up a paintbrush until I was 22, and I firmly believe that anyone can learn how to be creative. As long as you’re truly passionate about it, and willing to put in the work, there is space in the world for the wonderful things that only you can create. Don’t be afraid of being completely, uniquely you – that’s actually the thing that makes you special. Embrace it!
Amrit: Only compete with yourself. Once you compare yourself to another artist’s talent or success in anything but an inspirational or aspirational way, you’re no longer focussing on the right thing. Do you – and focus on making incremental daily improvements.
Any aspiring creators – DM me on Instagram anytime! I’m always happy to try and give tailored advice to new talent.
Check out our other two artists’ artwork and read all about the inspiration behind them in Part 1 here.
As part of its partnership with the RSC, Adobe is currently co-presenting the RSC’s popular First Encounters with Shakespeare tour, featuring 90-minute adaptations of Shakespeare for 7-13-year olds, and providing a digital learning experience for Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud. Adobe Spark is available to all schools free-of-charge and can be used by students to create infographics, graphics and videos for school projects.
You can flick through the full digital artwork series and find out more information about the partnership here: adobe.ly/2MHzQ3L.