Q&A with Illo artist Jael Umerah-Makelemi – her art aims to celebrate black women, and shed light on mental health, promoting self care.


 Jael Umerah-Makelemi aims to celebrate black women, she likes to promote self care, and shed light mental health issues we all face.  Jael, coming from a Nigerian background and living in South London has grown up around so many black individuals, she has always been fascinated by the multitude of diverse and bold personalities, who aren’t afraid to express who they are through colour and fashion. This influenced her to create illustrations that are unapologetically vibrant and bold in style. Jael’s art is primarily digital, but she has been exploring hand drawn illustrations and painting.  Her recent clients include converse,  BBC & THE OPEN UNIVERSITY- MHAW2020, View Magazine, BBC Sport LGBT, Southwark News among many others.

Do keep reading as we discover more behind her talent…

When did you start illustrating?

I started drawing from around the age of 5. Through primary school, I was known as one of the class artists. At the time I wanted to be a fashion designer so I’d bring in my fashion illustrations to show the class. I had a folder with all of my sketches- I was so proud!

Who has been the most supportive in your illustration career, perhaps your teacher, family, friends?

My mum and Nan have been extremely supportive! They always give me advice and are the first ones I run to when I’ve reached a new goal or achieved something new.

Did you always think art was something that was going to be a major part of your life?

From a very young age, I knew that creativity was my passion. I always wanted to have a creative career. I started out wanting to be a fashion designer, then artist, then architect, then an artist all over again!

What is your favourite subject matter to illustrate?

I love illustrating Black women. Growing up, I never learned about Black creatives. In art lessons, we learnt about Modigliani, Picasso, Van Gogh etc. Black people were never the artists or muses within the piece. This is why I create representational art to give people the opportunity to see themselves in my pieces. I want to inspire the next generation of creatives.

How would you describe your style?

My art is predominantly digital but I’ve been experimenting with acrylic and gouache. My art utilises bright colours, bold patterns and strong portrait figures. My main style is semi flat and semi realistic.

What is your favourite collaboration to date?

My favourite collaboration has to be with Converse. I had to interpret the Converse All Star brief and create a piece that really speaks to my community. I loved this particular collaboration as it pushed my creative ability. I learnt how to animate on Procreate and edit my piece in Premiere Pro in 1 week using YouTube!

What interested you about being represented by Illo Agency?

I really wanted to be represented by Illo as I loved the diverse range of creatives they have. They really take the time to know each of their artists, their style and future goals. When first speaking to Illo, I realised that they had my best interest, I felt at home.

Do you have a favourite author, film director, or designer?

I absolutely love Ariane Illustration. When I look at her art, I see myself. Her illustrations are so detailed, elegant and absolutely stunning!

Are you working on any personal projects you can share with us?

I’m currently working on an illustration series called ‘24k Gold’ it’s a celebration of darker brown skin tones. Each piece is inspired by royalty and Goddesses.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, do you have a favourite?

Yes!!! Podcasts are everything. I’m currently listening to ‘The Self Love Fix’podcast on Spotify. It’s absolutely amazing!