If you’ve ever stood people-watching at the back a gig, or looked across the busy tables in your favourite Leeds coffee shop, you might have noticed Joshua Pell. Sat cross-legged and hunched over a weathered sketchbook, the Cambridge School of Art graduate becomes part of the furniture as he silently sketches the nuances and quirks of the environment around him. With intricacy and thoughtful perception, Pell’s observational illustration captures the subtle character and colour of the scenes evolving around him.
Grounded in reality, Joshua’s illustrations often radiate a sense of calm within the movement and energy of everyday life. With a sense of clarity, his bold, overlapping lines perfectly capture the vibrancy that Leeds is all about. His lines are messy yet precise, all weaving together a narrative out of subtle day-to-day interactions that Pell notices as he draws.
Like many illustrators, Joshua can’t remember a time where he wasn’t drawing. Forever curious and with a pencil in his hand, Pell has always been fascinated by illustration. One early memory is of his uncle drawing him a car, which sparked a curiosity to learn more. “I absolutely loved that drawing,” reminisces Pell. “I just tried to repeat it over and over again. That, in a small way, sort of kicked off my obsession of drawing.”
Now, Pell tries to reintroduce that childlike innocence back into his drawing, embracing imagination and the ambiguities that come along with it. “When you’re really small, you just draw from your imagination,” Joshua muses. “You draw your family and they’re all just circles with sticks coming out of them, but to a child that’s exactly right. I spent a lot of time trying to forget everything I’d been taught and try and recapture that sort of childlike innocence about it. Kids know how to draw.”
With soft shading and subtly blended tones, Pell perfectly captures the atmosphere of a scene with a nostalgic sensibility. His drawings resemble a memory that you recall all at once; faces blend into other faces, colours weave into one another and lines are formed with both a carefree instinct and effortless precision. In a way, they encourage you to appreciate the nuances and charm of the world around you.
“There are people constantly passing by and things happening that you wouldn’t otherwise notice,” Joshua explains. “I constantly make little mistakes and what could be considered inaccuracies, but they often enrich it. It becomes a life of its own instead of being a totally accurate depiction, like a photograph.”
Asking where his favourite place to draw is, Joshua answers without hesitation: The Armouries. “I’ve got one sketchbook specifically for The Armouries,” Joshua laughs. “I feel so comfortable there and I find it endlessly inspiring. I don’t know why. I find the precious way that the armour has been constructed really interesting and I love to indulge in it through drawing.”
Originally from Hull, Joshua went on to study at Cambridge School of Art before moving to Leeds. “I do love being in the city, as much as it can get tiring sometimes,” admits Joshua. It can often feel overwhelming in the city, especially when we often feel pressured to be achieving and working hard all of the time. Despite being a city boy, Pell enjoys escaping the constant buzz now and again. “The good thing about Leeds though it that it doesn’t take you very long to get out of town. You can go down the Meanwood Valley Trail and you feel completely in the countryside sat amongst the pigs. It’s so peaceful.”
Take one look at Pell’s portfolio of observational sketches and you’ll quickly appreciate how much he admires Leeds. From simple, quiet streets to busy Friday nights down at Brudenell, Pell’s sketches are a love note to the city. “When I’m on the streets drawing, it’s a constant inspiration. It’s just enriching and inspiring when you get to know the characteristics of a place.”
No one captures the vibrancy of Leeds and its people quite like Joshua Pell. With sketchbooks filled with over two years worth of street drawings, it’s clear that he knows and understands the city well. Exploring is something that Pell recommends for any aspiring creative wanting to find inspiration: “Just constantly go to things and explore - even if you’re on your own, which is hard to do at first. I still find it quite hard to drag my self to something, but if you’re constantly going to stuff then you’ll meet people and find things that lead to other opportunities.”
With all the stresses and mundanities of day-to-day life, it’s easy for us to get caught up in our heads and forget to appreciate the character and beauty of the area around us. Pell’s sketches observe the beautiful simplicity and tranquillity that everyday life offers, if one only remembers to stop and look.