Character Sketch

Why the Illustrator Ohni Lisle Won’t Be Tied Down to One Style

Ohni Lisle won’t be put into a box by anyone—least of all herself. Born in Canada and raised and educated in Texas, Ohni has a drawing style that swings from colored-pencil portraits and dancing bodies in her personal work to otherworldly, pop-art graphics and animations that she creates for her clients (including the likes of Sephora and Chobani). Now based in Brooklyn, Ohni breaks down what moves her to put pencil to paper and what it is about humans that keeps her coming back to the drawing board.

Q. You have a few distinct styles, but they all have your fingerprints on them. How do you think about your aesthetic?

A. “It’s funny. I don’t think I have a super homogenous portfolio because I’m always trying new styles. I like bouncing around to all forms of making, be it super digital from start to finish or all by-hand. A mix of the two is usually the sweet spot. I love using colored pencils and cut paper for collage, but turning to the computer is always good, too.”

Q. What are some of your favorite things to draw—and where do you do your work?

A. “Female forms and plants are always pleasing and are my favorite things to draw (as you can see in the illustration here!). I work from home on a big desk that is never big enough. I listen to music (Ed. note: You can hear Ohni’s own original music here!) or YouTube. If I’m in a *deep* workflow, it’s music without vocals, and usually eating slips my mind.”

Q. What are the key things you think about when drawing a self-portrait. Are there certain elements that make it recognizable to you?

A. “I’ve never really drawn self-portraits, but arguably every female drawing has a lot of me in it. My hair stands out now for a lot of people, so I think I made my curls very me in this one. I’ve gotten comments a few times about how my eyes are very intense, or intimidating, so I tried to make them big. I have a scary glare I can’t help I guess.”

Q.Who are a few of your favorite illustrators?

A. “That’s tough! It’s an endless list, and I am always taking in references from past and current makers, or even non-art stuff can give me an idea. I love so many illustrators, but I guess if I had to pick a favorite vibe, I’d pick ones who can get really technical and detailed but still let their freak flag fly, like Heather Benjamin or Olga Wieszczyk.”

Q. Where do you look ton when you’re stuck?

A. “I have so many screenshots of things I come across that are inspiring, which is kind of overwhelming. I have a smaller sketchbook of ideas that I like to look at sometimes. Sometimes it feels like I’m always circling back to the same things. It’s helpful to look at my older work and see what I respond to—which, in retrospect, ends up often being what other people responded to the most, too. It’s nice to look at your work and not have the evolution be so linear and to let yourself revisit past techniques with a slightly new approach.”