“I created detailed colour cards for every single pencil I’ve ever used. They include a swatch of the colours, the brands of pencils, and the names or numeric codes (just like a personal Pantone collection). This step cannot be rushed as it’s essential to achieve a realistic finish.”
Jordanna Ber is a Canadian-born realistic pop art artist who lives in Barcelona, Spain. After working in the design and marketing industry for over a decade, she organically transitioned to being an artist during her stay in Barcelona. Jordanna uses coloured pencils to create hyperrealistic pop art pieces that often confuse the eyes at first glance. Only upon close examination could one see how the photo-look-alike works are composed with layers of pencil strokes and blending. By playing with the scale and perspective of the drawings, Jordanna successfully draws her audience in with eye-catching subjects, even though each original piece takes between 80-200 hours of work. Read on to find out about Jordanna’s artistic journey.
Photo: Bling Bling Disco Ball, Jordanna Ber
Q. You were formally trained in design. Could you share with us how your career path transitioned from design to art?
When I graduated in the early 2000s, social media was a pretty new concept (Facebook launched in 2004), and having no one in my network that was a full-time artist, made the thought of pursuing a career as a full-time artist seem like a pipe dream. I needed to pay rent and feed myself, so I decided to go after roles in graphic design and marketing. I managed to land an entry-level job at a female-owned publishing company full of badass women, designing spreads for their roster of magazines. While I loved the creative part of the role, I had always been interested in business. Therefore, the next few career moves I made were moving up the ladder of marketing departments for a couple of incredible SMEs.
As a designer and marketer, you’re not always privy to the other important aspects of making and running a successful business. So after 10 years of work experience, I decided to take a year and return to school to get my MBA. It was incredibly intimidating at first to be a female designer in a room with all these accomplished economists and bankers. Still, I quickly realized that what I brought to the table was unique.
My knowledge of branding, design and digital marketing was exchanged with colleagues who could teach me about accounting, operations, and supply chain management. And although finance is still not my favorite business activity, I’m grateful to the friends that helped get me through it.
After the MBA, I moved to Barcelona and worked for an incredible start-up company managing the International Marketing team. Throughout all this time, I always had a sketchbook with me and never stopped making art, but it wasn’t until the Covid 19 lockdowns that I treated myself to some new art supplies and dusted off the easel that I had received as a birthday gift. Like so many others, it was an extremely isolating time and being so far from home made it even harder for me to reconcile. So I started drawing nostalgic items from my childhood and teenage years growing up in Canada and posted them to Instagram. This ultimately became my “Nostalgia” collection. Shortly thereafter, people within my network started reaching out to ask if I would sell them this or that piece, and slowly, things started to pick up pace… The rest is history!
Q. How do you think your previous experience in design influenced your current artistic approach?
I have drawn a lot since my time as a graphic designer when conceptualizing a new piece or collection. Similar to designing a beauty or editorial spread, I pay a lot of attention to the composition of the subject, the scale, the positive and negative space on the paper, the combination of colours… I love details! I could easily spend hours (if not days) shooting a subject to get the perfect composition. When I was working in editorial, we would often get sent new clothes and cosmetic samples that had yet to hit stores and therefore, we weren’t always supplied with product shots to use. So I would be in the studio crushing eyeshadow palettes and smudging lipstick colours to photograph before being able to assemble everything in InDesign for the spread.
Colour plays an incredibly important role in my art practice now. While studying, we had to take a “Colour Theory” class for 3 hours a week, every year for 4 years! You might think, “Is there really that much to learn about colour?”, and the answer is a resounding “YES”! I’m not going to lie, there were definitely times when I thought there couldn’t be more to learn about colour, but I’m so glad that I received this gift because colour matching now plays an integral role in my hyper-realistic pieces.
Q. Coloured pencil is not the most common medium for artists, why did you choose it and how do you like it?
I actually love working with many different mediums. I especially enjoy the freedom that comes with acrylic paint and oil pastels. However, I have always been a bit of a nomad, and pencils and paper are easy to pack up in your carry-on (my love-hate relationship with my industrial electric sharpener is a topic for another time though). With pencils, you don’t need to wait or worry about drying times or stretch canvas onto stretcher bars when you arrive at your destination. If you’ve purchased a piece from me, it has likely traveled with me to various locations. My last commissioned piece came with me to the Lofoten Islands in Norway, Canada, and the South of Spain.
Aside from the portability aspect of coloured pencils, I also enjoy that they are still a rather unexpected medium in the world of fine arts. Coloured pencils are traditionally seen as art supplies for children, and people are always taken aback that my art is done solely using coloured pencils. Yet, coloured pencils are extremely long-lasting and when layered and blended, they become much more malleable and take on an almost oil pastel-like consistency, allowing you to push and pull colours into place. I see coloured pencils as my little happy rebellion against the fine art world.
Q. Could you share with us why you like hyper-realistic art?
Creating hyper-realistic art is a highly skills-based and labour-intensive practice. So it’s perfect for us crazy perfectionists. However, I always like to bring an element of surprise to each piece I create. Often I’ll express that through the subject and the scale or details.
When someone sees one of my pieces, I want it to draw them in to observe the details they would normally dismiss in everyday life, and in doing so, they have a joyful moment of curiosity and contemplation. I’m going to show the Canadian in me with this
statement, but it’s almost like when you pass the same tree every day on your way to work, but one day you decide to stop for a moment and appreciate the changing colour of its leaves. Simple pleasures that bring us back to who we are and encourage us to play and stay curious.
Q. Where do you draw inspiration from and how did you choose what to draw in your art?
The concepts for my collections usually build up in my mind gradually over some time and experiences. Then, out of a sudden, everything just clicks, and I need to stop whatever I’m doing and start sketching before the idea escapes me. Sometimes those ah-ha moments aren’t at the most convenient of times, like when you’re in a group yoga class and everyone is in Shavasana.
Inspiration isn’t something that you can force or manufacture. However, I do feel that you can put yourself in situations where you’re more open to receiving. That comes through meeting new people, seeing new places, and always staying curious and playful.
Q. Could you briefly describe your artistic process, how do you create such realistic works?
(Photos & Videos: Damm Lemon Beer, Damm Lemon Beer: In Situ, Damm Lemon Beer: WIP Detail, Damm Lemon Beer: Timelapse 1 and Colour matching cards)
Once I have a concept in place, the next step in my process is always to acquire the object I’m going to draw so that I can manipulate and photograph it. To create the Damm Lemon beer can piece, I bought at least three dozen beers and emptied the contents into various pitchers and cups around my apartment so I could crush the cans in various ways to get the look I had in my mind. When my partner came home from work, he saw the chaos and said, “Ok, I’m not going to ask any other questions, but who is going to drink all of this beer?”.
After photographing a piece, I’ll review the images and narrow down the top candidates. Often I’ll share my process on Instagram and ask for feedback through a story poll. Next, I grid out and do a rough sketch of the image adding only the necessary details. Before a coloured pencil ever touches the paper, it’s essential to colour-match against the reference image. I created detailed colour cards for every single pencil I’ve ever used. They include a swatch of the colours, the brands of pencils, and the names or numeric codes (just like a personal Pantone collection). This step cannot be rushed as it’s essential to achieve a realistic finish. Oftentimes, I’ll zoom in to the pixel level of an image on my computer screen to understand the combination of colours that make up a certain area of the subject.
Then the real fun can begin, and I’ll work anywhere from 80-200+ hours on a piece. The drawing process is like a moving meditation for me. I get into a flow state of mind and hours upon hours can pass before I realize that the sun has set and I never ate lunch.
Q. Do you have a proudest piece of artwork to share?
I think the most personal piece I’ve done so far is my giant disco ball titled ‘Bling Bling’. It was the last artwork in my nostalgia collection released in 2021 and is a symbol of freedom and an ode to my adopted city, Barcelona. To create the piece, I brought a disco ball to the top of Parc Güell where there is a beautiful view of the Barcelona skyline and photographed the reflection of the architecture, the sea, and the sky in the mirrors of the disco ball.
It was created when Covid restrictions were being lifted and it represents liberty, freedom and our ability to once again party! The title, ‘Bling Bling’ is also a cheeky nod to Barcelona’s infamous nightclub.
In the design of the Parc Güell, Gaudí unleashed all of his creative liberty and put into practice many of the innovative structural solutions that would become the symbol of his organic style and that would ultimately culminate in the creation of the Sagrada Familia.
Q. You currently live in the beautiful Costa Brava, do you think the environment impacts your art?
Currently, I commute between Barcelona and Costa Brava, where my studio is located. My studio is really a refuge for me. Since my work is so time intensive, I need a space where I can work uninterrupted and without distraction while in production mode.
Initially, I felt that my colourful pop artworks might not be a great fit with the quiet seaside towns around the studio I built, but since I moved into the space this past summer, I’ve realized that the landscape impacts me in a much more subtle and unexpected way. “Costa Brava” translates to “Wild/Brave Coast'' and I feel that there’s this energy and openness of space to be free creatively. So many famous artists were inspired by this area and produced drastically different works of art - Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró, just to name a few. Perhaps there’s more influence to come, but only time will tell.
Q. Are there any other artistic approaches you would like to try in the future?
Now that I finally have a dedicated space, that’s not the tiny kitchen counter in my Barcelona apartment, I’d love to experiment more with larger-scale pieces. For me, the environment I’m in has such a great impact on my creativity. It might not be the most scientific assessment, but it’s almost as if a smaller space limits my creative capacity.
While my studio was under construction, I worked for some time out of an amazing street art gallery and exhibition space in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. I’m so grateful to have found that space and to have met the amazing street artists that work there, many of whom use spray paint as their medium of choice. Their presence and friendship definitely influenced the pieces in my “Not Your Trophy” collection of pop art animal busts. I drew a lot of inspiration from graffiti and hip-hop culture in creating the pieces, which can be seen through the spray paint style pencil work each animal embellished with.
Q. Could you describe your work in 3 words?
Unexpected, Playful, Pop