The Sunday Times Explores Scent with Jessica May Underwood
Scent is the sense that’s most tied to memory. One whiff of a smell from childhood is transporting, bringing up memories long buried. It’s immediate and visceral, and often inexplicable. So when Sunday Times Style invited Jessica May Underwood to create a series of illustrations on a feature about fragrance, she knew she was stepping into deep waters. “It is always interesting to work with the narrative of scent,” says Jessica. “Endless opportunities for visual interpretation - and the written article provided a good base note for embellishment by my work.” Her aesthetic offers an exploration of substance and survey towards the intangible, exactly the modality that scent lives in. Her work is interpretive and prioritizes familiarity above photographic reality, offering a richer experience.
Eagle-eyed flower enthusiasts will be able to pick out exactly which flora Jessica was drawing, but her way of creating these images brings through interpretation, building off reality and diving into understanding. “I was directed very specifically on the floral subjects, each of them a specific ingredient addressed in the article,” Jessica explains. “The bouquets on each page are drawn from tuberose, lily, jasmine, Tahitian rose and white amaryllis. The challenge was to convey the beauty of each flower when arranged in a cluster on the page, whilst giving equal weight to each.” In the real world, the physical forms of these flowers have huge variety, and more powerful smells may mask subtlety. When balanced for smell they can each play different parts that they would naturally, like they do in the fragrances featured. Jessica’s composition allows for the playing field to be leveled for our experience. Where a rose may fall away when placed next to a massive lily, Jessica gives them the same footing and we can take them together in a balanced bouquet.
The Sunday Times has become required reading for anyone with an extra pot of tea on the weekend, a fact that wasn’t lost on Jessica. “It’s always such a pleasure to work with the Sunday Times,” says Jessica. “It made my weekend!” That is what Sundays smell like after all, fresh ink on paper of a magazine or newspaper, a fresh pot of Earl Grey, and a bright spring breeze sneaking in through a cracked window.