Roland Nissan

Words by |

Marta Verdes Montenegro

Photography by |

Flore Diamant

Throughout the entire design, development and production of our Pens, we know every single step, but it’s not until they leave our studio do they begin their journey.

Thanks to the internet and social media we can sometimes catch a peek of our Pens out in the world, and sometimes chat with our customers as they share their stories. It may sound a little corny but this not only helps us to develop our products but also keeps us motivated and inspired and makes all the hard work worth it!

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We recently sat down and spoke with long time AJOTO customer Roland Nissan, a 55 year old motorcycle and guitarist enthusiast and who reaffirms that it is never too late to pursue your dreams.

Until this conversation, we had only spoken with Roland via twitter and instagram. It all began a few years ago after noticing an “#ajoto” on one of Rolands sketches made during his London commute. Our exchanges continued and as we learnt more about his story and his journey from IT manager to full-time illustrator, we knew we had to find out more.

We hope you enjoy and please find links to Roland's work at the bottom of the interview;

AJOTO: Let’s start with a short about you and how it all began.

Roland: I was born in Iran and came to the UK in 1978.  After school, I got into IT by accident and worked my way up to the position of IT Manager. I gave up my job and career in IT in July 2019 to give myself more space to concentrate on my art.  I'm going to be 56 years old in April and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk dreaming.

A: When was the moment that you decided to start drawing?

R: About 6 years ago, my wife knew I was unfulfilled in my day job and wanted to know what would make me really happy.  I mentioned that I'd love to be an artist - to sketch and draw but that I couldn't do it.  I didn't have the skills.  Certainly, I had never done it before.  I looked at paintings in galleries but most of the time I gave them a glance and didn't really understand them as I do now.  

One day she asked me how I understood that I needed to practice my guitar to improve but hadn't considered the same in regards to art.  That's really what got me going.  I decided to sketch every day and she encouraged me to do it.  Today, I'm on sketchbook number 32 and I have piles of paintings on loose paper too.  

A: So how did you keep up the routine and habit to practice?

R: I persevered every single day. I carried with me my sketchbook. I didn’t have a routine, but people usually say “oh, I don’t have time to sketch” and I too started off saying that but I had to learn that there is always 5 or 10 minutes where you can practice. Nowadays I give much more time, but before while I was working, I would arrived home at 10 pm and prepare a brew. I would then start feeling guilty for not finding those minutes to practice so in my mind I would say “okay, I’ll draw this cup”.

I consider my first sketches terrible, but I look at them occasionally to remember where I came from.  Nowadays I love looking at other people's art.  Galleries are great and almost equally as are platforms such as Twitter and Instagram

A: Do you feel more confident drawing after 6 years or are you still worry about the opinions of people?

R: Over the years I have become increasingly confident with my work.  At first I was shy and didn't like to sketch in public in-case people looked over my shoulder to see what I was doing.  Over the years I have increasingly enjoyed positive feedback from people when I'm out and about and also of course on the internet.  Also, I'm getting more requests and commissions which has also made me feel a more comfortable drawing in public.  

A: You recently made the big decision to quit your job and start a new journey as a full-time artist. How do you feel so far?

R: I didn’t know if I'd ever make a living with my art but I wanted more time to spend on it.  However, during the plast six years I have built a great following on Instagram and Twitter.  My new town of East Grinstead has been really welcoming.  People recognise me in the street now and stop to chat.  My 2020 calendar containing sketches of the town's buildings sold around 75 copies in the bookshop.  

I'm not sure what the future will bring and haven't thought enough about where I can go with this. There is a balance to be made between making art and marketing myself. I haven't been good enough on the marketing part.  Although I get plenty of commissions nowadays, I still need to find a way to make a living!

A: Do you feel you are still looking for your style or you already found it?

R: People say I have a style and occasionally I see that it exists.  What comes out on paper is really to do with the way I like to make my art.  I like to sketch quickly.  This comes from the days when I was a full-time work in an office only had my lunch hour to complete most of the sketches.  Drawing quickly means not using a pencil since I don't want to worry about erasing things. I use a pen, start at one end and finish at the other. I go with the flow.  If the drawing looks crooked then that's what it is.  Occasionally I experiment with other styles to see what else is possible but I keep coming back to this.  Since moving out to the countryside and giving up my job in London people have commented on the increased greenery in my sketches.  I'm just drawing what I see.

A: What are your essential tools in your journey?

R: Sketching quickly "on the go" requires very little in the way of tools.  I love pens so I have a large collection but I only need a few things.  One pen, a sketchbook (A5 or pocket), a small watercolour tin and a water brush.   All of this can fit in my pocket.  Nowadays I'm carrying a few more things including a folding stool, all of which fits in a small shoulder bag.  Mainly I sketch with a gel pen, like my Ajoto that contains waterproof refills.  Uniball is now making waterproof refills that fit straight into my pen.  Alternatively, I use fountain pens with waterproof ink.  Because I'm left-handed my fountain-pen sketches look more shaky, freer and some say more natural since I have to avoid smearing the ink by accident.  

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Thank you to Roland for taking the time to come and meet us and share his sketches, story and conversation. We had a fantastic afternoon and hope to bring you more from Roland soon! See more of his work here Roland's website.

Also a special thank you to our trusty photographer Flore Diamant for capturing this encounter. Make sure you visit her site to see more of her beautiful work.


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