As the Junior Designer for the US-based, female-led sexual wellness company Dame Products, Sophi Gullbrants spends a lot of her time creating illustrations for topics exploring the intersections between sex, relationships and personal wellbeing. Whether creating designs for the packaging of the company’s latest sex toy, making artwork for the monthly Sex Horoscopes on the company’s digital blog Swell, or thinking up designs to accompany an article on whether aphrodisiacs really do work, Sophi relishes the opportunities Dame gives her to illustrate crucial and timely topics. “I love working there because I get to use design and illustration to elevate the words and ideas of those with the experience and wisdom to educate,” she tells Wrap. “Dame is uplifting the idea that sex and pleasure are part of a physically and emotionally healthy life.”
While Sophi always carries a sketchbook round with her, ready to be inspired, she creates most of her designs for Dame using Photoshop. The digital practice lends itself easily to her style, in which the rounded lines of her illustrations – from delicately suggestive peaches and seductively bulging tomatoes, to human figures entwined in hammocks or under water – often gently blur into the colours in the background. “In my mind, everything in my illustrations is made of this soft, voluptuous, mochi-like material,” she says.
When illustrating the articles for Swell, Sophi likes to explore lots of different interpretations of the text before finalising her designs. “I’ll write down ideas that are literal translations, visual metaphors, or abstract representations before choosing an idea,” she explains. This metaphorical approach is particularly important as many of the articles touch on important conversations that are difficult to have and even more difficult to illustrate, such as questioning gender identity or advice on what to do when one partner wants more sex than the other. “Illustrating concepts that are very abstract and nuanced like ‘trust’ or making visuals on heavier topics like ‘trauma’ are great challenges,” Sophi says. “Usually, I illustrate a visual metaphor or an abstract representation that adds a layer of understanding to the article itself.”
However, she enjoys the fact that her illustrations help to convey and explore these important experiences and allow people to realise that they are not alone. Illustrating for one piece in particular – Jor-El Caraballo’s How to Transition From Being Friends to Lovers – she found herself musing on memories of going through the experience with her own partner. “I illustrated an exaggerated version of that classic moment of tension on the couch, watching TV and your hands almost touch. After I posted the illustration on Instagram, people reached out, saying that the article felt very timely and relevant to their lives,” she says. “Working on something that resonates with my experiences and strikes a chord with others feels really incredible.”