We speak with the Turkey-based coffee designer about her previous work in coffee and what led her to illustrating full-time.
BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Nükhet Çubukçular
“Coffee & Design“ is a series that interviews primarily visual artists who work with the design of materials for coffee products. Today, we speak with Nükhet, a coffee pro-turned-full-time artist who now illustrates and collaborates with roasters, coffee equipment companies, and others.
Nükhet Çubukçular (she/her) is an amazing artist from Turkey who found herself in the world of coffee thanks to its acceptance of tattoo culture. Formerly a barista and roaster, she is now one of the biggest names you will come across in the world of specialty coffee on Instagram, thanks to collaborative projects with Rabbit Hole Roasters, Orea, Cxffeeblack, and many more. We reached out to Nükhet to talk about art, her array of tattoos, the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the pre- and post-pandemic world.
Tanya Nanetti: Hey Nükhet, let’s start with “before.” Like many of us, before the pandemic you had a different job, right?
Nükhet Çubukçular: Yes, I was working as a roaster assistant before the pandemic, and after my long barista career, at that point I finally found myself in love with the roastery.
And then COVID and “after”—life was really different, and you had to reinvent yourself. As most other baristas out there, you may have found yourself stranded. Was it at that point that you started to create such amazing pieces of art? Or were you already creating, and that was simply the point when you realized “maybe it should be my real career”?
Actually, I was always sketching, and I’ve always been interested in street art. I was really scared when the pandemic started but, after a short while, I decided to try and do something online.
Firstly, I started to make stickers with my designs, and I sold 25 of them; then, I set a quota of 25 T-shirts and after selling all of them I made 25 hoodies. At that point, my branding process turned into a designer company that designs only for the coffee industry. I started designing coffee import bags and brochures for big companies, working with Canada, Germany, and the U.K. on coffee-only themes for different brands. Basically, for the past couple of years, this has turned out to be my real career.
Tell us a little bit more about your art. What are the main forms in which you express yourself? Graphic design, drawing, illustrating?
I do illustration. Because of my love for (Jean-Michel) Basquiat, his themes are often represented in my works: freedom in general, farmers, and obviously the spirits of the brands I represent are always at the forefront. Sometimes I draw the sketches by hand and transfer them to digital, while other times I draw directly digitally. I’ve got no real preference for it.
And what about tattoos? Your body is a lovely piece of art itself. Do you also do tattoos? Do your tattoos have meaning, or did you get most of them because they’re astonishing pieces of art?
Thank you for the appreciation! I recently covered my back with a geisha tattoo: we can interpret this tattoo as the representation of art and wisdom in the historical and Asian culture of geisha, but also as the reflection of the Gesha variety in coffee.
In general terms (even luck-based), my favorite styles are Japanese and old-school art. They represent things that I need to remember such as some special days, or even moments of death. All the tattoos on my leg, I made (them) all myself, but I don’t want to do it to anyone else: There are already so many successful tattoo artists out there, and I would never want to take responsibility for a tattoo that will last a lifetime.
Let’s go back to your art. Where do you get your inspiration? Is there something that you prefer to draw?
First of all, I very much admire Asian culture. As an inspiration, I usually get it from everything coffee-related. Speaking of my favorite things to draw, for sure there are skulls, masks, snake figures, and patterns.
Lately, you’re doing some nice collaborations, most of them coffee-related. Can you tell us more about them?
I love the job I’m doing with Rabbit Hole, and with Cxffeeblack: Their dedication to Black life, Black coffee, Black culture, the farmer (and his rights) really impresses me a lot. I wanted to gift them a Basquiat Black Panther collab painting, to help with their merch and to support them for their Africa tour … all of this has been very important for me. Throughout his life, Basquiat touched upon the Black life’s lack of art, and Black political social problems, and Cxffeeblack still does it for coffee. This, and similar collaborations, are what really keep me alive: For me, nothing can beat the meaning of the free encounter of souls.
In the end, are you happy about this shift in your career? If you get the chance, will you go back behind the bar, or do you only see yourself illustrating from now on?
Actually, I miss it a lot. But, I haven’t been behind the bar or in the roastery for quite some time now. If I have the chance to work with a company outside of Turkey, for sure I’ll take the chance: My aim is to find a company to dedicate myself to, where I can learn, develop, and exist in the name of coffee.
Of course, at the same time I will keep drawing. On the one hand, Zooming in pajamas is enjoyable, but it’s nice when you can drink coffee together. Frankly, it was the first time in my life that I had the luxury of working from home. With my potential, I want to continue producing coffee-related videos, photos, and content, as much as possible. I don’t know what life will be like in the future, but I aim to specialize in roasting, and one day become a trainer in a company I will represent. Plus, I will be participating in competitions very soon. But let it be a surprise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend.