Jessie Ford Illustrator Interview

Jessie Ford

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Can you recall the first time you realized you were going to be an illustrator? What were your earliest impressions?
I always knew that my life would follow a creative path. My mother is an illustrator, and my father was an art history lecturer at a local university, so I was lucky to grow up with creative influences around me. I spent most of my childhood in art galleries!

Who or what influenced your art when you were young?
Definitely my parents and their friends. The fact that my Mum was always making things (she’s great at pretty much everything creative), and my Dad is obsessed with buying art, meant that I never had to battle my parents to follow my artistic path, which I am very grateful for. They have always known and respected the importance of the art world.

Do you remember what your first artwork looked like? Do you still have it?
I can’t remember the very first (I started young!), but my parents have a framed illustration on the wall in their house, that I did for a wildlife painting competition when I was 10. I came first place, and I think that was the first time I’d followed a brief and really considered what was being asked of me – and realised the thrill of competing!

Why did you choose illustration as your life’s work instead of, for example, filmmaking, law, or even medicine?
I didn’t realise the difference between fine art and illustration until my Father talked me through it and advised me that he thought I was better suited to following a brief, and therefore illustration. Ironically, I now paint fine art paintings for a living as well as illustrate, and I also do wedding photography, so I’ve managed to keep life quite varied! Pursuing anything academic was never even considered. My brain definitely works in one way!

Did you study art in school?
Yes. I studied for an illustration and graphic design degree at a university in Bath, England. Prior to that I was lucky that my high school had a great art department and my teachers that were really passionate about the subject.

Where does your inspiration come from; your impulse to make art? Do you have a source for your ideas?
I often keep examples of great colour combinations I find in magazines, and pin them up. It’s always good to get fresh ideas. I also save nice packaging that I like, or interesting textures that I can scan in. It means I’m pretty messy, but at least I feel inspired!

How would you describe the process of creating art?
Primarily, my work is all about colour! I’m ok at the sketching stage, but it’s really when the colour is added that I start to get excited.
It’s nice to have a bit of extra time to walk away and see the work with fresh eyes. It’s often after a break, I can go back to it the following day and I can immediately see what’s missing.

Do you have a favourite illustrator? What is it about that illustrator’s work you like?
I love the work of Sara Fanelli and her amazing wild inventiveness. She has such a distinct style and such a confidence about her work.
I also love the work of Andrew Banneker and Adrian Johnson. They’re both great colourists and have amazing skill with creating very graphic and bold work.

If you could do something else, other than creating art, what would it be?
I would love to be an interior designer and stylist. Perhaps one day I’ll take this path! I’m about to buy my first home, so I’m excited to have this new project, to have some serious fun with! No doubt I’ll be putting a lot of my decorating adventures up on instagram…

Do you remember your first set of paints, pens, or markers?
Haha. I don’t think I can remember that far back…! I do remember being a big fan of drawing on walls as a child, much to my parents dismay…

Do you have a favourite illustrator supply, a favourite method, or favourite location, where you like to create artwork?
I run a busy co-working space in Hove, where I also work from, so often it’s the quietness of the evenings when I’m most productive! Music or a favourite podcast on in the background, and big mug of tea, I can properly get into the zone! My studio is very close to my flat, so I’m very naughty for popping back to work to do a bit more…

If you could give a viewer clues to understanding your art, what would you say?
I always describe my work as “Bold, colourful, graphic… and looks very hand-made!” Even though I use my computer a lot, I’m always mindful to use lots of texture and keep things looking quite hand crafted.

Do you think illustration has the eye of the public or could public awareness of this field be improved?
I think the UK and the US markets, of which I predominantly work, are very receptive to illustration. But there’s always room for improvement! I’d like to see advertising going back to using illustration more. When I started off in 2004, the UK scene was booming and illustration was used in amazing ways across the advertising sector. I feel that the bravery of that period has tailed off a bit, which is frustrating.

Why does art matter to you? Why might it matter to the world?
I think art is so, so important. The images we surround ourselves with can be very powerful, on a political, an emotional and on a subliminal level. I am lucky that most of my friends work in the arts and are thriving. It proves that the work IS there, and that people need illustrators! I love the quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. So true! I have a lot of art up on the walls in my home, and to me it’s as important as the furniture.

If you could look back or forward 100 years, do you think the life of an illustrator was or will be better than today?
I think illustrators have never had it so good, as they have today! I’ve had conversations with people who were illustrating in the 1980’s (I know… not quite 100 years ago!) and the idea of hanging around and waiting by the phone for feedback, or sending work off with a courier, sounds like such a pain! The speed at which illustration moves now, is really exciting. I love how varied my working week is, and how no two weeks are the same.