27 june mmxii
An interview with Edinburgh-based illustrator, Jamie Johnson
What I noticed first about Jamie Johnson’s work is that it didn’t really look like anything else I had seen. I came across his work on Flickr a few years ago and have been a fan ever since. The Edinburgh, Scotland based illustrator and artist works in a very specific style and color palette using watercolors, pen drawings, and collages. The work is always clearly Jamie’s and consistently evokes a vivid world of cloudy days, damp earth, ghosts, and an eerie cast of downtrodden characters and their dwelling places. Jamie was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his work, life, and inspirations.
Mark: What is some of your favorite music to listen to while working these days?
Jamie: Anything that helps me to sink into a good work flow, I often listen to radio, shows like “To and Fro” and “Benji B”. I do think that listening to certain types of music can have an effect on how I approach a piece of work with regards to colour, subject, and composition. Recently I’ve listened to a lot of Julian Lynch, Hype Williams, Nicolas Jaar, and Clams Casino. My favourite album of late is An Empty Bliss Beyond This World by The Caretaker, a great piece of music to get lost working to.
M: You have a very distinct style to your work. Were there any major influences that steered you in the direction you’re currently in?
J: There is a myriad of reference points in most of my work, some of which have entered it almost subconsciously. I observe things, certain characters or the feel of a place, then go home and try to reinterpret them intuitively, building my own narrative from that starting point. I make notes and scribble small drawings when things pop in to my head, whether I’m reading a book or skating about. I’m very interested in primitive architecture, using the tactile and temporary nature of it to build imagined landscapes and the type of characters that may inhabit such a place, considering what their environment means to them and the story as to how they arrived there.
M: What is Jamie Johnson up to in Edinburgh when he’s not illustrating?
J: I like to go skateboarding as much as I can, trying to find interesting spots and being creative with it and not thinking about anything else is very restoring from the insular nature of drawing at a desk or sitting at a computer all the time. I cycle around town a lot, I have a really good cycle path by my house, not having to worry about traffic allows me to daydream on my bike, which I do a lot. I go to libraries sometimes, car boot sales, scrapyards, and garden allotments to collect stuff, make notes and take photos. I sometimes play table tennis with my pals in Scotland Yard. Occasionally me and my girlfriend make tunes together, we are called Sippy Donovan, we don’t take it too seriously though, ha.
M: If you had to eat one meal everyday for the rest of your life, what would it be?
J: Maybe some sort of stuffed pepper, or pasta bake? Green pesto would have to be involved for sure.
M: What’s the latest fashion on the streets in Scotland?
J: Dressing like an 18th century Italian shoemaker/Slater from Saved by the Bell, there is a general early 90s vibe. I don’t find Edinburgh very inspiring for buying clothes, I usually ask my flatmate who is a seamstress to fix whatever I buy to make it fit better.
M: What are your favorite spots to find inspiration in Edinburgh?
J: Bristo Square, where I grew up skating for over 10 years and the history and architecture of which I based my Degree show exhibition, a large collaged map of the square and a series of artists books and prints exploring its history and many characters, reinterpreted through my imagination. The top of Arthur’s Seat, a large hill in Edinburgh that provides panoramic views of the city. Car boot sales and trips to Sam Burns scrapyard on the outskirts are good places to find inspiration, lots of weird trinkets and old books. A cycle along the Water of Leith, a river that runs through the city, can be an inspiring trip even if your just trying to get to another end of town.
M: Who are some illustrators that you admire?
J: I have a lot of respect for guys like Niv Bavarsky and Jack Hudson, for the fact that they produce a huge amount but their work remains thoughtful and imaginative. A couple of artists I admire are Acorn (Scott Kennedy) and Anne Harild.
M: If you could collaborate with anyone on a dream project, who would it be?
J: I think collaborating can lead to highly realised, interesting work‚ but it has to be with someone who understands how you work and think, and vice versa. I would maybe just say with my flatmate and artist Al White who I have exhibited collaborative work before. The dream part for me would maybe consist of some sort of mega shanty tower studio amongst a forgotten ruin, with slides and ladders to secret rooms everywhere, a large soundsystem and a team of shamans and archivists as our assistants, who travel by fully functional propeller hats. The guys that help build Anish Kapoor’s sculptures could be handy as well, they can travel about with motorised soap box cars.
M: Your drawing weapon of choice?
J: For drawing specifically, a range of pencils and pens, but my failsafe is a copic architecture drawing pen, I go through 0.05 mm nibs constantly. I also make use of the materials I collect, old pages from books and magazines, dying papers, watercolour and gouache, sandpaper, photocopies and photographs.
words Mark Ho-Kane
images Courtesy of Jamie Johnson (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Photo by Ben Seeley (6)