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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair 2011: James Jarvis speaks at Mokita

A sneak peak into the world of influential illustrator cum graphic artist cum toy designer James Jarvis. Speaking at Mokita, an illustration symposium held at Pick Me Up on Tuesday 22nd March 2011.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Wisdom of Caleb bare leaves

James Jarvis spoke at Mokita, viagra dosage where he was asked to address the role of illustration in commerce. The insights below have been put together from comments he made both in his talk and in the following conversation with others on the panel of Mokita.

James Jarvis Degree Show poster
James Jarvis’ Brighton Degree Show poster.

A character artist.
The baggage of being an illustrator is confusing so he prefers to think of himself as a graphic artist. His job is a journey into self awareness. He recently found his old degree graduation poster and realised that you can see his style developing even then, more about when it was all done by hand. He has become very well known for drawing funny characters in depressing situations but he doesn’t like being seen as a character artist only.

Sole Inspector by James Jarvis
Sole Inspector by James Jarvis.

He knew the route.
James’ mother was an art history tutor and he knew he wanted to be an illustrator from an early age. The plan was to make kids’ books but nobody wanted his work and editorial art directors thought he was too kiddy in style, viagra so he was stuck in no mans land. But he was accepted within the skateboarding world, where his work was discovered by the forward thinking art directors at The Face. He was lucky in that his images were companions to the articles, and he didn’t really have to answer any briefs. The magazine was a massively influential shop window that gave him credibility in the mainstream.

Caleb toys by James Jarvis for Amos
Caleb toys by James Jarvis for Amos.

ATP Amos concert poster
An Amos collaboration with ATP music festival.

People just want funny characters.
From working with The Face he became involved with clothing brand Silas, and together they created a toy to publicise the brand. It became an object in its own right and soon after he started Amos, his own toy making company; it doesn’t make him much money but he is involved with lots of other projects as a result: he now makes films, t-shirts and curates music festivals. He wants his characters to be more than just toys, avatars for a more substantial world. Even now though, many years later, advertisers still just want to buy into his associations with Streetwear culture and The Face; everyone wants a potato head character. For instance he’s currently working on something to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Coca-Cola. Only the most enlightened art directors ask for something different and new: most just want something he produced a long time ago so it’s up to him to keep pushing ideas forward.

James Jarvis lino printJames Jarvis lino printJames Jarvis lino printJames Jarvis lino printJames Jarvis lino print
James Jarvis lino prints. Available to buy online here.

Self publish for sanity.
Making products is a different world to the one of illustration. He started to make ‘plastic illustrations’ from his toys but soon found that he was getting farther and farther away from his unmoderated link to thought. So much intermediate process meant he was at danger of losing his core spirit so to keep sane he now maintains a practice of self published work, which he publishes online. For example he’s been very disciplined, creating The Wisdom of Caleb, a daily cartoon strip for 150 days (this has now been taken offline). He rejoices if he gets a few hundred hits – but it’s important to build up an audience over time, and if you keep your conviction then the work will find that validity. The comic strips are very basic, with no retouching.

wisdom of caleb worksheetWisdom of Caleb safe squirrelWisdom of Caleb
Cartoons for the Wisdom of Caleb.

Back to basics.
He’s been inspired by Roger Hargreaves to create some very minimal characters. He has also been creating a lino print every week in editions of seven, which provides a grassroots connection with his audience that is direct and democratic. He sells the prints directly and finds there’s an honesty in taking them to the post office himself. He’s aware that he’s “highly involved with filling the world with plastic” and it makes him quite uncomfortable. He likes the simplicity and honesty of making things by hand at home, such as resin figures – and using the web to sell them direct. This kind of work never felt accessible when he was at college.

James Jarvis lino work
Working with lino print. All images courtesy of James Jarvis, more can be seen on Flickr.

His greatest hits.
He has sold 10,000 toys over the years and he’s grateful for that because there’s a bond with his audience. He would be stupid not to engage with what people want. But James also concedes admits that he has been massively lucky – tons of people at college were better drawers, and his success has been as much down to circumstance as being clever.

amos_plastic_workshop_london-portrait
James Jarvis hosts the Amos Miniature Plastic Workshop at KK outlet in Hoxton between 6-31 May, 2011.

Pick Me Up runs until Sunday 27th March. Read a more in depth article about Mokita here and my transcript of a conversation with Sam Arthur of Nobrow here.

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