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The Beards are an Adelaide band that have beards and sing songs about beards, their profile has been rising in recent times due to some airplay on national ‘alternative’ station Triple J and the fact that they are pretty good and have Beards. Some of that rise in recognition no doubt should be attributed to the fantastic graphic representation they have received over the years from uber illustrator and designer Chris Edser. It’s a great playful and consistent system that has played out over the years which has culminated in the latest Beards album release Having a beard is the new not having a beard beautifully detailed and majestic in it’s illustrative representation of all things ‘beard’. Check out Chris’ site for the full scope of work he has done for the band over the years, there’s also some nice stuff, non beard related there as well.

James Jean is the kind of illustrator that I only ever dreamed of becoming when I was younger. With an exemplary draughtsman’s skill, a nod to early 20th century American illustrators and a designers eye in use of colour composition and new technology, this book is a great start to see some of his beautiful work. His lavish covers for the Vertigo comic book series, “Fables,” that he has produced monthly for the last eight years are always eye catching and it’s great to see them all gathered here in one place.

The great thing about the book is that on one side you get part of the process he uses to get to the finished product such as preliminary sketches and drawings. My only complaint would be that Jean does some commentary on his covers for the trade paperbacks of the series, but he doesn’t do any commentary on the individual covers, and an interview at the back by Fables writer Bill Willingham with Jean does little to draw out the character of the individual behind the work (Jean comes across as a very humble artist, it seem he prefers to let the work speak for itself. That said, the work is so beautiful, perhaps it is enough on it’s own.

The unfortunate thing is that this volume is not easy to come by in Australia, I ordered mine for an arm and a leg through my local comic book shop, your best bet may be ordering through Amazon, even with the exchange rate and cost of postage.

James also runs a blog called Process Recess which always features fascinating looks at how he goes about producing his illustrations, not only for The Fables covers, but other commercial and private work as well.

Previously I have reviewed the beautiful album artwork for Josh Pyke’s ‘Memories & Dust’, I was so enamoured, I decided to get in touch with the artist, James Hancock, and throw a couple of questions his way regarding his work methods, ideals and ambitions. He’s currently on a bit of a world jaunt, but he’s kindly answered, and the interview follows below.

A bit of background on James from his bio. James is based in Sydney, Australia. His work draws together elements taken from found objects and hand-generated content from a variety of media such as drawing, collage, printmaking and painting. His work projects a naievety, and seek the fantastical and cute in explorations of the realness of objects and emotions and their macro and micro processes. He also explores animating his world into video works. He runs his own graphic studio and has exhibited in Australia and internationally. He is also very active as a curator of exhibitions of national and international work as part of the SPACE3 collective, which connects him to a strong creative community.

Chris Bowden: When did you first decide to become a designer. Was there a proverbial ‘pivotal moment’?

James Hancock: Not sure there really was one, and not even sure I’d class myself as a straight ‘designer’. I’ve drawn all the time, by myself, with other people, I’ve gone through design university which satisfied one part of my personality, but I also took subjects at art college and have always found myself somewhere in the middle of art and design practices. I consequently have loved people that are between disciplines; writers that draw, musicians that paint, collectors that make sculpture. I wonder if the ‘pivotal moment’ was the moment I accepted this dychotomy within myself.

CB: Who or what inspires you at the moment?

JH: I am consciously influenced by outsider art and ideas of hoarding and psychology. This outside observation of the world and psychological analysis of internal worlds.

Contemporary artists like Julie Mehrtu, and sculptors like Nancy Rubins, and conceptual artists such as Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla – google them, they do some really fun stuff. I find it much more inspiring to look at things outside of the graphic design world. I get easy sucked into trendy aesthetics and I feel much more satisfied if I draw my creativity from a personal world of experiences rather than referencing current design trends. I’m moving around the world a bit at the moment, with studios in different cities, trying to make work on the run, and I really think this studio-in-transit and being around new environments means I constantly re-address what it is I do. Sometimes this stops me doing anything at all, but I always come back to drawing as the basis of everything, as a way of releasing the buildup of creative need.

CB: Which of the projects that you have worked on in the past are you most proud of and why?

JB: From my client based work I guess the Josh Pyke stuff really stands out as a solid project, with print, animation, and new media applications all working together. This project also started an approach of applying a personal art practice to a client based project.

CB: Could you discuss a little about the work you’ve done for Josh Pyke, how it came about, the process, how much freedom you were given?

JB: I’d recently come back from an artist residency in Indonesia and was drawing all these people in a naive anatomy style, revealing the congestion and pollution and density of humanity I experienced there. So lungs contained buildings, crowds walked through the hair, and cars drove through the veins. So then when I came back to Sydney to work on Josh’s first release I started reading the lyrics and saw all these references to things jumping through each other, holes being cut in each other, there was this grotesqueness to it, but on a cute kind of vibe. So after some initial sketches and talks with josh I started doing all these little animals with their insides showing little hearts and music inside. It was a real flow on from my artistic practice of the time, it also lead me to do more works on the theme on a larger scale, big canvases. These graphic elements then flowed on to other releases including the latest one, where it has all exploded outside and the new albums imagery of buttons and sewing stiches together a big mammoth plan. Kind of like an obsessive document, where an outsiders mind is pulling together all these ideas and making a big mind map on the table, using old craft techniques of sewing and stitching to pull it all together. The first album was relatively free, but of course as Josh became more well known there were more people interested in how the album art turned out so the recent album release had much more label involvement integrating his photo on the cover for example. Luckily it didn’t get pulled in too many directions and came together as a very neat creative package.

CB: You have a very individual style in your work which has been used across a range of promotional items for Josh Pyke’s Memories & Dust from the album to posters to film clip etc. With the album being such a success, do you have any concerns that that style will now be seen indelibly as part of Josh Pyke’s image?

JH: I actually like it when artists works become recognisable through a music release, it provides people with an access point for people’s art and the symbiosis of two creative individuals (art & music) coming together can be really interesting. I like it that behind music releases there is also this visual artist that is audibly silent but has their own creative voice on there, so the album speaks across two senses. This chain of creativity is great, and I always enjoyed finding out about artists through cd cover work. It can be a great promotional tool for the visual artist if the CD is successful, but it’s not only a promo tool, it is two worlds coming together. A CD can be a little world when it works really well, a glimpse into all the artists involved, their world. I think my creative world is strong enough to stand within other creative worlds and still retain it’s own identity, I think this is where coming from an artists perspective is important because you are not solely motivated by the client but by your own processes as well. This is what joins the two creative experiences together but also what separates them.

CB: You’ve done a few album covers, any artists you would absolutely love to do work for?

JH: I’m keen to work for any artist, I’m constantly making work and really love applying my world to the world of other creative people. I’m not sure it would be any different (apart from budget) working for bigger more famous artists.

CB: What are some of the things you do to keep yourself motivated?

JH: As I said before I really get a lot out of looking at other people’s creative worlds. Jealousy of those worlds sometimes spurs me on to create something like what I like, but inevitably I create something of my own from that inspiration. Again I think the contemporary art world is great for this, where you deal with abstract and alternate views people have of the world. Objects and images that change the way you think or see, this is what keeps me motivated. At the moment I am surrounded by a friends amazing library, so I am reading and reading and the links I make from this in psychology, biology, fiction all serve to motivate me in new directions.

CB: How do you approach a new project? How do you overcome the ‘dreaded blank page’?

JH: I don’t really feel like I ever have a blank page, I always have images I have previously made around me, in sketchbooks, photographs, reference books etc. There is always a pile of imagery I like to sort through and draw from. I have a folder on my laptop with heaps of scans of drawings and collages I’ve made in the past that I draw from all the time. I really like Gerhard Richter’s ‘Atlas’ project where he has organised all his reference material into one book – this kind of obsessive collecting really appeals to me, it almost strives for an end to imagery, to finish collecting, finish seeing. Then this contrasted with Francis Bacons studio chaos where there is a realisation that imagery will never end and juxtapositions of images amongst piles of images will constantly make new narratives and statements. I think collage is an amazingly powerful process for building narrative and generating ideas, simply by placing images next to each other. I sometimes am stunted by the realisation that the blank page holds the opportunity to go in infinite directions. This can be overcome to some extent by surrounding oneself with images that act as starting points. The infinity of the blank page is then reeled in by a process of accepting or rejecting what you have at hand at one particular moment.

CB: What project and, or client that you haven’t worked on would you love to and why?

JH: I would love to have the opportunity to work with someone with unlimited budget, to be able to do all the things with printing and cross media integration that I’m not really able to because of cost. To do things like get origami folded by hand for cd covers on a small Japanese island, to make sculptural objects and installation sets for photo shoots in the desert… There are these amazing massive prop lots for film and advertising in LA I’d love to be able to go in there and make worlds from what they have. I remember going into the dungeon at the PowerHouse museum in Sydney and looking at their collection… thousands of toy cars, and old science machines, and bits of rocket, and typewriters, I’d love to be able to play with all that stuff creatively. Maybe I just need a massive house so I can start acquiring all this stuff, start making a set to live in that I can introduce other creative people into and work that way?… hmmm…

CB: What music have you been listening to lately?

JH: Just saw a Bjork concert in San Francisco, amazing live show with a brass band and super electronic triggering and improvised jazz drumming, like a weird, creative school concert! also myspacing LA artists such as Lenka and The Bird And The Bee.

Thanks once again to James for his time and generosity. I’m sure you will be hearing about him and seeing a lot more of his work in the future. You can see more of James’s work here at his website.

I’ve recently become a convert to Myspace (as usual, hopping on the bandwagon when it has already just about passed over the horizon!) Anyway, I’ve found it an interesting source for creative people demonstrating their talents, some of them have even been kind enough to answer a few questions I’ve thrown at them out of the blue, and let me transcribe their responses right here on the little ‘ol blog of mine.

First victim is Adelaide Illustrator/Designer Eugenia Tsimiklis. I was really impressed with her beautiful sinuous illustrations and pattern work on her attractive Myspace page (making your Myspace page look hald decent is a task in itself!) Eugenia graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Communications (Graphic Design and Illustration) and moved to London from Australia in 2001. After working as a Graphic Designer in an Architectural firm, she then turned her hand to fashion textiles. As a textile designer for womenswear her textile designs have been seen on a large variety of labels from high end designer labels right through to high street labels. She worked for a London studio initially and is now freelancing as a textile designer and illustrator.

She has worked on a variety of fashion graphics projects for 33south, FATAIM and theworldchico. In addition her illustrations have been featured on the cover and several issues of The Big Issue, The Sunday Telegraph magazine, Beautiful Decay, neomu, Noise, etisoppo, pagesonline, Moody Buddha, in an exhibition at the Australian National Gallery and on a Channel 4 documentary, The Thin Club.

Chris Bowden: When did you first decide to become a designer. Was there the proverbial ‘pivotal moment’?

Eugenia Tsimiklis: Drawing and creating images are the things I’m most passionate about. I love patterns, decoration and colour. My way of working is at odds with most of the things I was taught at University, so it was only when I was approached to do freelance projects that I realised that there was a market for what I do. When I started working as a textile designer in London is when I became confident in my ability to be commercial as a designer.

CB: Who are what inspires you at the moment?

ET: I find travelling and leaving my comfort zone and being in a bustling city gives me a different perspective.

CB: Which of the projects that you have worked on in the past are you most proud of and why?

ET: Four portraits of girls with anorexia for a documentary screened on Channel 4 in the UK called The Thin Club.

CB: What do you do to keep yourself motivated?

ET: Try not to take rejection personally and stay optimistic.

CB: How do you approach a new project? How do you overcome the ‘dreaded blank page’?

ET: I look through as much visual material as I can, from a variety of sources, then incorporate small aspects of what I consider successful design with the image I have in my head, to make it my own.

CB: What are some of the unique challenges you’ve come up against plying your craft in a small town like Adelaide (and finding work!) ?

ET: I think the biggest challenge is coming up against the lack of industry and resources to do something that is frivolous and fashion oriented.

CB: What project and, or client that you haven’t worked on would you love to (go to town, think of this as your ultimate ‘fantasy assignment 🙂

ET: I’d like to work for a label that I love and be sent on global assignments as ‘inspiration trips’ every season to source what people are wearing in different parts of the world and report back and base my collections on my finds. (This is a reference to a job I had an interview for and didnt land when I was in London. No, I’m still not over it.)

CB: What music have you been listening to lately

ET: The Pre-sets. I drive my husband mad by listening to the same cd’s over and over. Repetition is a good thing. I design patterns afterall.

I always find it interesting the places a degree in Visual Communication can take you beyound the obvious 9 to five at a design firm, as Eugenia ably demonstrates with her work .Thanks once again to Eugenia for her time, you can see more of her work at her website here.

Josh Pyke: Memories & Dust

It seems to happen a lot in my life that I’ll be trundling along, designing away. I’ll look at a CD cover that I’ve down and say to myself, ‘yeah, that’s not too bad Chris, give yourself a pat on the back for that one tiger’. So, reasonably happy with what I’m producing. Then something will come along and completely blow my idea of competency in this area out of the water. This is what has happened to me upon viewing the latest cover for Josh Pyke’s album Memories and Dust.

What can I say? It’s a beautifu piecel, and the cover doesn’t even encapsulate half of it. It’s only when you unfold the sleeve and view the meticulous hand drawn lyrics on the inside do you really appreciate the artistry that’s gone into it’s production. I could weep at the care and attention that’s gone into producing this.

So how does the album measure up to such an accomplished package? Well, lets just say to begin with, that Josh Pyke had been served exceedingly well with this presentation of his debut album.

What can I say about Josh Pyke’s music? As an earnest young man with an acoustic guitar, he’s never going to be lacking for competition in the market. My exposure to him initially was through the excellent first single ‘Middle of the Hill’, nothing else on the album really comes close to the urgency and undercurrent of personal melancholy portrayed in this song, which is a shame – I was expecting more quirk, like the cover – while the rest of the album’s songs seem to follow a more breezy ‘Jack Johnson vibe – good for those who likes that sort of stuff, and it certainly has an audience.

The cover art was created by James Hancock, and he’s only 29 as well (talented and much younger than me, usually a potent mix to raise my ire or my levels of depression. He obviously enjoys the music, his enthusiasm for it is evident, and he’s listened and searched out well among the lyrics to find appropriate graphic meataphors. There’s a recurring theme of ‘sewing and ‘mending” that plays out through the album, hence the motif of buttons and ‘twiney’ lines on the album art. It’s also confessional, as most solo artist albums are, so the use of hand drawn ‘folk type’ is appropriate. Printed on uncoated stock in subdued greys and browns, it’s hand made enough to portray an independent artist, but professionally enough produced to signify what I’m sure the label hopes will become a major artist. It really stands out on the racks next to your latest Beyonce release.

First albums are hard – especially when you receive a lot of expectation from an initial successful song. The artist wants to establish a unique identity. You can tell James Hancock the artist has put a lot of himself into this work, and by the album’s top ten success, received a lot of exposure for it – it may be an unfortunate ramification that this style of his is now going to be indelibly associated with Josh Pyke.

You can view some more of James Hancock’s great work at his website, including some more music design work for artist Darren Hanlon. Below I have included the great film clip for ‘Middle of The Hill’ featuring his artwork, it has hand claps in it as well! (Hand claps are the ‘new black’)