The idea for this newsletter came to me just as quickly as the idea had come to have original artwork run alongside the text. I knew I wanted something bold, colorful, and whimsical to match my caps lock-abusing ass, so I knew I had to reach out to James Jeffers, whom I have been a fan of ever since I first came across his Instagram a few years ago.
The first word that comes to mind when I look at his body of work is “fantasy.” My favorite art always exudes a feeling before any other element of an aesthetic experience, which makes sense considering Jeffers’s approach to each project is more visceral than technical, he told me over email this week. His subjects range from drag queens to pop stars to beloved characters from a number of iconic TV shows and movies, the tone of each vacillating from tongue-in-cheek to spooky and downright cute, oftentimes all three at once. It’s a welcome break from reality, a prismatic dreamscape from which you drag your feet when it’s time to leave. But, thankfully, it’s always there to return to.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to someone you already know, but whom you are guaranteed to fall in love with even more after reading his answers to my questions below. And don’t forget to check out his print shop at the end to snag some magic for yourself!
How old were you when you started illustrating?
My earliest memories of drawing would probably be from when I was four. I used to go to my Oma's house, and would ask for a whole stack of paper and those fruity scented markers, and just draw! I would spend hours just asking my grandma what I should draw, and I absolutely loved it. Also, those scented markers were WILD. Should we have been huffing those markers? Who can ever be sure! (Pretty sure we shouldn't have!)
What sort of things were you illustrating at that age?
Around that time, I was drawing the things I saw on television or cats. Lots and lots of cats.
Who were some artists that inspired you as you honed your craft?
As I grew up and started to take illustration more seriously, I looked up to artists such as Mary Blair, Edvynd Earle, and John Bauer. I was also very much influenced by photographers like Tim Walker, designers like Alexander McQueen and Christian Dior, and audiovisual artists like iamamiwhoami/ionnalee. There is something so beautiful and whimsical about all of these artists who have left a mark on my life, and I am always looking forward to finding new inspiration as I grow!
Do other forms of media—like music, TV, and/or books—inspire you? If so, what and how?
Oh, YES! Movies in particular have always inspired my art. Fantasy has been particularly influential, ranging from the wonderful worlds of Studio Ghibli to the darker fantasy movies of the eighties like The Dark Crystal, Legend, and Labyrinth. Cartoons and anime have played a big part in the influence of my style as well. I remember Sailor Moon, My Little Pony, Pokémon, Care Bears, and Rainbow Brite being some pivotal series and movies for me. More recently I would say Steven Universe has been such a wonderful series with fantastic characters and design and amazing music. Also, I mentioned her before, but iamamiwhoami/ionnalee has been such a big inspiration for me. Their visuals and music led me down the rabbit hole of Scandinavian folklore, which opened my eyes to the whole mythos of some pretty spooky legends of dark, mysterious creatures that lurk the fjords and forests of Europe.
Who or what has been inspiring you lately?
Lately, I have been doing some deep dives on trolls. There are so many different types from these horrible three-headed trolls who eat folk to the cute and charming trolls who wear overalls and mostly play tricks on humans for some laughs. I've also been on some visual journeys of mid-century illustrations from Russia, Sweden, and Poland of The Hobbit books. They are just so darn charming!
Your style is instantly recognizable. How has it changed along the way?
Oh, gosh, well I would say that my style is ever-changing depending on my mood or how I envision a piece “feeling.” However, I will say that I used to use Adobe Illustrator to do my illustrations. I didn't have a drawing tablet so I would use my MacBook’s small touchpad and literally draw with my fingers. Looking back, it was pretty stiff and didn't have much personality, and the backgrounds were usually kept to a minimum gradient or something of the like. These days, I fully embrace Photoshop with the gorgeous textures of digital gouache, an old Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet, and the subtle imperfections of drawing by hand. I absolutely love exploring new techniques and learning new ways of adding effects, new brushes, and coming back to old concepts I've explored before with a new set of skills. I also love adding in a background now that helps elevate the story I have for a piece and it's becoming a more present part in my current illustrative journey.
What made you say yes to working with me, an actual moron who has literally no idea what they’re doing ever????
As a wise sponge once said, "I'm a goofy goober, yeah! You're a goofy goober, yeah! We're all goofy goobers, yeah! Goofy, goofy, goober, goober, YEAH!" But in all seriousness, I really enjoy what you create as an artist! It's so much fun to bring your words into a visual realm and play off of your descriptions of events that have happened to you. You have a wonderful way of bringing some much-needed serotonin to this world!
Do you have a process? If so, can you pull back the curtain for us a bit?
It all depends on what I'm making. If it's a commission, I love to get all the details, imagery, and ideas the client might have in mind, and draw up a sketch to see if what I'm envisioning is similar to their vision. But, if it's a personal piece, I will just open up Photoshop and start putting down blobs of color with no real guides and follow that stream of consciousness until I'm in “the zone,” and my mind just takes over and a certain paint stroke will lead me to change the pose or add a small detail where I wouldn't have thought. So, either very structured or very streamline are my processes. Can you tell I'm a Gemini? Ha!
No creative is immune to the occasional slump. How do you overcome yours?
This is a very real struggle! Sometimes I will finish a piece I love and then all motivation and inspiration will fall flat and I will just sit there, staring at a blank Photoshop file, and I just say NOPE and close Photoshop. In those times where I can't find the will to create, I will consume all the kinds of art I want to make. I will watch movies, TV series, listen to music, podcasts, and not even think about making art. I feel like it helps to pause and refill the ol’ noggin with other people's art. It reminds me of the stunning work that others make and it gets those creative gears ticking again. Also, I love watching YouTube and learning about anything and everything! Eventually something will hit me and inspire me to make something that makes me feel good. Try not to force it, but sometimes a li'l kick in the butt will help jumpstart you out of that slump!
What kinds of projects have you been aching to work on?
Well, I've always wanted to collaborate with my bestie Andrew Haan on something, but our styles are so different! He is so talented at making striking geometric artwork for murals and paintings, from delightful catchall trays to even skateboards! However, we might have discovered a new medium that could bring some fun and colorful art to the masses. I would also love to create a collection of illustrations depicting some spooky stories of ghouls and creatures in fun vignettes! I love making cute art, but I also love making cute, spooky art.