V&A Illustration Awards: In Conversation with Jason Brooks (Book Illustration Award, 2016)

February 19, 2020

Jason Brooks is an award-winning Illustrator best known for his fashion and lifestyle illustrations featuring chic women and men. His accomplished command of line and composition, coupled with a limited colour palette, makes for visually engaging viewing. He won the Book Illustration Award 2016 for ‘London Sketchbook’ which captures London with Jason’s unique eye and flair, and he subsequently was asked to judge the Student category of the V&A Illustration Awards in 2017. Not long after this, his ‘New York Sketchbook’ was published the same year and shortlisted for the 2018 Awards. I reached out to Jason to discover what he’s been up to and to bring you a snippet of his latest work.

Illustration for Renaissance Hotels and New York Magazine.

What made you want to become an illustrator? 

I’ve been drawing and painting avidly since I was a small boy. This eventually led me to St Martin’s College of Art, at which point I had to make a decision. I was very torn between taking a Fine Art degree or the path of Graphic Design and Illustration. I finally opted for a degree in Illustration as I wanted my work to reach as wide an audience as possible.  I felt making a living as an illustrator would support my personal work as an artist. After a Masters at the Royal College of Art my career took off as an illustrator partly due to the with the arrival of computers and digital imagery and for at least decade I had little time for personal work,  but the fine art side is something I am leaning towards more and more and I think it inspires my commercial illustration projects.

What does Illustration mean to you?

Set of maps for Renaissance Hotels and New York Magazine.

Illustration is essentially communication.

The idea is to understand the essence of a message and then translate that information into an easily understood visual expression. That can mean anything from a book cover to a shop window, aeroplane safety card, editorial story, or the most imaginative advertisement. Nasa astronauts are sometimes taught using illustrations and illustrations encompass everything from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to worlds within computer games. Usually illustration tends to involve telling other people’s stories, or helping them to express their message to an audience visually, so there is often an element of translation- converting one language into another. The variety and possibility of physical and mental travel are some of the things that make it a fascinating profession.

Have you ever felt discouraged, if so, how did you overcome that feeling?

External forces can sometimes be discouraging and as an Illustrator you need to be very resilient to rejection and extremely hard working. I think one way to manage feeling discouraged is to not be too egotistical about commercial work, and to accept that illustration projects are collaborative, so rejection and compromise are to be expected sometimes. I think focusing on your own

creativity and avoiding comparison or imitation also helps. It’s probably different for everyone, but I have a seemingly endless stream of visual ideas coming from my imagination every day that I really can’t switch off. The desire to express myself and make pictures keeps me going despite any set backs.

It may sound strange but I would literally make art alone on a desert island even if I knew no one would ever see it.

How did it feel to win the V&A Illustration Awards? 

It was extremely validating and exciting. I love the V&A so the prestige of winning was very special. I keep the white cube shaped trophy on the mantelpiece at my studio.

What projects and commissions have you been working on recently? 

I recently travelled to Japan working for a big department store called Diamaru which was very exciting, Japan is the most fascinating country, so full of design and beauty and I have an agent in Tokyo.

Diamaru Department Store. Osaka, Japan

I’ve also recently worked with Tiffany & Co on a backdrop to shop windows which comes out soon, created artwork for the walls of a superyacht company in Monaco, and travelled to Vienna to work with a musician on a music album cover. Vienna is my latest place for inspiration – there is such an interesting intersection between design and fine art there. In the UK I’ve illustrated a Christmas animation for Westfield shopping centre as well as editorial projects in New York and a promotional illustration for an American interiors company. In my personal work I tend to focus on fashion and locations and artwork to sell in my online shop.

‘The Monaco Series’

How do you overcome creative blocks?

They usually come from being over tired or feeing over saturated, so the first thing to do is to rest the mind completely and stop trying to be creative for a while – then answers usually come from the subconscious and it’s easier to pick up the path again. Other techniques I find helpful to find inspiration are drawing at exhibitions, drawing in cafes or when travelling somewhere or reading art and photography books.  As a fashion illustrator, life drawing is perhaps one of the best ways of breaking through a creative block as everything comes back to the human form.

Which of your projects has been an important factor in developing your personal style?

I think the long running series of album covers I produced for Hedkandi probably reached the most people and expressed what I could do with Photoshop at that time. I loved drawing figures in different locations and creating an imaginary world, and the themes of glamour, travel and sensuality although more ‘grown up’ now I think are still part of my personal style.

Why should illustrators enter the V&A Illustration Awards?

The V&A Illustration Awards are the single most prestigious and important awards for Illustration to be found anywhere.

Imagination and craft are recognised and appreciated, and the Awards provide the opportunity to share your visual world with a huge audience.

If a career is made up of stepping stones, the V&A awards are a jewelled milestone.

‘The Monaco Series’

What is the most poignant piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

‘There are no rules in art.’

Said by my step father Graham when I was about 9 or 10 who is a brilliant artist.  It’s very simple but embodies the complete freedom that an artistic life can give you.

To see more of Jason’s work visit his website or instagram feed @jasonbrooksart

Entry to the V&A Illustration Awards has now closed.

The shortlist will be announced in April 2020.

A short history of the V&A Illustration Awards and a complete list of past winners can be found on our website.

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