Fashion illustrator Jason Brooks is known for his digital and free hand illustrations, which have been adopted by a wide variety of luxury brands. Brooks often works by creating drawings and paintings by hand which he then scans into Photoshop, and manipulates digitally, in order to arrive at flawless finished images. He has experience in a range of areas including advertising campaigns, live events, editorial illustrations, portraits, storyboards, publishing, licensing, packaging and animation.
Brooks is also known for his travel publications such as “Paris Sketchbook” and “London Sketchbook,” in which he expresses his love for these cities and their style. Jason’s work has been, and continues to be, exhibited in London’s Victoria & Albert museum – some of his work has even made the permanent collection.
We had the pleasure of chatting to Jason and asked him a little bit more about himself and his line of work.
What attracted you to fashion illustration?
I’ve loved drawing people and figures in movement since I was a small boy. My parents are both artists and my grandmother was a dancer in Berlin, so a passion for art, drawing, fashion and creating glamorous images is something I was born with (I think). In my teens and twenties I did a lot of travelling around Europe and Central America filling sketchbooks with images that often related to fashion and figure drawing in quite a natural way without thinking about fashion specifically. Magazines like Vogue and Elle took an interest in my work and gradually I became known as a fashion illustrator.
You draw women in a unique style that is often replicated. How did you come up with this idea?
The women I draw are really a combination of people I know or see. During the 90’s I began to draw a certain facial type with almond shaped cat-like eyes, full lips and a strong bone structure that didn’t necessarily belong to a particular nationality but somehow combined European, African and Asian features. I spent most of my twenties in Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill and I think that’s part of it, as well as my own mixed race background. Unusual combinations of nationalities are often among the most interesting and beautiful people and I think that global-looking style is what makes ‘the Jason Brooks woman’ distinctive. Incidentally when I met my wife Nila who is also an Illustrator, and a former fashion model originally from Burma, my friends and family were struck by how much she looked exactly like the woman I had been drawing for years. Overall I would say it is more of an instinctive way of drawing women rather than a conscious idea but I’m happy if they inspire people.
How do you begin the illustration process and which steps do you follow?
If it’s a commercial project the first step is to fully understand the brief and what we are aiming for as a collaborative team. Being a successful illustrator is actually about teamwork as much as working alone. My job is to produce beautiful illustrations that will hopefully delight the client, and most importantly achieve their objectives – whether it’s advertising, editorial, packaging design, lettering, shop windows, books or some other kind of visual communication. The first practical step is to produce rough sketches, which are reviewed as a team before I move forward to complete the final artwork. I have been working using computers for many years so my process is a combination of drawing on paper first and then painting in Photoshop to create and deliver finished high-resolution layered files.
What motivates and inspires you?
Essentially it’s my love of drawing people and a fascination with the way they look that attracted me to fashion illustration or lead to that label being attached to my work and it’s what continues to inspire me today. I love pursuing new ideas, trying different media and learning. I get particularly inspired by cities as well as looking at art and design of all kinds. In the autumn, I visited Japan while working on an advertising campaign for Sunstar who put on exhibitions of my work in Tokyo and Singapore. I found Japanese art and design fascinating and that trip has had a strong effect on my work. Currently, I’m combining that Japanese influence with inspiration from 20th Century fashion photography in my personal work, and I find the simplicity and elegance of both very inspiring.
I’m motivated by the need to earn a living and support my wife and our wonderful children – Tom, 8 and Liliana, 13. On a creative level I’m also on some sort of a personal quest to get somewhere and fully express what I can do – I’m never satisfied by what I have done before and that really drives me forward.
What kind of projects did you work on when you first started?
I started illustrating commercially in my early teens but my first big break came with winning the Vogue Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Award when I was 22 and a student at St Martin’s. That led to a string of monthly commissions for British Vogue of around 50 individual illustrations. Vogue truly helped me gain a lot of experience, as I was very young yet had the opportunity to illustrate all kinds of travel and food stories.
I also loved living in London during the 90’s and created lots of imaginative flyers for a club called Pushca. The flyers were well produced and something I enjoyed, as there was a certain freedom in making them.
Other projects included a big book for the Body Shop, lots of drawing at fashion shows and a regular full page in German Elle. Later came 100 covers for Hedkandi, a UK based record label, which was a very successful collaboration commercially. That gradually led to some really big commissions with luxury brands and advertising campaigns for Virgin Atlantic, Veuve Clicquot, Globe Trotter as well as work with Chanel and many other wonderful brands, which I continue to collaborate with to this day.
Are your collaborations a one-time thing? How exactly do they work?
Sometimes I am commissioned to create a very specific set of illustrations or single image, and at other times I have become part of building a brand. I enjoy working on all kinds of projects, and understanding and adapting to different brand identities is really enjoyable. Normally people either e-mail me directly or contact my agents, Folio Art in London, Traffic Creative Management in New York and Art Liaison in Tokyo. So usually it’s a sequence of someone discovering my work and then seeing or visualising an exciting way to work together
What artists do you admire and why?
Picasso is who I admire the most for his boundless inventiveness and experimentation across different styles and media. His instinct for balance and composition and his drawing and painting that can range from exquisitely tender to intense and powerful never ceases to inspire and interest me. I also love Antonio and Rene Gruau’s drawings, as well as Hockney, Degas, Matisse, Schiele and numerous photographers from Bailey to Irving Penn. I could write pages and pages but I will stop there…
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’m really lucky to do what I do. I work in a beautiful studio, which is a balcony apartment in Palmeira Square in Brighton so my commute from home is just a 15-minute walk. I can set my own timetable and I enjoy the variety of projects I complete throughout the year. I’m drawing and making commercial artwork every day of the week and I find it really interesting, satisfying and at times exciting. The deadlines can sometimes be intense but I love the quest for trying to make people feel moved, motivated or inspired through my artwork.
What project are you most proud of and why?
I think the two books I have written and illustrated, ’Paris Sketchbook’ and ‘London Sketchbook’, which just won the ‘Book Illustration Award for 2016’ from the V&A Museum. I enjoyed every second of working on them, which involved a lot of exploration, walking and drawing in each city over many weeks as well as many hours in my studio. They are my most personal, yet commercial works and are beautifully made with lovely paper and production values thanks to the publisher, Laurence King. I’m currently working on ‘New York Sketchbook’, which will be out next year.
Which fashion brand would you love to work with?
I would love to do more work with Chanel and also Fendi as their collections are consistently perfect material for my style. Also anything with Raf Simons, Louis Vuitton, Hedi Slimane or Tom Ford would be dream collaboration.
Do your friends/family ask you to draw illustrations of them?
Sometimes I draw my wife and children or friends and family when I’m relaxing at home and I’ve always liked drawing people around me in a very informal way.
Where can we find you when you are not working on an illustration?
I love the beach, museums, art galleries, exploring cities as well as wild places but I also spend as much time as I can with my family so we enjoy our downtime at home together or day trips and family holidays. I also love windsurfing, skiing and tennis. I started windsurfing at 12 and that became an all-consuming passion.
Who are your favourite designers?
In fashion, I think Karl Lagerfeld as a graphic artist and designer. He is amazing in terms of how he orchestrates the Chanel collections, and branding as well as he oversees such a disparate empire of his own creation. I’ve also been a fan of Raf Simons for many years. His graphic, controlled and quite intellectual approach appeals to me. He has produced some beautiful collections and I hope he will continue to produce many more. Hedi Slimane is a brilliant photographer as well as designer. I love his edgy rock and roll aesthetic. Also, Tom Ford has inspired me a lot. I think the common thread is clothes that aren’t over-designed or too “of the moment”. I like things that have a lasting appeal and beautiful clothes that can be worn for many years.
What is your favourite fashion trend at the moment?
In terms of fashion trends on the catwalk, streets and magazines I like the trend towards multiculturalism and eroding of barriers between races, genders, body shapes, etc. I think dissolving barriers and points of perceived difference is very healthy for society. More specifically, in terms of clothes I always look to silhouettes and shapes before decoration because they lend themselves to my style of artwork and an elegant silhouette can really make you feel more confident. I do also like stripes, they are perpetually fashionable and they work well on social media because stripes visually cut through a lot of background information.
Another trend I like is black and white with strong pops of colour, again I think Instagram is partly responsible but it’s an effective and unfussy way to stand out. Beyond that I’d like to think that I’m hopefully building my own favourite fashion trend through my artwork!
We’d like to thank Jason for taking the time to answer our questions on his work and life as well as for providing us with some very useful style tips. We can’t wait to see more of your work being used throughout the fashion and digital world.
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