JAMES OSES graduated from Middlesex’s Illustration BA in 2010. During his time on the course he discovered a love for drawing on location which has directly translated into his practice. Since graduating James has worked on projects for Borough Market, Marks & Spencers, The Sunday Telegraph, J.D Weatherspoons and more. As well as his client work he also sells original artwork, prints, and work on commissions, drawing street scenes of London and other places.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to since graduating from Middlesex?
I’ve been working as an Artist and Illustrator, selling original art and prints of places I like to draw on site; mostly in London, but also in other locations when I get the opportunity to travel. In terms of illustration, I’ve been fortunate to work on a series of commissions for Borough Market, as well as projects for Ritzy Cinema, The Telegraph, M&S, J.D. Wetherspoon, BMI Voyager, Sipsmith Distillery and others.
2. Describe your practice- how do you go about produce your images? Are there any parts of the process you particularly enjoy?
The most important part about the way I work for me is drawing directly on location. I’ve found that this is the way I feel most comfortable putting pen to paper. I think this is because its quite a spontaneous way of working, I like how certain things can come into your view momentarily like an interesting person or a particular event, so it forces you to draw quickly and pick the most important aspects of what you’re trying to depict.
The main materials which I use are a dip pen with a flexible nib, black indian ink, and watercolours. I gravitated to dip pens because I like how you can manipulate a line to be thick or thin by varying your hand pressure, which makes them very expressive to work with. Watercolours are great for many reasons; their transparency, and the ability to use them in a quick way is what I like most about them. They also work well in combination with pen & ink.
3. What is a typical day of working as an illustrator like for you?
For working on most illustrations it’s usually a slightly different process to when I’m drawing on location. I find that for a lot of illustration there’s a particular composition in mind upfront, so this usually means that I’m making the final image at home. The way I try to keep a loose, reportage feel is through using small sketchbooks, and then drawing the reference material I need from life. I use Faber brush pens, for speed and practicality. I also like that they give a flexible line.
I usually scan these sketches, print them, and use the copies on a lightbox under watercolour paper for the final image. I can just about see the sketch this way, so when I use the dip pen over the top to draw the finished illustration, I’m really trying to get a similar feel to the original sketch. I saw a short film with Quentin Blake doing this when I was a student and it’s something I’ve found really useful.
4. While working as an illustrator sounds like a dream job, some days can be harder than others. Do you have any tips for keeping on top of it all and staying motivated?
I think it varies from person to person but I would say the most important thing is to keep creating your own work and making it available however you can – not just going after commissions. I’ve found that often work I’ve done on my own steam is what attracts more interest from potential clients.
5. A major part of your illustration process involves working on location. What drew you to reportage and what are the challenges that come with working on site?
I got really into sketching at Middlesex early on, and one of the first things that drew me to reportage was Ronald Searle’s ‘Paris Sketchbook’. Its a pretty old book, and quite hard to come by, although there should be examples on the internet if people want to look it up. What I really liked about it was that it showed how location drawing could be used in the context of illustration, not just something you do in a sketchbook.
One of the most challenging times I’ve drawn somewhere was on Record Store Day in Soho last year. There was a music stage in Berwick Street, and I’d been sketching bands nearby. I eventually got talking to one of the organisers who asked if I would like to draw from the photographers pit in front of the stage. It was pretty bizarre and exciting to draw in that environment. I was sitting on a metal security step with loud speakers in front, with a crowd of music fans behind. By chance the headliner was Gang of Four – a really influential post-punk band – and the guitarist, Andy Gill, was directly in front of me. I found trying to capture a moving band at that proximity was quite difficult, and I think I lost focus in an attempt to try and get it all down. It didn’t help that there was a sound issue early on, and the band actually walked off stage! It’s certainly something I’d like to have a go at again though.
6. Are there any projects that have felt like milestones for your career as an illustrator?
Borough Market’s 1000th anniversary was a lot of fun to illustrate. The premise was that there had been a food market in some form or another around the area since 1014, so I was asked to draw a scene reflecting Medieval London to present day, using local architecture and other things to do with the Market. This was for different purposes including banners, flyers, bags, online material, and other applications, so it was nice to see the illustration being used in a lot of different design contexts.
7. How did you find the transition from student to practicing illustrator? Do you have any words of advice for any recent graduates who might be in that position right now?
I’m not sure how often it gets mentioned, but I think actual word-of-mouth is still very important – though its gradual, and means you have to keep at whatever you’re doing. Being friendly and meeting potential clients face to face where possible goes a long way to establishing this I think. If anyone is interested specifically in reportage, then I would say business cards, out in plain sight on your drawing board/sketchbook, are important. Put a few out at a time and keep the rest in your bag. Don’t snub people if they take an interest while you’re drawing. At least say hello. A lot of the work I’ve had is from interactions like this. At the same time don’t be afraid to say you’re busy if you really need to get on.
8. What are you currently working on? Are there any projects coming up that you can talk about?
I’ve got a few illustration projects which are scheduled for a little later in the year around Spring. Right now I’m working on a series of small Brixton drawings to sell as original pieces and making a new website with an integrated shop. I’m also intending to take my favourites from the Brixton drawings and produce a giclée print which should be available soon.
Find more of Jame’s work online: