In the Studio: Josie Jo

Sussex, UK

Josie Jo combines hand-drawn techniques with digital colour to create illustrations that are full of life. Her work reflects her personality, exhibiting a charming and playful quality which is especially suited to younger audiences.

How would you convey your illustration in five words?

Fun – Quirky – Friendly – Naïve – Whimsical

You offer strong hand-drawn techniques across your portfolio, what tools do you use to create such an expressive quality of line?

I do a lot of sketching and then use a dip pen and ink to finalise my line when I am happy with my sketch. Sometimes I draw directly using a fine liner or dip pen, which gives a more immediate spontaneous finish. I love drawing on printer paper, it reacts perfectly to the ink – a local calligrapher I met gave me that top tip! I am always surrounded by loose sheets of printer paper, but I like that as it’s all easy to recycle and there is no pressure if things don’t quite work out.

Do you ever explore other mediums or techniques?

I love print making and when trying different print mediums, you often need to use another thought process entirely. You are forced to think a lot about negative space and layering. Sometimes my print work can look a completely different style to my ‘Josie Jo illustration’ work, so I tend to use my married name for any pieces which don’t quite fit the ‘Josie Jo’ style.

I love the immediacy of pen and ink drawing, but when you draw onto a print screen you can use different materials to mark make, which often look more polished when printed in a flat screen ink. Recently I saw my line being cut from vinyl and it was lovely to see how it translated from a rough pen and ink drawing through Illustrator and into its final outcome as a vinyl window display.

Describe a typical day for you.

Every day is rather different with a one-year-old! I have been lucky enough to sleep-train naps into her routine, so I generally work every day while she sleeps and at night once she goes to bed. I love having this precious and indulgent time to myself when I become something other than a mummy. I also have a couple of friends who I childcare swap with when I have a commission on, and some exceptionally helpful and doting Grandparents, who help me out every week so I can do work.

Do you gain inspiration for your illustration from your daughter, and how has she influenced your working process?

Having our daughter Harper has opened up a colourful world of print. There are so many beautifully illustrated children’s products out there, from colourful character-filled books to prints on clothing and even down to their melamine plates and cups she has her tea on. I have to work with more purpose now and much faster since having Harper. I definitely feel more focused and dedicated to a project as my time working is so precious.

Exhibiting a fun child-like quality throughout your work, when do you know an illustration is complete?

Probably to hardest thing is to know when a piece is complete; I am a great believer in less is more. Nick at Folio would always say this to me, and I suppose I am learning every day what it means. The most difficult thing for any illustrator is editing their own work and knowing when to stop so as not to overwork an illustration.

You recently completed work for the shop front of Stitch. In what way did you have to adapt your working methods for larger-scale application across signage and windows?

This project was a massive learning curve as I had to learn Illustrator to make my line work vector so it could be cut out by the machine. I had to simplify a few of my drawn details so they could be cut out by the machinery and couldn’t use too thin a line. Towards the end of the project I was asked to do an additional window panel and so I drew another piece specifically for this space. The way of drawing differed after learning what had been successful and unsuccessful in Illustrator, and as a result I think this is one of the most striking vinyl cuts.

Pick three things that are most valuable to you in your studio and explain why you have chosen those. Is there a story behind them?

If I can label my husband Mark Swan as a valuable thing, I would definitely choose him. He sits on a desk next to me when he is working from home designing book jackets. It’s great to have an experienced creative in the studio to speak to and take advice from about projects.

About seven years ago we did some travelling and collected a couple of wooden statues of a lady, a man and a day of the dead skeleton. I love surrounding myself with inspiring weird and wonderful things and they all sit on a shelf near me to remind me of those fond memories.

You used to be an agent at Folio, what insight and benefits do you think agency representation can offer freelance illustrators?

A lot of illustrators are introverted and undervalue what they do. It can make dealing with clients quite tricky if you are like this. I would say that having the right agent definitely gives an illustrator confidence in their work and can take away any of the stresses of dealing with larger clients. This allows more time to focus on the illustrating side of things instead of worrying about the quoting. I would also say a lot of larger advertising agencies prefer working with an experienced illustration agent, as it offers them a kind of security in managing a difficult project.

Lastly, tell us one thing not many people know about you…

Mmm most people know I love biscuits but not many people know I love pickled gherkins.