Posted: 05.02.13/12:30

Creative Conversations: Tim Lahan + James Jarvis

So, two illustrators walk into a bar…

James Jarvis and Tim Lahan (YGX) talk about how ancient they are and where the field of illustration is heading. Excerpted from the YGX Annual.

Think you have what it takes to be a Young Gun? YG11 is now open for entries. Click here to begin submitting your work!


James Jarvis: I looked to your portfolio this morning, and I’m sure I must’veseen your work on Flickr.

Tim Lahan: Oh, yeah?

James: Because I saw the weird powers of rock that you’ve drawn. I remembered seeing them somewhere before. I don’t know if it was on flickr but I really liked them.

Tim: Oh, thanks. It might have been on Flickr.

James: It freaks me out that you’re still doing design work because your drawings are so good.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, I’ve got some bills to pay and so…

James: Is it really hard to pay the bills from drawing at the moment?

Tim: Yeah, I haven’t been doing it for that long. I mean, I’ve been doing it forever, but professionally I haven’t been doing it long so I don’t think I’m really that well known.

James: The email said that you were a Young Gun and then it starts making me feel really old, and I’m thinking, can I still be a young gun? How old are you? How old do you have to be to become a Young Gun?

Tim: It’s kind of weird because I don’t feel very young. I mean, I am young, I’m about 28. I think the age limit for a Young Gun is 30.

James: I’m well over that. I’m at the point where I still feel like I’m just paying my dues. I met this guy the other day who’s starting a skateboard company in the U.K. Then he tells me that he was born in 1989 and it really freaked me out because I realized we were talking about skating and I was referring to all these things that were in skateboarding in 1989 and I just assumed that he would know that. And he didn’t, he was only just born then. It was just a massive head fuck. I’m old basically. 

Tim: No, it is pretty crazy. I definitely have the same problem where I, I’ll hear someone was born in the ‘90’s and that will really freak me out.

James: You’ve done loads of work already. I was looking at your portfolio.

Tim: Yeah. I mean, a lot of it I think is just personal stuff. I did a lot of the work at a day job in my downtime, just trying to explore different things. Just playing around. Those things that I haven’t done for clients or for money, stuff I just do for myself, I think that stuff really helped me out. I think it still does.

“Recently [illustration] has become more personal, more about the artist’s very particular kind of style and image being sold, rather than the artist’s skill set.”

James: Illustration used to be a skill set you sold to people, a way of solving problems. It was almost a branch of graphic design. More recently it’s become more personal, more about the artist’s very particular kind of style and image being sold, rather than the artist’s skill set. I think that is what I ended up doing and I think it happens a lot for really random reasons, and I was kind of lucky because it seems when you get to make work your work instead of solving problems and just being done as a kind of artist for hire, you’re actually kind of expressing yourself the whole time, except it’s tempered by the fact that you’re doing it as a kind of graphic job. I realized I’ve been pushed into that world and I’ve lost all that and I was looking at your stuff, and the nice thing is you’ve got this really good personal vision and way of looking at things. You’ve also got a weird thing that it’s almost a matter of fashion which is sort of a sense of thinking behind everything. It’s not just an image. It’s an intellectual solution as well as a visual one and I think that’s a really nice thing to see. It’s a thing that I sometimes think where am I going, what do I do, what is the work I do now? I feel weird because I trained as an illustrator and I was taught by George Hardy. He’s a really, really amazing British illustrator who started working in the ‘60’s. And he did stuff like the cover of Dark Side of the Moon, that Pink Floyd album.

Tim: Oh, wow.

James: That’s one of his more famous jobs, but his work’s way better than that. And the thing about his work that’s really interesting is that it’s not about a visual style, it’s about his way of thinking and he’ll choose different visual dressing for his work, depending on the idea. And it’s something that nobody really does anymore, because I think everyone’s afraid because we’re all so geared to kind of being sellable in an easy way and having a kind of easy to package style. And I feel like that was the thing I get freaked out about because I’m so far down being James Jarvis now. I don’t know what my skills are anymore. I’m known as somebody who does cartoon characters and so that’s just what I do all the time. And I keep thinking what do I do with these cartoon characters? What else can I do? And I kind of know that I could be more than just that, but the way the world seems to work and what it seems to want from us as graphic artists has changed. The other thing I really liked was the comic strip that you would do.


Tim: Oh, yeah. That’s Today or Tomorrow.

James: Yeah, the talking poos.


Tim: It’s kind of interesting to hear what people think those things are. Because I’ve heard people say they look like slugs or as poop. People have been like, “Hey, I like your comic about the poop” and I’m like, what poop? What’s the poop?

James: Is that not what they are?

Tim: I don’t know. At this point, I’m kind of throwing it up in the air. Initially it started with the idea of what I thought people would look like in 200 years. They’d be reduced to just blobs of skin based on the amount of fast food and stuff. So they’ve got these frail little limbs because they need to function somehow, but they don’t exercise or anything. They just use them to grab food and stuff. 

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