Jacob Stead explains the inspiration, ideas and processes behind his illustrations for the October issue of Therapy Today
Behind the pictures
Interview by Laura Hogan
Do you consider yourself to have a trademark style? If so, how would you describe it?
I’d say there is something about my work that is recognisably mine, but I’m not sure how to define it. There’s definitely a way that I naturally draw and textures that I use throughout my work which give it a certain feel, but I try to develop my work and not restrict myself to one style.
How would you describe the creative process you go through when you receive a brief? Does it vary?
I read through the brief and the copy and highlight anything important and make notes of anything that jumps out as interesting. I then quickly sketch any ideas before I forget them and develop them into thumbnails. I usually look at some reference material, which is often just an internet search – in this case, images of different yoga positions. I try to have about three or four different ideas for each illustration. I then email these to the client who gives me feedback and either asks for more developed thumbnails/ideas or selects a thumbnail for me to finalise. When I have the go-ahead, I draw out a larger scale version and use this to trace all the different elements. I then scan them and edit and compile them in Photoshop, and add my own textures.
Generally speaking, how do you come up with your ideas? What inspires you?
When responding to a brief, the copy is the main source of ideas, but inspiration can come from anywhere, really. I tend not to look at other artists’ work when I am working on a brief or a personal project, as I think it’s more interesting to push your own ideas and visual language without subconsciously taking in ideas from other work. I’m inspired by many different things, which may or may not be apparent to someone viewing my work. I enjoy folk art and folk tradition and religious and esoteric symbolism and iconography, but inspiration can come from anywhere, such as films and books, or just from things I’ve seen and heard people do and say.
While working on your Therapy Today illustrations, did the ideas develop gradually, or did you know from the outset the direction you were going in?
I had some ideas in mind for the cover and the cover article illustration. These were changed around a bit, but the general idea stayed the same. For the other two illustrations, I had a few different ideas that were whittled down to those in the final images.
Can you describe what informed/influenced/inspired your Therapy Today illustrations?
The ideas I worked with came from the articles, but visually they were informed by my usual artistic influences. It’s always interesting to illustrate a topic with which I’m unfamiliar, as it allows me to do a little bit of research into a new topic, even if that only means finding some suitable source material and images to work from.
Did illustrating these particular subjects throw up any challenges? If so, what were they?
The illustrations weren’t particularly challenging, but I think with every new image I make I learn a slightly different way of doing things, which I carry through into my next project. I think this happened while working on these images. I had a pretty clear image in my head of how the final pictures would look and I knew how to create them, so I think the project was less of a challenge, but more of an opportunity to try out a few new techniques.
Can you describe in a nutshell what you were trying to convey with each image?
With the cover and its accompanying article, I just wanted to contrast the stresses of the outside world with the calming effect that yoga can have on a person and to try to present the subject in a peaceful way. With the article about antidepressants, I chose a visual metaphor which shows trial results literally being whitewashed, which I hope conveys the ideas in the article in an obvious way. For the ‘Counselling in a cold climate’ article, I decided to present both a literal interpretation of the title and a representation of the isolation described in the text.
How do you feel about your finished work? What do you like most about your images? Do you have a favourite image?
I'm most happy with how I’ve been able to experiment with a few techniques during the process and with the variety in the images. I quite like the counselling image, as I decided to try to work with negative space a little more than usual and I think it turned out quite successfully in balancing out against the contrasting trees.
Apart from Therapy Today, where else might we see your work?
I have a website (jacobstead.com) and a blog (jacobstead.blogspot.com).
Jacob Stead was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and moved to Bristol to study illustration at UWE in 2008. He graduated in 2011 and has continued working freelance in Bristol on editorial projects for the past year. You can contact Jacob on 07891 860755; email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit jacobstead.com