James Loram is a children’s illustrator. He absolutely loves creating fun characters and constructing unique and humorous narratives to place them into. I like to find inspiration in everyday design and from all the places I go. My goal is to add as much fun and joy to illustrations I create and to always have fun along the way!
He graduated from Plymouth University and currently live in the South West. He is represented worldwide by Lemonade Illustration Agency.
Clients have included: McDonald’s, Oxford University Press, The Clever Factory, Story time Magazine and Okido Magazine.
Here is James discussing his process:
This image was inspired by a weekly event on Twitter called Colour Collective. It’s just for fun and it’s a really good way to get the creative juices flowing. The colour of the week was Viridian and I came up with the idea of sleeping frogs in a pond. So i get to work sketching little thumbnails, and i pick the best of the bunch which is the one on the left. I like to experiment with different size formats and for this image I wanted it to be a tall vertical piece. After I have decided on my thumbnail, I went into designing my frogs. This can take a little while, and after I have refined my designs I end up with my final sketches, as you can see on the right.
I add the original background from the thumbnail back into the canvas. I know I want the background to remain simple and the focus to be on the frogs. So I don’t worry about redrawing the background, but instead focus on getting the positioning of my frogs correct. On the right hand side Is a black and white study, which helps me figure out how everything will contrast as a whole.
At this stage I’m interested in blocking all the basic colours and applying a simple gradient to the water. I began testing out shading on the frog in the foreground.
Once I am happy with the base colours I complete the shading and highlights on all of the frogs and also add shading to the lily pads. I decide to add some additional shrubs in the background to add some extra depth and add some details to the moon.
Now the image is beginning to come together and I focus on the environment. I tend to skip around the image, never focusing on one thing for too long. I add texture to the water which makes it visually more interesting and detailed. I add foreground shrubs to add further depth to the image.
The moon reflection is too static, so I add ripples and then distort the reflection to show movement in the water. The light from the moon is strong and low, so I add some long shadows to everything.
The final step is just adding in little details to finish the image such as, fireflies and some sleeping Z’s.
How long have you been illustrating?
I graduated from university in 2010 so not very long! I only really started getting client work about 3 years ago and it’s taken off from there really.
What was the first piece of art where someone paid you for your work?
It was actually a little logo for a family friends small business
What made you decide to attend Plymouth University? Is that the one in the UK?
Well Plymouth University is only an hour away from where I have grown up and lived my whole life. The convenience was a definite plus but not the deciding factor. I knew I wanted to stay relatively close to the South West and I short listed a few universities. But Plymouth had a great course, and the course was moving to a brand new building. The facilities were also really good. Definitely, in the UK.
What did you study there?
I studied for a BA (Hons) in Illustration.
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
Absolutely! But before University my art education was unfortunately a bit generic. At high school we only ever studied fine art and the same went for college. So when I did a 1 year Art Foundation course before university, it was my first real introduction into Illustration. The illustration course at university really opened my eyes up to a wealth of styles and applications for my artwork. I learnt so much on my course and I couldn’t recommend going to an art college or university enough.
Did PU help you get work when you graduated?
No, but they spent a lot of time in our final year teaching us about the business side of illustration, and we even did a whole module on building websites and promotion and generally getting ready for the big wide world. I still keep in touch with my course tutors and was on campus a couple weeks ago, and it seems they now do help students look for work which I think is really helpful.
What type of job did you take after you graduated?
I came out of university pretty broke (unsurprisingly) and ended up working in a toy shop as a stop gap. I ended up working there for the next 4 years while I spent all my spare time improving my artwork and skills.
Do you do freelance illustration full time?
I have been freelancing full time for just over a year now, however, I am looking for something on the side- creative or otherwise- to keep a steady flow of money coming in. Once I’ve built more of a name for myself the dream would be to freelance full time.
Have you seen your work change since you left school?
The humour and tone of my work has remained the same, but my execution and process has changed dramatically. I fully transitioned from traditional media with occasional tweaking digitally, to learning software and creating everything digitally because I knew it would compliment my style, and I always wanted to become efficient at using the computer for my artwork.
When did you decide you start to illustrate for children?
When I was at university I always wanted to work in the animation industry on kids cartoons, and although that didn’t happen (well not yet anyway) my style has remained genial. So when I came out of university I changed my intentions and completely rebuilt my portfolio from the ground up, focusing on children’s illustration.
Have you ever illustrated a book?
Yes I have illustrated a couple books, and I am currently working on my third.
What did you do for McDonald’s? How did you get that contract?
My brief was to create 6 animal masks, 3 for girls and 3 for boys, 2 to be released each month, they were commissioned for all of the middle eastern chains. It was a quick turn around and lots of fun to work on! I got the job through my agency.
Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a picture book?
Yes I would like to do my own picture book one day, it’s just developing the right story for it. I’m always jotting ideas and narratives down in my books, it’s just finding the time to develop anything at the moment as I’m busy with client work. I get really excited working on other peoples stories, and I can’t wait for my next children’s book to come along!
What do you think was your biggest success?
I think my biggest success was the last book I illustrated for Oxford University Press.
Have you ever tried to do a wordless picture book?
I have never done a wordless picture book, although at university I spent a whole project developing an animatic, full of sequential storyboards. The whole thing was about a man who woke up to discover he had become a Rhino and has to get ready for work- a spin on the classic of Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’. I loved the challenge of telling a whole story without words, and hitting all the beats of the script and understanding the Rhino’s emotions and actions. You can still view this project on my website as I am still very proud of it.
Do you have an artist rep? If so, who and how did you connect?
Yes, I am represented by Lemonade Illustration Agency worldwide. After a lot of research I submitted through their online submission process.
What type of work did you do for Oxford University Press?
I created a book for a learning to read series for schools in Australia and New Zealand. The book was called ‘I Can Help’ , and followed an enthusiastic kid who wants to help his parents clean up the house.
Do you have a favorite medium you use?
Whenever I sketch my go to pencils are Prisma Colour Col-erase blue pencils. I just love sketching with that crayon type texture, and also you can go over you initial sketches with an ordinary pencil if you want. The process of colouring is always done digitally, with the occasional scanned textures to throw into the mix.
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
Yes I always start a project with reference materials, they will usually be a mix of references for different purposes such as, environments, lighting, style inspiration, and colours. I occasionally go out and take photos but it is much quicker and easier to search the internet.
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
All of my artwork is made in Photoshop. When I came out of university 6 years ago I could barely use the software, I could chop things together and that was literally it. I knew it was my biggest weak point, and I just knew that the style I was developing would flourish in the medium. So i taught myself from scratch, and eventually I had a portfolio full of digital work. I’m still finding shortcuts and new methods to this day.
Do you have and use a graphic tablet?
A couple of years ago I invested in a Wacom Intuos Pen and touch A5 tablet. Before I had the tablet I was doing all my digital work with a mouse! To everyone out there doing that, I know your pain! Get a small tablet! One day I would love to get a big Wacom Cintiq.
Do you do exhibits to show off your art?
I haven’t done any shows or galleries of my own yet, I think it would be hard to present a show with my current work, I would want to come up with a complete theme. I really want to get involved in gallery shows though.
Would you be willing to work with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?
Yes, I’m always ready to work on fun and exciting new projects.
Has any of your work appeared in magazines?
My first real illustration job was with a educational children’s magazine called Okido. And I very recently finished a job with Storytime magazine which is full of fables and well known stories.
Do you have a studio in your house?
Unfortunately I don’t have a separate room for a studio at the moment, but thankfully my bedroom is big enough for a working space!
Is there anything in your studio you couldn’t live without?
Oh man there are so many things I rely on! But if I had to narrow it down I would say: my iMac, light box and tablet.
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I think it’s really important to maintain some form of a daily routine if you work from home, else you’d never get anything done. I tend to get up about 8 or 9 and check for emails first thing and deal with those. If I have client work on the go it is much easier to keep your days productive, and I will usually shut myself away from the rest of the world to keep distractions to a minimum. The challenge though is to make sure you have a plan for the days or weeks when you have no work coming in. Whether I work on a personal piece or work on promoting myself, I try and do something each day. Obviously you need time off, and I’ll usually break up my day with an hour here and there to relax.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I have a couple exciting potential projects in the near future, which I can’t talk about yet.
Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?
The internet is the reason I have been able to make anything of myself as a working illustrator. The internet provides you with a global audience and an easy way to connect with people and businesses. I am on a few different blogs and websites and all relevant social media to increase my exposure. It’s really important to try and get your work out there to as many eyes as possible, you never know who’s looking! Places like Twitter and Tumblr have been great for connecting with other illustrators and creatives. It’s also how I found my agency and without them I wouldn’t be working on lots of great projects.
What are your career goals?
I want to work on more children’s books and really begin to develop a name for myself. I also want to push my work into as many different formats as possible, things like: packaging, games, cards, home ware etc. I want to see how far I can push myself as a children’s illustrator, and as long as I can continue illustrating for the rest of my life I will be complete.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a really fun ABC book!
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
Generally I sketch everything on loose paper, nothing fancy. If I’m developing a whole scene with characters and a background, I will figure out a composition through thumbnails first. Then I will design my character/s separate to the background and chop them together in photoshop and light box it all together if i need to. I always build up my colours and textures through lots and lots of layers.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
I think the main thing for any creative trying to succeed is being persistent. It’s probably pretty obvious but you have got to work really hard! You have to be willing to put the time to develop your skills and portfolio without any instant rewards. Also try not to take rejection and criticism personally, it’s just business.
Thank you James for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of James’ work, you can visit him at website at: http://www.jamesloram.com
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for James. I am sure he’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!