Whenever I look through an illustrator’s portfolio, I’m always pleased to find process images; I love seeing how something comes to life, how an idea that starts as a sketch transforms into a fully fledged image. That’s why paging through the portfolio of illustrator Jon Jones is a complete joy. What begins as a skeletal pencil drawing later explodes in color and texture—it’s like watching a day dream become real.
“I think that I put up sketches and process pictures because that’s what I would want to see,” explains the South African illustrator. “The most enjoyable films that I’ve watched or music that I’ve listened to have been enjoyable because of behind-the-scenes footage,” he continues. “When you see a process unfold, you get to ‘see’ the person who makes something more clearly.”
Jones’ own process says a lot who he is an illustrator and thinker. An avid traveller, he’s lived in Portland, San Francisco, Malden, Guatemala, and now, after months of exploring Asia, he’s set up in Taiwan, where he lives next to a nature reserve. That Jones travels so much means that he only ever sketches with pencil and a notebook.
“I had to find a way to take my work with me without having to abandon everything every time I moved, so I bought a laptop, the cheapest Wacom, and taught myself to use Photoshop,” he recalls. Jones first sketches on paper, then, with no room for watercolors or colored pencils in his travel bag, he does the rest of his work onscreen. That’s why the process pictures jump right from pencil sketch to digital rendering.
“I still find drawing on the computer a little unnatural. Pen to paper is like an extension of my mind, things can just flow.”
Travelling, wandering, and finding new corners of the world is also crucial to Jones’ illustrations, and his day-to-day experiences permeate his imagery. You can see a wandering mind and wondering self in the scenes he depicts, from swirling Russian palaces to neat American lawns. “Being an outsider has given me such a fresh perspective on life, and made me reconsider things that I previously never really gave a thought about,” Jones explains.
Recently, he’s become fascinated by bicycle riders that hold umbrellas over their heads as they’re on the go, a common sight in Taipei, and he’s also become interested in illustrating the many kinds of CCTV cameras he spots every day.
“I also just love depicting the people that I see around me. Sometimes I play a game and make up stories about passersby. I guess that’s what I want my drawings to do really, to tell a story.”
In addition to his surroundings, designers from the past and present continue to influence the forms and colors that Jones uses to illustrate his worlds. The work of Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast is of continual interest to him, as are the brilliant colors of Heinz Edelman and the playful, rounded shapes of contemporary South Africa-based Studio Muti.
In Jones’ trees and flora you can also see a hint of Matisse, and his interest in nature is rooted in his appreciation of the words of Henry Rousseau. When I look at the whimsical, elongated body shapes and boxy cars of Jones’ work, I think of Jacques Tati’s film posters and hilarious cartoons from the ’60s. “That’s exactly the feeling I want to give,” Jones confirms. “A little nostalgia and a lot of fun, using simple, basic shapes.”
Jones’ work has appeared in ad campaigns and the pages of Wired magazine, but his most recent work is a Risograph calendar called Windows into the Future, a collaborative project that he designed and illustrated with his studio partners in Taipei as part of a press they’ve enigmatically named 0.00. Each of Jones’ calendar images attests to the varied set of visual references he’s drawn to: there’s an American milk carton, a traditional Roman Catholic cardinal, playful Modern art, and old, imposing stone statues from Taiwan. The calendar almost reads like a travelogue.
“I haven’t been to Germany, Sweden, or Norway yet,” muses Jones, who has—until recently—been drawn to warmer climates. “It’s cold there, but beautiful by the sound of it. It would be a real treasure trove for me I’m sure.” We’ll be checking out his portfolio in the coming months to see if he lands there next.