A London based graphic artist and illustrator with a background in writing computer code and graphic design, Jimmy Hay has developed a unique style that is hard to ignore. Based in Hackney, we spoke to Hay about some of his favourite spots in London and got to know a little more about him and his work.
“I’m a graphic artist and illustrator based in London and I graduated from art school in 2015. Since then I’ve been collaborating with friends and fellow creative folks on different projects and spending a lot of time working on my personal and commercial illustration. I used to be a front end web coder, working mostly for advertising and graphic design agencies. I ended up sharing a studio with a nice bunch of illustrators and designers and decided I didn’t want to do the coding anymore and made the decision to go back to university and study graphic design. When I was a kid I didn’t really have that much interest in drawing, and I know that’s not how it usually is with illustrators. When I was young, I just loved playing computer games and eating sweets. I did my first degree in Brighton in multimedia and digital systems and this led me into my career in web programming. It was through this that my interest in art and design came about. I found that in my previous job the things I found most interesting were usually to do with illustration and graphics and I had a really strong urge to learn how to draw. I had wanted to go to art school for about eight years before I eventually did it.”
Hay’s body of work immediately caught our eye when we first stumbled upon his Instagram. From his signature dog character to his unique way of using big, bold shapes in his human figures, we delved deeper into the mind behind these illustrations. “I think a big part of my illustrative style has come about as a reaction to having spent a long time writing computer codes. When I went back to do my graphic design degree, I really wanted a break from computer screens so I had this big urge to use anything analog in my work. My tutors would often ask why I never used the computer and scanned my drawings in. The dog character came about from just experimenting with drawing really. At the time I was doing some comic strips and I was trying to figure out a way to give them more life. I think people always wonder what it would be like to live as a dog or a different animal. Putting animals in human situations and anthropomorphising them seems to create new ways to see a story.
"My style is something that has slowly developed and I think it’s quite a natural process that you can’t rush too much. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you end up getting really stressed out and feeling anxious about everything."
I feel like I still have some way to go but it’s beginning to feel somewhat natural these days. I used to work in a much more spontaneous way, just drawing whatever came into my head, but nowadays I spend a lot more time thinking before I draw anything. Usually, I read through a brief and then try and not think about it for a while, maybe a day or two (time permitting). When I come back to it, I will do some research or reading to try and give myself some more ideas. This usually then starts to give me some visual ideas which I can then sketch out. Once I start to sketch things out, it becomes a lot clearer how my ideas are communicating. Once I am happy with my sketches I will scan them up and then work them up on the computer in Photoshop or Illustrator. My style is something that has slowly developed and I think it’s quite a natural process that you can’t rush too much. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you end up getting really stressed out and feeling anxious about everything."
London is probably one of the best cities out there in terms of its creative industries and it’s always such a pleasure to discover talents like Hay and many more doing fantastic art. “London, London, London, It’s a weird old place that’s for sure. I’d say the design and creative community is possibly one of the best in the world, especially around where I live in Hackney. There’s just so much going on all the time and I’m often surprised to find that ‘this’ person or ‘that’ person lives just down the road. I think that’s definitely something I take for granted. Saying that, all the pressures of sky high living costs and living in a heavily polluted 24 hours city can start to grind you down. I think the constant reminder of having to earn enough money to survive makes me focus my work on trying to be more commercial and how I can get commissions and such. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing at this stage. There is a park at the end of my road called Millfields that leads onto the canal where you can go and see the hippies living in boats. You can walk all the way along there to Hackney Wick and the Olympic Park, and it’s great when I need to clear my head. I also really love the Barbican. The whole place is like an architectural work of art. They also have great exhibitions and screenings going on there. Sometimes I go just to hang out and sit around, it’s especially nice when the sun is out and you can sit by the fountains. One of my favourite places to eat is Fish House in Victoria Park. It’s a really normal place and some of my friends think I’m weird cause I go there so much. They pretty much only serve fish and chips but they do it really well and the curry sauce there is so good. I started playing the saxophone about a year ago so I try to spend some time doing that. I listen to a lot of jazz too, so I find when I’ve been listening to music it makes me wanna practise, and when I’m not making art I’m usually seeing friends and family. I also like to get out of London as often as I can. I live quite close to Epping forest, which is a great place to go and feel completely separated from the city."
So what inspires Hay? “The main ones would be Hockney, Matisse and Keith Haring. I love Hockney for his vibrancy and colours and the boldness that he has. He always surprises me. Matisse for the life in his work and the colour, and Haring for his philosophy. I’m really into the way that all of Haring’s work is grounded in his life’s philosophy and thinking. If you read his diaries you can get a really good understanding about how he saw the world and the art he made. I haven’t had so much time recently to go to many exhibitions but the Hockney exhibition at Tate was really awesome. Definitely worth the £16."
“My best piece of advise would be a piece of advise that I didn’t listen to. I was told by tutors and people giving talks that you should try as many things as you can and enter all the competitions and collaborate with whoever and try everything. I wish I had entered more competitions whilst I was studying. I mean, even if you don’t win or make the final selection, it doesn’t matter because you will have learnt so much during the process and you will end up with a piece of work at the end of it. It basically means you get to do another brief and get some valuable feedback too.”