In conversation with award-winning illustrator, designer and animator Tom Jennings

London-based illustrator Tom Jennings draws creative fuel from urban walks, picturesque views, harmonious melodies, and delightful chance encounters. With an extensive background in artistic expression, he has skilfully contributed his talents to a diverse range of projects.

Why did you decide to take up your creative trade?

I’ve always loved drawing so there was never really any doubt that I wanted to do something creative for a living. At foundation, I was convinced I would either do fine art or graphic design, but the illustration module convinced me that illustration was the right route for me. I’ve worked for many years in graphic design and interactive, including animation and games which encompass a lot of my interests, but illustration, drawing, and imagine-making have always been the core of my work.


How do you get past creative blocks?

Long walks, playing guitar and synthesisers, sketchbooks on train journeys. Getting a piece of paper and making marks without any particular intention can spark something unexpected.


What is your creative process?

Once I’ve started on a project, ideas tend to bounce around in my mind regardless of what I’m doing, so getting on with any unrelated tasks gives thoughts time to percolate. Lots of scribbly drawings on envelopes and in sketchbooks. Once something interesting starts to take shape, I’ll start to make more refined images to communicate the ideas more clearly to send to clients and start the conversation of which ideas to take further.


Where do you look for inspiration?

I have a nice collection of books about artists I admire, like Milton Glaser, Saul Steinberg, Lorenzo Mattotti, David Gentleman and Raymond Briggs, so I’ll often look through those to give me a bit of appetite to get to work. London is full of inspiring things; I like to go on walks and visit galleries, and go to live music gigs.


What are you reading or listening to right now?

I’m reading The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy and Drawing is Thinking by Milton Glaser. I’m listening to the audiobook of City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. I listen to all kinds of music as well, while I work it tends to be more ambient, instrumental stuff. I like Brian Eno a lot, and recently I’ve been listening to Talk Talk, Nick Drake and Low.


What does your typical day involve?

I like to do a bit of drawing to start the day, something unrelated to projects, just for fun. Then I’ll get on with any emails or project correspondence before getting on with whatever work I need to get done. My projects are very varied, which I love, so every day is a bit different. At the moment I’m working on images for an animation so I need to work through some client feedback and update storyboards for the next round of feedback, but tomorrow will be different.


What has been your favourite project to date and why?

I have so many favourites, it’s hard to choose! I’ve been really enjoying working with One Aldwych hotel, creating branding illustrations for various aspects of their services, this has been an ongoing project for quite a while. I loved doing the illustrations for Jennifer Saunders’ autobiography. Recently I made some work for Reiss’ children’s clothing line which has been really fun and great to see my work printed clothes. I’ve also had some drawings printed onto chocolates recently which is really great as well.


How do you switch off?

Cooking, spending time with my family, playing instruments and hanging out with friends.


Who inspires you?

My daughter Elda is a constant source of inspiration, she’s 7 now and fill of surprises. My parents have been very inspiring to me, my dad was an illustrator and graphic designer, and my mum is an artist, so they have been a big influence on me. I have lots of creative friends who are making amazing work as well which is a big inspiration.


A big thank you to Tom Jennings for contributing to our series of creative conversations with industry experts.

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