5 Mins, Illustration 4 years ago

Living in Japan and Disney as a client with James Gilleard.

James Gilleard is originally a UK resident now based in Japan. With influences coming from 1950′s cartoons, vintage film posters and retro character art his work has taken on a whole new slant, and we love it at CAF.

Illustration style can take you anywhere, but how then does someone like James Gilleard end up in Japan? We asked him exactly that question, and lots more. He kindly took time out of his day to answer them and here’s what he said…

Could you give us 3 tips that you’d say have got you to where you are today?

Hard work! In such a saturated and competitive industry I genuinely think that hard work and putting in long hours can make a big difference.

Perseverance is important.

A career in illustration can have it’s highs and lows. But it is important to not give up. I personally like to set long term goals, which keeps me motivated. Some big career goals and some smaller that grow.

Exploration and experimentation.

With illustration style that is incredibly important for me to stay interested. This can be difficult with commercial work or with your agents. As the two tend to have you down as doing a certain thing.

My advice would be, if possible, take a period of time off every year to develop the ideas you’ve had. Maybe you can dip in and out of this in spare time. But I found it better to take1 month off at the end of last year to fully get into it.

James Gilleard Illustration Style Japan

Why Illustration? What excites you about it?

I actually started off as an animator, working in small production companies and games studios. it wasn’t until 2011 that I started to focus properly on illustration with a view to getting an agent.

All mediums that can tell stories through images interest me immensely. Be it pure animation or illustration or others like graphics novels or games and virtual reality.

For me it is about the emotional response that these can provoke in the viewer.

Animation, games and virtual reality are a little more interesting for me as they combine animation with music and sound effects. The combination of which can be really moving.

Give us an idea of your average day, how you work and how do you get your creative ideas done?

Depending on what time I go to bed I usually get up early and try to do a personal image for an hour or so. Then breakfast and into the commercial work.

At the moment I’m working on 3 projects throughout the day. The first is creating assets for an animation, (at this stage stylesheets and characters) which I try to get done for early afternoon and prepare for a Skype call at 7pm. (Japan time from Sweden when my work has been reviewed).

Before that though I’m working on some images for a website which I work on until dinnertime and then lastly some images for a book until bedtime!

Usually I will have one or two projects running at the same time and so dedicate full days to those and alternate throughout the week.

As I’m in Japan I’m ahead of most clients by nearly a full working day which is really helpful as when they wake up the work is delivered so it makes turnarounds much quicker.

James Gilleard Illustration Inspiration JapanJames Gilleard Illustration Inspiration Japan

How do you attract new work?

Usually through posting online or through my illustration agent Folio.

I find when I post a new project on Behance or the other social sites that brings enquiries. Disney got in touch with me about illustrating a children’s book for them as they had seen my work on DevientArt of all places. Other times someone has gone directly to Folio and asked my availability or interest.

How do you get illustration style inspiration and how do you form new ideas?

Last year I moved to Japan which was hugely inspirational.

At the same time I took a month off to focus on some illustration style development. I wasn’t getting the opportunity to do that with commercial work. Other than that I just head outside. Often into the countryside, or a museum, or just for lunch with my wife.

I’m new to Japan so everything is still exciting for me.

I love going to bookshops and discovering new artists, architects or photographers. Second hand toy shops here are amazing too – full of pristine vintage toys – robots, cars and action figures are favourites. If I take my phone out I’m taking photos of all these.James Gilleard Illustration Inspiration JapanJames Gilleard Illustration Inspiration JapanJames Gilleard Illustration Inspiration Japan

How long have you been an Illustrator and would you say it’s your career?

Yeah it’s definitely my career, just hope it can last!

About 5 years seriously as an illustrator. Before that I worked in games and apps, creating cartoony illustration and animation for children apps and iPad storybooks.

I graduated in 2005 with an illustration/animation degree but it was kind of at the time when the digital technology was kicking off. So I spent a year or two getting to grips with that before entering the industry properly.

James Gilleard Illustration Inspiration Japan

What’s the best advice would you give to someone starting out?

In the beginning stages I would say that is important to consider yourself a professional and not a ‘beginner’.

Don’t take jobs that don’t pay or pay incredibly badly.

Even though it is tempting to start with, you should instead create personal work and get that out there.


Check out more of James's work on his site



I'm co-founder of Crazy Animal Face, host of the CAF Podcast, and compere of our CAF events. My views are my own.

Read more of posts