All Aboard for Jeremyville!

Renowned illustrator chats about his career and his ADC 95th Annual Awards Celebration art

The countdown to the ADC 95th Annual Awards Celebration continues! We are a week and away way from the very best in advertising, design, digital and motion being awarded the ever-elusive ADC Cube, at what promises to be a raucous party at the ADC Gallery.

As a continuation of its “Rare For A Reason” campaign for the Annual Awards Call for Entries, BBDO New York tapped internationally acclaimed illustrator and designer Jeremyville to create a similarly themed look for the Celebration promotion. Calling into the fact that the Awards Ceremony is returning to the Big Apple for the first time in three years, Jeremy gave us a very New York-esque poster that illustrates your chances of surviving being hit by a subway versus winning an ADC Cube.

We chatted with Jeremy about his impressive career, the campaign, as well as his own rarest achievement.

Let’s start at the beginning.Were you the kind of child whose parents covered the fridge with your artwork? Did you have a particularly creative upbringing?

Jeremyville_hires_lighterTo be honest, not really, there wasn’t much art or music in our home. Just a lot of TV sitcoms and cartoons, and I played with my toys a lot, like Lego and model aeroplanes and soldiers. I grew up at Bondi Beach in Sydney, in a street called Wonderland Avenue, so I spent time down by the promenade just hanging out. It was only after I entered University that I really started to explore art, and to develop an interest in art as a career. My mum was an amazing school teacher and she used to draw some characters for her students, so I think that’s where I got the drawing gene from.

What was it during your university days that piqued your artistic interests?

I studied Architecture and graduated from Sydney University, and while at university I was the editor of the student newspaper Honi Soit, where I started drawing cartoons to fill in the holes in the articles I had written.

One day, around age 19, I went into the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia’s leading newspaper) and showed them all the student newspapers I had designed, edited and drawn the covers for, and inside drawings, and that’s how I got my first art job in the real world, while I was still at university.

The widely read Herald newspaper then provided me a daily forum for agencies to notice my work, and I bought a cell phone and started my first studio at age 19. I’d be answering calls from Art Directors while I was at the drawing table at the Herald, and then going off to finish my Uni course in the afternoon. I was quite driven and hungry to succeed at an early age, because that’s all I really had. Just a pen, a singleminded desire to succeed, and a notion that in order to have a studio, I would need to learn all the aspects of running one, from accounting, to new business, taxes etc. I found out the art was just a very small part of the big picture of running a creative business.

“I was quite driven and hungry to succeed at an early age, because that’s all I really had. Just a pen, a singleminded desire to succeed…”

So I had a very circuitous road into art as a career, a lot of it by chance and accident. I certainly had no formal art training nor grandiose artistic aspirations as a child. Art as a career was just never on my radar.

I never had a formal job anywhere at an office or agency, I’ve always had only my art as a way of making a living, and the engine of my own studio as a way to monetise that art. I moved out of home at age 19, and have been working with my art as a career ever since. I still feel like that new kid just starting out, wondering where my next job will come from, but of course I have no reason to feel like that in a financial sense these days, but it’s just that I prefer to always have that ‘just starting out’ feeling. It keeps me on my toes, and always agile and open to new ideas. I’m still as driven to succeed now, as I was back then, but I now have more resources and a great studio to help make things happen.

The world of architecture is pretty different than a life filled with funny drawings. If studying architecture taught you anything that has helped you in your career, what would it be?

I instinctively knew that in order to make a career out of my ideas, I would need a mental framework and rigorous creative discipline, to actualise my concepts. I felt that art school would not teach me that, so I chose the applied art discipline of architecture to structure my thoughts. The key in architecture is to maintain the energy of the initial concept, while taking into account factors such as client feedback, engineering constraints, technological parameters, budgets etc, so to me this was great training for the discipline of art in a real world context, how to make art and ideas actually happen. I’m all about systems and problem solving. When you run your own studio, each day brings with it about 100 problems you have to make quick decisions on. Overt the years you build up a strong instinct for which ideas will work and which won’t.

When did a career illustration become “real” for you, a full-time pursuit? What were the biggest challenges for you in doing so?

I’d say once I saw my drawings in newsprint at the Herald. I would draw eight cartoons or illustrations in the morning, and that evening as I left the building, I’d pick up the printed paper from the presses on the ground floor. That gave me instant visual feedback on how the art and ideas worked on the printed page, if they were successful or not in conveying the idea, and this immediacy was my art education if you will. That’s why I still love the printed page, and especially newspapers; it connects me to my origins. I now publish my own newspaper Jeremyville RAW which I distribute on the streets of New York as my form of street art, and in homage to my days working as an editorial artist.

The biggest challenges would be the machinations of a studio, and what that means: Chasing money, times of few jobs, getting new business, personnel, studio rent. All the early challenges that in hindsight you are glad you had, but at the time seem daunting. Hindsight makes everything so much more poetic and charming. But definitely times were tough, starting out, as anyone on their own journey of self employment can attest to.

My lowest ebb was when I was around 22, around Christmas time. I was owed about $12,000 for a recent national ad campaign that I had illustrated, but the agency hadn’t yet paid me (180 days!)  and I had about $50 in the bank. I ate rice and soy sauce for that Christmas dinner, and I remember thinking: etch this moment into your brain as it will never be this bad again, but always remember it, so it drives you forward with the same passion and hunger to prove yourself, that you feel right now. I still often think of that moment. In my mind I’m still that kid trying to prove himself. One never truly makes it. It’s just a sequence of footsteps along the journey.

“In my mind I’m still that kid trying to prove himself. One never truly makes it. It’s just a sequence of footsteps along the journey.”

What was your first big break, the moment when success really started to snowball?

There was a national competition announced on all Australian media, to design a poster for the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House, which is our most famous building designed by Jorn Utzon. The prize was $10,000, a lot at that time at age 23. I thought I’d never have a hope of winning, (I remember hearing later that almost every great artist in Australia had entered, around 5,000 entries, and the judge was Ken Done, who was the master of painting the Opera House, and Australia’s most famous artist at the time). I created a design anyway, and almost didn’t send the entry off. I remember I was traveling, and I called my assistant to ask if she had sent it off yet, and she hadn’t, and it was the last day, 4pm. I said please drop it off personally, which she did, by 4.55pm , 5 minutes to spare. Well I got a call a week later that I had won, and that helped inject funds into my growing studio, and the national awareness of my art increased from there. I remember there was a big article on me in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that I drew for, and I was still drawing there at the time, so it was a shock to my fellow artists there that I had won this much anticipated competition.  I think that was the only competition I entered, I don’t really go in for awards or prizes, but I’m glad I did that time.

You made the move from Down Under to the Big Apple. Everybody has their perceptions about working in New York, but was there anything that caught you totally by surprise?

It was, and still is, a very pleasant shock as to how supportive and helpful people in the industry are. In Sydney it felt like a case of it’s every person for themselves, and people don’t really help the other person get up, as they’re your competition. The pie is a lot smaller there. But here, there is a sense that the pie is big enough for everyone (Big Apple pie?) and that if you help someone it generally comes back to help you in the end. It’s also much more business oriented, and you say what you think, and if it’s not the right project, just move on, because another one will come along soon enough. It’s definitely 100% the way I have always worked, and so I felt totally at home here, from the first hour of working here. It’s definitely my creative and cultural home.

We also have amazing New York-based agents in the fields of licensing, illustration and publishing, and I’ve had the great fortune of working with some of the best clients around: Kiehl’s, Converse, LeSportsac, colette in Paris, Disney, Adidas, Lyft, VW, Urban Outfitters, Mastercard, Uniqlo, and so many other great companies who’ve entrusted us to work with their brand. We only choose projects and brands that resonate with our own stance, and take on only about 10% of projects that are offered to us.

How would you describe your distinctive style? Do you ever try to break away from said style and do something very un-Jeremyvillesque?

It’s more a feeling than a visual style, but we do have a recognisable visual style. Each project we produce contains the DNA of our overall stance, but the medium can definitely change, from a small drawing, to a large scale installation sculptures, fashion collaborations, publishing, an animation series, public art, fine art museum work, murals, documentary work. We do not limit ourselves in any way. I’m open to any form of creative expression, and I love taking on projects I’ve never tried before. But everything inevitably comes from a place called Jeremyville.

Name one professional and one personal project that you’re particularly proud of.

Professionally: Jeremyville is the Kiehl’s holiday artist for 2016. Previous artists have been Jeff Koons (twice), KAWS, Kenny Scharf, so it’s a great annual project to be a part of, which a stellar alumni of artists. We designed and produced a large scale sculpture for the campaign, and that’s the first time the program has had that. It’s released internationally around October 2016. Kiehl’s are such an amazingly creative team to work with, an absolutely pleasurable project. Studio Jeremyville is made up of myself, Neil and Megan, and we three are now based in New York, and work on all of our various projects.

Personally: I’m pleased we had a solo exhibition and installation at colette in Paris last year. It has been an aim of mine to have a show at colette, and to have both windows for 2 weeks was very special. I’m also happy with the animation work we did for Disney XD, and the large scale sculpture work that is a part of my fine art career.

How did you come to illustrate BBDO New York’s promotions for the ADC 95th Annual Awards Celebration? 

I was approached by BBDO through our agents Bernstein & Andriulli , and we immediately wanted to be involved, because of the rich history of great work that ADC has showcased, and the illustrious ADC Hall of Fame, that is a source of inspiration to me. In fact one of the earliest collectors of my art back in Sydney was inducted into the ADC Hall of Fame in 2012: David Droga. He now has it hanging in his New York apartment, all these years later, and I saw the piece when I last visited his place. I created it when I was 20 years old, and I love that time back in Sydney, when New York was just a beautiful dream.

The final product for the ADC Awards Celebration turned out just as I imagined it, which is always the best result. It’s due to a team that recognises each other’s skills and let’s you do your own thing, with total faith in the end result. It’s easy to meddle, easy for everyone to have their input, but usually this only serves to dilute the final product. The best projects contain the essence of that singular vision, finessed but undiluted, and it takes a brave client with foresight to help make that a reality. And of course BBDO and ADC know this, and that’s why the project was such a pleasure. So THANK YOU!

“The final product for the ADC Awards Celebration turned out just as I imagined it, which is always the best result. It’s due to a team that recognises each other’s skills and let’s you do your own thing, with total faith in the end result. “

The campaign for the ADC Annual Awards is #RareForAReason, highlighting extremely rare accomplishments and occurrences and comparing them to the even rarer chance of winning an ADC Cube. What’s your own personal rarest possession or achievement?

My mistakes. They are my greatest education, a source of constant motivation to not repeat them, and I treasure them and remind myself of them daily.

The ADC 95th Annual Award Celebration takes place next Thursday, June 9, 7:00 PM–midnight at the ADC Gallery, 106 W. 29th St.