The Cosmic Mischief of Jake Reeves

Brooklyn-based illustrator is NOT an "ink-spewing spectacle"

ADC’s Illustration Month is winding down along with the month of February, but we still have lots of incredibly talented ADC Members to showcase to the world! This has been a very successful feature, and we are happy to show not just the work of illustrator ADC Members, but also the stories behind their careers.

Next up: a Brooklyn-based ADC Member who found a community of illustrators at a young age and never looked back.


Jake_HeadshotJAKE REEVES
Brooklyn, NY



Just about every kid can draw, but not every kid is particularly gifted at it. Where did your childhood artistic inclinations come from?

My family was always supportive of my art. My mom signed me up for community art classes when I was really young and I kept going on my own into high school. There were definitely some people who thought I should be a lawyer and to be honest, I didn’t really know that I wanted to pursue a career in the arts until I started looking at universities you know? At first I checked out state and liberal arts colleges with strong art programs because I wanted some options, but I fell in love with Rhode Island School of Design. In the end I received offers from a few schools but I only actually applied to RISD. My guidance councilor wanted to kill me.

When did you discover that “Hey, this could actually be a career”?

Growing up, my dad always pushed me to figure out how to turn my passions and interests into a living. That may sound a bit cold, but I think that push has been one of the driving factors for the start of my career. I saw that illustration was a real career path when I found the online forum Emptees, which has sadly gone offline. It was a really great community where amateur and professional illustrators got together to discuss and critique t-shirt art – most of the designs were for bands or would end up on Threadless. Finding that community really helped me lock down the basics of drawing, design and Photoshop at a young age. I was posting designs alongside working professionals and receiving really constructive feedback from them when I was like 14, which looking back was unreal.

How would you describe your illustrative style? Do you fight against having a particular style, or do you embrace your style as your “brand”?

An art director from a recent gig I had kept calling me “Dr. Seuss”; I know he was joking around but I liked that comparison! Ultimately I want to make work that can be equally comfortable on a gallery wall, in an animation or in the pages of a magazine. Right now I think my voice is stronger than my style, which is still growing and developing, but in general my work is a surreal world fueled by cosmic mischief.

“I want to make work that can be equally comfortable on a gallery wall, in an animation or in the pages of a magazine.”

Walk us through your usual creative process.

Usually I start with phrases and keywords from the article or inspired by the theme to generate some mental imagery to thumbnail from. I am in love with traditional ink drawing so that is the one constant in my illustrations. I try to keep as much of my process as traditional as possible, so I’ll grab a few new sheets of paper to make washes, textures or shading to digitally layer on top of my line art. Kind of like I am building a coloring book for myself to play with in Photoshop!

Tools of the trade: do you have any specific pens, pencils or other instruments that you swear by?

It took a while to find an ink that I swear by, but Dr. PH Martin’s Black Star Ink is awesome. It’s the most consistent black I’ve used and I haven’t had problems with it bleeding. The one extremely special tool I have is a Staedtler Mars lead holder that my Aunt Kim got me for my eighth birthday. Back then I thought it was the fanciest thing in the world and I was honestly scared to use it. But even 15 years later I still use it for the sketch stages of almost every drawing. I never travel with it because I kind of freak out when I don’t know where it is!

What is the most challenging thing about a career in illustration?

It’s the practical things. It’s a really tough career to get started. No one tells you in school how many postcards and emails you have to send out before you get a commission. Even then a month or two ago I received a super harsh email back from an art director I really wanted to work for. But you know, maybe he was in a bad mood; gotta just take that in stride.

“It’s a really tough career to get started. No one tells you in school how many postcards and emails you have to send out before you get a commission.”

Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?

Definitely my first illustration series for The New York Times for Minh Uong. The whole thing was a really fast turnaround; he called me at 10 PM on a Wednesday night, literally an hour after I sent him my portfolio. He needed something by Friday afternoon. But the concept was right up my alley and he was awesome to work with! That job to me said, “okay dude, you just had your work printed in the most widely circulated newspaper in the world. You can do this!”

Cocktail party talk: how do you describe what you do to someone who isn’t in a creative field, and what’s the typical response you get from them?

I try to talk about my clients a bit first. I guess I’m scared they won’t take me seriously, so I think that helps ground the conversation. Then I’ll show them my projects and talk about my ideas and goals. But I always try to make sure it’s not just a one sided conversation about me and my art, I’m a person, not some ink-spewing spectacle!

Where do you seek out creative inspiration?

When I was growing up we lived in the forest pretty far from other kids, so my sister and I spent a lot of time creating worlds and adventures of our own. That attitude has stuck with me my whole life. To me it really comes down to imagination, being able to draw inspiration from anything and everything.

Which professional illustrators do you look up to?

Hardly a fair question, there are just so many! Above all I dig the work being made by my friends and classmates from RISD, we had a really awesome class quite a few of us have already been featured in this blog. To name a few others.. James Jean just makes the coolest stuff. JooHee Yoon is super awesome, I took a silkscreen class with her and she had a ton of good advice to give and her work is amazing. Victo Ngai for her image making, her illustrations continue to amaze me with their complexity of design and narrative. Chris Buzelli is also a huge inspiration, I’ve had plenty of good teachers but he really got us to think about our concepts and treat every assignment like a step in our life’s work.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being an illustrator?

My dad always told me, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” He’s kind of right, I definitely think it’s work and some people may not consider it a real job but what does that mean anyways?

Illustration Month continues throughout January and February, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!