Artist Spotlight: Jo Breese
How did you first get into illustration?
Everyone is into illustration at the beginning, but as people grow up, the drawing practice often tends to stop. My mum is an illustrator and potter, her brother is a games designer, their mother was a typesetter and painter, and their father was a calligrapher and sign painter. My evenings and weekends growing up often involved drawing; exploring my mum’s first iMac G3; joining her on trips to paint murals in houses and schools, and scanning hundreds of pages of line work (sometimes helping to add colour digitally, or with watercolours). I was raised in an environment where adults would draw every day. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that this wasn’t normal for everyone. I’ve come from a line of multidisciplinary creative people and, rather than being shown a particular skill-set or toolkit, it’s more accurate to say that I have been taught a way of seeing and thinking in an extremely visual capacity. All that being said – anyone, with any background, can start drawing at any age.
How did Vector That Fox come around?
Whilst studying at uni (Sheffield Hallam – where I now teach two days a week on the illustration course), I was starting to freelance and create my own illustrated products. The problem I had was that my name seemed boring and forgettable to me. I’ve heard it all my life, and I knew that I, personally, wouldn’t be interested in buying ‘t-shirts and pins by Jo Breese’, for example. I needed a brand that I could use to umbrella all of the things I was doing. ‘Vector That Fox’ was actually just a note on my phone’s to-do list for months, a prompt to finish off a fox drawing I’d started. It pointed to the creative world, but also my love of the natural world, and eventually it stuck as a name.
Where do you tend to find inspiration?
The creative and natural worlds! Living, dead and extinct animals and plants are always fun to draw. I have a growing collection of taxidermy and animal skulls, which seems spooky to some, but as an illustrator it’s the best way to get close to good reference without it biting or running away! It often depends on who I’m working for, and what the brief is, though.
In terms of inspiration from other artists, I’ll always give a shout out to the flawless contemporary illustrator Sr Salme, the dinosaur masters William Stout, Doug Henderson and Ricardo Delgado, and incredible painter of lots of stunning plants and animals, Teagan White.
How would you describe your style?
I aim for my work to look as technically, anatomically correct as possible, and yet as far away from photo-realistic as it can be. Does that make sense? If what you want to show already exists as a photograph, or can be replaced by one – then what’s the point of it? I like to think that by use of intuitive line work and levels of detail, experimental colours and tone then it can become something different.
What accomplishments are you particularly proud of so far?
One of my first ever jobs actually came when I was a student, and was for some spot illustrations for the American publication of the Wall Street Journal. I still remember the feeling of my head falling off whilst reading the proposal email. Hitting over 1000 sales on my Etsy shop was also very cool. I’ve sold illustrated clothing, prints and accessories to every continent except Antarctica on there now (come on, penguins – I need you). I guess when any of my work leaves my little home studio and ends up somewhere I’d never anticipate that’s when I get most excited! A really dorky one, but the aforementioned legend, Sr Salme, following my Instagram account really made me feel like a good illustrator. I’m still starstruck. And, of course, I’m super proud of being asked if I wanted a feature in Exposed!