Ever seen a bear in red pants taking a bath, or a badger in a superhero outfit? No? Well then you obviously haven’t checked out Jimbob Art, a little ceramic shop just off of Brick Lane. The space is filled with plates, stackable coffee cups, beer tankards and more, all emblazoned with comical animal characters and designed by James Ward, who has agreed to talk to us today about his creations.
How did you get into ceramics?
I studied Natural History and Scientific Illustration – which is basically just drawing animals for biological textbooks. I wasn't ready to do a full degree so I did an illustration course at Westminster. After that, I kind of struggled to get commission work so after a year and a half I started to look for a way of putting my work onto a product to sell at markets. I signed up to a market in Hackney Wick and started drawing on plates to sell as little one-offs. They carried on selling and I carried on making them.
You have a series of characters that keep popping up. Tell us about them.
I definitely tried to experiment with lots of different characters at the time but the main ones – the bear, the fox, the wolf – tended to stick. I took them to markets, got feedback and got a feel for which to keep. My prerequisite is “The hairier the better.”
Do you have a favourite and why do you draw animals?
Bears. They always look so proud but can be made to look quite silly when put in pants or drag or whatever. My true love is for pen drawing with really fine architects’ pens. Animals and hair go really well with pen drawings. I’ve never been able to draw humans because they’re not hairy enough. I’ve also just always loved animals.
Why do you dress your hairy creatures in clothes?
There’s no deep psychological reason behind it. I like the idea that you can do rather ambiguous things with them as if they’re communicating with you and taking part in your life as well. For example, sitting on the couch, eating cake in your pants may be something I do, but it would be nice to think that all animals could do that.
Take us through your production process.
For the first two years, every single plate was hand-painted. It became the least creative thing I’ve ever done. So I outsourced to a small company in Stoke-on-Trent. They do everything on bone china with digital lithograph printing but I’m still quite precious about it looking hand-painted. It does also mean that now the plates are dishwasher safe, where as before they were scratchable and only hand-wash with care.
I still do a lot of hand-drawn stuff for markets and bespoke pieces. Every time I try out a new design I hand-draw it roughly three to six times to try it out. Until you see the images in 3D and keep the ceramics in the studio for two or three weeks, you can’t really get a feel for them.
Where can our readers buy your products apart from in your shop on Cheshire Street?
I sell the products all over the world but in the UK, my main stockers are Liberty, Southbank Centre, Wolf & Badger, and then little boutiques.
What can we expect from Jimbob Art in the future?
I’m doing a joint exhibition with the two other guys who share my shop space for the London Design Festival in September called ‘Bears, Chairs and Feathered wares’. We are hopefully going to collaborate on pieces that incorporate the three disciplines: furniture making, paper birds, and my ceramics.
The shop has been here from 7 months so we’re really looking forward to our first Christmas here. Next year we will probably look to expand, either with another shop, or maybe a brewery (laughs). One of the guys I works with wants to brew beer, which would work very well with the beer tankards and the bears – Jimbob Beer – but we don’t know.
Vicky Ilankovan – Lifestyle Editor