In this week’s ‘Spotlight’ interview, I’m interviewing friend-of-the-bands but enemy-of-the-worms, Jemma Treweek. Jemma has had a varied and successful career as an illustrator, fashion designer and screenprinter. A busy mum of young twins, Jemma manages her time as mother and artist with skill, resulting in an impressive portfolio of clients! Plus she has (without doubt) the most interesting answer to the ‘ideal job if you weren’t an artist?’ question of all my Spotlight interviewees!
Your biography is very interesting! “My work is inspired by the smell of the woods at night. I love Winter, I hate worms”. Worms are blind and wriggly and small….some (i.e. me) might think them rather sweet. Why do you hate them? Do you think painting some in Winter woodland setting might help?
Ha! Yes worms – they are evil pink beings of doom. I was chased by a boy once with a worm (this is not Freudian; it was an actual worm and I was 8 years old). I think that is where the fear of them came from, but it definitely gets worse as I get older. I hate it when it rains and you get really long ones coming out from their burrows. I know also that they are supposedly ‘good’ for the earth etc, but they are just too pink and slimy and segmented and they should not be allowed! Painting them in a winter woodland setting would definitely not help! Their sheer worminess would taint my love of winter and that would be bad.
How did you become an artist? What training did you have and what (if there is anything in particular) inspired you to become one?
I just love drawing, I always have. I was always interested in how things looked, and colour, how things were made and what they were made from.
I took the usual route from Art ‘A’- Level to an art foundation, then did a degree in Fashion Design, and ran my own fashion label for 6 years, and from that did lots of fabric design work and fashion illustration. I never formally trained in illustration, but have fantasies of going back and doing an MA sometime in the future.
Much of your work is screenprinted and you indicate that you ‘like the mess’! Can you elaborate on the process a little for those less in the know?
There came a time about five years ago, when I just had to get away from my computer. I had been getting loads of digital design work and I really wanted to get my hands dirty again and thought I would learn screenprinting. I just instantly fell madly love with it. You basically burn your design onto a screen (much like a photographic process) and then push ink through the screen onto paper to create the design. You can build up the layers of colour and use different screens to create something very complicated, or achieve really striking effects with one or two colours. It gets quite messy and also has the potential to screw up quite badly half way through! I like it in the fact that I am never really sure how it will turn out. I tend to get a lot of really fortunate mistakes. It’s a craft that you have to learn and perfect your technique. There are many amazing screenprinters out there, who inspire me every day.
Your gig posters are very striking and different from the usual gig posters I see plastered around Brighton & Hove! Do the bands and venues contact you or do you advertise or network at various gigs?
It’s a mixture of both really; the gig poster scene is growing rapidly in the UK and is massive in the US. Bands sometimes get in touch with me, or a friend of a friend will have seen my work and recommend me to someone.
I am in a group of printers and poster makers called BRAG (Brighton Rock Artists Group – www.bragart.co.uk), so some work will come through people who have heard about the group and what we are trying to do (make amazing posters and reinstall the tradition of handcrafted, collectable, promotional works of art). Sometimes bands will commission a set of posters for a tour, using a different artist to produce a poster for each night of the tour and sometimes a commission will come from a venue or record label.
Do bands requiring your work usually have a good idea of what they want or are you free to use your imagination based on what you know of the band?
Most bands who are into posters are pretty keen to give artists a free rein to interpret the music however they see fit. Sometimes I get random requests like ‘we need a unicorn in it’, or some such madness, which I am happy to accommodate. The more bizarre the better! Usually dealing with other creative types is no problem whatsoever; it’s when managers get involved that it usually goes a bit pear-shaped!
Do you get a lot of free gig tickets as a result?
I don’t go out as often as I used to due to getting a bit older and having two small children, but an added bonus of making gig posters is definitely a good guest list.
Your list of clients for your illustrations is impressive! (Vogue, The Guardian, ID Magazine amongst others). Did your illustration work come first? How did you get into this and how does it compare to working on a gig poster?
My illustration work and design work has appeared in quite a few magazines. Mostly that work has come through having had a fashion business for years; those magazines feature clothing designs and fashion illustrations. I was lucky enough to sell designs to other companies also, so quite often will see a fabric design of mine feature under another label’s name. It’s totally different to working on a gig poster in that my illustration work is usually for a specific purpose (for example, a client will say ‘we want you to draw a clock’, to illustrate a written article about being late): when I am doing a gig poster I usually have a totally free rein to do as I please.
When working on an illustration, how long does the process usually take from idea to fruition of the piece? Are there any downsides to illustration?
It can vary; anything from a day to two weeks, depending on how complicated the commission is. I usually have a hard time trying to restrain myself from including too much in my work, as sometimes it is the simplest ideas that work the best.
I am a great one for chucking it all in a pot to see what comes out at the end and am never really sure what will happen in the course of illustrating. I have never been able to envisage my final design before I get to it; I like it when the unexpected happens during the course of a job. And no downsides to illustration at all for me – I totally totally love doing it!
You’re a mother to twins – am I right? How on earth do you find the time to produce such lovely art and be a mother to twins too?
Yea twins! They are six years old and totally, wonderfully exhausting. I am usually just really, really busy. At the risk of sounding soppy and rubbish, they have totally changed me and I think they have given me a greater insight into life, love, anger, frustration and patience! I feel their influence in everything, their joy for life and their rawness. All that ‘pram in the hall being the death of creativity’ is a lot of rubbish in my boo You do appreciate your creative time a lot more and I suppose I don’t get to go out as much as I used to; hangovers and tiny children are not a good mix.
Is there anyone (living or dead) who has inspired you in your artistic style? If so, who, who, who?
Tons of people! (I could go on for pages here, but will restrain myself). I am fascinated by Hans Holbein the younger. His pencil sketches of the women at court in the 1530’s are just beautiful and expressive, but also have a slightly strange, unsettling quality to them. He manages to achieve a sense of the person with just paper and pencils (and talent!). He was also a printmaker; his ‘Dance Of Death’ woodcuts are so ahead of their time and amazingly detailed. Also from around this time another artist, Lucas Cranach, was producing amazing portraits which still astound in their utter weirdness – and again marvellous woodcuts. I collect vintage children’s books illustrated by artists in the 60’s and 70’s when there was a huge movement in children’s illustration towards the weird, spooky and colourful.
I particularly love the works of Brian Wildesmith and Mirko Hanak. I also love Viktor Pivovarov who was was one of the leading artists of the Moscow Conceptualist artistic movement of the 1960s and 1970s and who illustrated over 50 children’s books. Loads of comic artists inspire me; Simon Bisley; the genius that is Jamie Hewlet and Ashley Wood to name but a few.
I find the works produced during the The Federal Art Project in the USA really interesting and inspirational. Many many great illustrators and artists were producing anarchic, underground, political work and it was all funded by the American government. (Find out more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Art_Project).
Other current poster artists and illustrators inspire me all the time; here is a list of a few of the artist’s work I love and whose techniques I obssess over:
Daniel Danger at
If you hadn’t become an artist, what career do you think you’d have found yourself in?
My ideal other job would be a curator of a fashion and costume museum in space. A 5-star space museum where you could hire the rooms and costumes for parties. You could dress as Joan Of Arc, whilst watching a band, in a room that looks as though you are in the Marquee circa 1976!
Do you have any advice for artists struggling to get their work recognised or who are yet to start getting any commissions for their art?
As far as illustration work is concerned, get a good professional portfolio together and find out who the people are in your field that you need to contact – then hassle them! Think about getting an agent, as they can get you a lot of work for a percentage of your fee. If you are into gig posters, try to deal with bands directly. Also be prepared to branch out and take a risk.
What is your favourite piece (or couple of pieces!) that you’ve produced so far and why?
The next one is always my favourite, as I tend not to be satisfied with anything that I do and am constantly thinking it could get better!
I like the poster I did for Fat Cat records, as it was an amazing line up and a great night. I also like the colours of the Kylesa and Baroness poster; they turned out really well in print.
What is the best aspect of your job?
Getting to meet other creative people, musicians and general misfits. Getting to do loads of painting and drawing – and I can also justify buying loads of art books for ‘research’ purposes!
I’d like to sincerely thank Jemma for taking time out of her hectic schedule to talk to me about her work, hangovers, worms and screenprinting. A very interesting read! You can see more of her beautiful illustrations and posters on her website: