Gun-toting cowgirls and busy businessmen: enter the fun and fantastical world of Jamie Muck’s illustrations
Inspired by the cartoons he used to watch as a child and his involvement in the UK’s electronic music scene, Jamie’s work is bold, bright and full of life.
- Olivia Hingley
- 24 January 2022
Jamie Muck’s illustrations are purposefully full of contradictions. “My work plays with the interaction between wilderness and containment; fantasy and familiarity; heroes and villains,” he says. It is not hard to see, therefore, with his focus on extreme narrative binaries, how cartoons featured as his earliest influence. Spending all of his time drawing, as a child Jamie used to create comics based on his favourite animated TV series. This, he observes, is why his work is now full of such “movement”. With his gun-toting cowgirls, busy businessmen and stretching cats, Jamie’s portfolio is a lively world inhabited by vivid characters.
When studying for a degree in illustration at Manchester School of Art, Jamie got involved in the city’s famous electronic music scene. He began putting on his own nights, got to know local promoters and ended up doing the posters for numerous parties and events. From here onward, Jamie tells us, the “music industry formed the backbone of my career”. It eventually snowballed into a full-time job and Jamie was designing records sleeves and stickers for some of his favourite artists and labels, which he describes as “a dream come true”. After a career-shaping few years in Manchester, Jamie is now back in his hometown of Bristol where he works full time as an illustrator.
When it comes to creating his characters, Jamie lets his imagination take the lead. Starting off as “doodles or vague shapes”, he eventually adds a head and a torso and then “sees where the arms and legs take me”. Despite his clean and well-executed style, the wobbly, interlocking arms of his people, and long meandering tails of his animals evoke this sense of fluidity. It is also important for Jamie that his work is “striking and recognisable”. He achieves this by visually accentuating specific features of his characters; their hands and feet often end up “oversized and chunky, bending in strange places”. Full of character, his figures exude such personality. And Jamie’s not sure why, but they always somehow end up looking “a bit evil or up to something”.
Whilst Jamie’s use of colour is bold and daring, he hasn’t always been as assured as he is today with his palette. Being partially colourblind, for a long time he felt “anxious” about his colour choices. “I was always drawn to primary colours as they felt safe, and I always felt unsure if I strayed too far from red, blue and yellow. This formed the base of my choices, but as I’ve gotten older and more confident in my work (and also with the occasional help from some non-colour-blind eyes) I’ve explored a wider variety of colour.” And now, even when he starts trying to explore softer tones, he tells us that he always ends up moving toward bolder and brighter – “maybe it’s just because I can see it better!”
Preferring to create images for “a set out brief” as opposed to “purely conceptual” work, some of Jamie’s best pieces come from his projects with independent companies. Enjoying creative collaboration, he revels in the process of “pooling ideas until we reach something the client is really satisfied with”. A great example of this approach was Jamie’s collaboration with the East London-based bottled cocktail company Black Lines. Asking Jamie to design a “fun abstract character that illustrated the mood of a negroni cocktail”, Jamie came up with a moustachioed, glasses-wearing man contorted into an “impossible” yoga position. When the Euros came round earlier this year, Black Lines got back in touch with Jamie and asked him to update his piece for their limited edition Euro 2020 bottles. In the inventive design, the moustachioed man has swapped his yoga contortion for the famously difficult “rabona” technique.
In another of his favourite recent projects, Jamie was approached by the French record label Nice Guys. Including a 40-second looping animation for a YouTube video, a vinyl record sleeve and a cassette tape sleeve, the project was no mean feat. The project was a truly free and creative endeavour. Ending with “a colourful and surreal Wild West scene featuring a variety of characters performing looping gestures surrounded by out-of-pace objects” the brief forced Jamie to strengthen his After Effects and Premiere Pro skills. Enjoying the project immensely, Jamie tells us: “I think it’s great when a project pushes and tests your skills and you come out the other side with abilities you didn’t have previously.” We couldn't agree more!
James McDougall: Jamie Muck (Copyright © James McDougall, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.