DJ and illustrator Jer Dee on finding a personal style which channels the dynamism of dancing
The Manila-based art director and illustrator discusses creating “generic” vector assets for corporate companies, to landing a “pipe-dream” commission for Nike’s 2022 Pride month collection.
- Elfie Thomas
- 26 July 2022
When traipsing through Jerwin Dee’s portfolio, you are equally likely to come across a balletic warrior wielding an ancient sword as you are a club night raver, suited and booted in Nike tracksuits and trainers. But whatever subject Jer dreams up, each illustration is invigorated with a palpable sense of dynamism, movement and dance music. This is probably because Jer’s DJ career predates his decision to go freelance as an illustrator by a few years. As a result, choosing the right music to get him in the mood before starting a new piece is a crucial step in his creative process. Engrossing himself in the queer nightlife scene in Manila since 2017, it is exhilarating to see how the music, fashion and friendships he’s encountered channels directly into his whimsical portfolio.
While Jer has been working in the creative industry for a good 10 years now, he only decided to go freelance as an illustrator in 2020, with things really kicking off last year with the arrival of some exciting commissions. When Jer initially went freelance, he admits that he “struggled a lot with finding the perfect style”. While he was a dab hand at using Illustrator, his output was “kind of generic”, he explains. Through years of experience in the world of production and advertising, he was used to churning out the same old “Memphis-style” vector assets for corporate companies. But, after getting his first solo show back in 2020, he decided he needed to “push things further”. This is when he began carving out a personal style which would draw together all the things that fire him up creatively: fashion, drag, video games and, of course, music.
“For the longest time I wanted my traditional art and digital art to align as they were drastically different back then,” Jer tells us. “I looked into old Chinese and Japanese paintings like Ukiyo-e, and I wanted that to influence my current work – you can see that with the way I treat gradients and how I distribute colour.” The elegance and craftsmanship of traditional Ukiyo-e shimmers throughout Jer’s illustrations, which incorporate influences from his favourite video games, particularly “old-school RPGs like Final Fantasy”, he adds. Through “rigorous trial and error”, Jer has settled on a style which is immediate and full of movement, invigorating flat areas of colour with dynamic line and intricate patterns.
This new style was the perfect fit for the Nike by You Dance collection in 2021. Asked to create a series of artworks inspired by the new collection, the brief from Nike played to all of Jer’s strengths – “movement, bombastic colours and energy”, he says. Harnessing the power of exaggerated diagonal lines, Jer dreamed up a collection of movers and groovers whose dynamic poses perfectly complement Nike’s swishing tick logo.
Evidently impressed with his work on this project, Nike approached Jer a second time when they began planning their 2022 Nike by You collection for Pride month. “As a queer illustrator coming from a small town, this has been a biggest pipe dream, so when I got the call I was really excited to work on it,” says Jer. What’s more is that, this time around, the brief gave him total creative freedom – “they just said that I could do whatever I want!”. The good news was made twice as sweet by the fact that Jer was on holiday with of his queer friendship group at the time. Filled with the serendipity of that very moment, Jer created artworks inspired by his holiday. The resultant series bubbles with the euphoria of new beginnings and shared experiences with friends, making this project one of Jer’s favourites to date.
Totally enamoured with the illustrator's whimsical and energetic work, we’re glad to hear that Jer’s finding ways to make the bonds between his passions for music and illustration ever tighter. “I have been working with various local queer establishments to make exciting visuals for their events this year,” he tells us. “I’ve been establishing myself further as a DJ in the community. Super exciting times!”
Jer Dee: Sword Dance (Copyright © Jer Dee, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.