After graduating from Manchester School of Art in 2015 with a degree in illustration, Jess Ebsworth returned to her home of East London to pursue a career in the medium. She realised early on that she wanted to channel her creativity into something more “commercial-leaning”, rather than just making “arty art”, and she soon began producing posters for club nights run by her friends. “A lot of what I did in the beginning was for mates or from meeting people working in hospitality – which I have done plenty of living in London,” she tells us. This was the case with Supa Ya Ramen, a now legendary ramen supper club that began life as a pop-up in founder Luke Findlay’s Hackney home.
“I met Luke whilst working in a pub where he was running the kitchen at the time,” explains Jess. “He had this idea to do a really intimate ramen supper club at his house and just wanted a poster at first. There was never really a brief, he just liked colour and wanted something fun and we just went from there.” Jess’ striking, vivid illustrations, which occasionally border on the psychedelic, fit perfectly with the easygoing spirit of Supa Ya Ramen, and her beautifully bold posters that advertise its news and events are now an integral part of its identity. “With this I’ve basically done whatever I want and the whole brand has grown quite organically around that,” she says.
Many of Jess’ other collaborations have been created in a similar spirit. Her work for the Portland-based print magazine Broccoli, a publication by and for women who use cannabis, has been equally lighthearted. “I originally emailed the editor when they did a call out on Instagram for a separate publishing project. Nothing came of that, however they did get back to me a few months later for some editorial illustrations for a surrealist short story about a trip on edibles in Candyland,” recalls Jess. “This brief was so much fun – it was a half, single and double page spread to go with a story that was full of these amazing visual descriptions of this sickly-sweet candy paradise. There was loads to go on visually.” Following on from this, the team over at Broccoli later got back in touch about illustrating the cover story for their tenth issue. Another dreamy brief to create “The Garden of Weeden” saw Jess working with surrealist references that tied in well with her aesthetic. “I instantly thought: Garden of Earthly Delights, but make it weed. I tried to, and the cover sort of came last to contrast with the softer images that I’d made for the interior spreads.”
For Jess, such projects have been a brilliant match for her illustrative style, which she says can be neatly summarised with an anecdote: “A friend once told me that whilst he was tripping on mushrooms he could only see my work and it was this crazy experience – I’m not sure if I can describe it much better than that.” Her distinctly colourful palette, buoyant shapes and abstract forms exemplify a clear interest in the bright and bold. It’s no wonder that she cites Masao Saito’s airbrush food illustrations from the 80s as one of her chief inspirations, although she admits that most art with a lot of colour will often draw her attention: “Generally anything that has a really strong colour palette, be that a painting, a photograph, or a sculpture, will always catch my eye and make its way into my work somehow.”
As well as finding inspiration in other mediums, moving forward Jess says she would like to experiment with new tools and ways of working, and to transition her mostly on-screen illustrations to physical contexts. “I would love to do more collaborative projects with different designers and makers. Anything that brought my work off the screen and into the real world would be a dream,” she tells us. “I would be very keen to work on fabric in particular, so if there’s any designers out there who would be interested, hit me up!
Jess Ebsworth: Milk Fed (Copyright © Jess Ebsworth, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.