Meet the Maker: Jem Loves To Draw

Tell us about your business, what is it you do and how did you get into it?

My name is Jem and I love to draw. I paint watercolour illustrations inspired by animals and nature and I sell my designs as a range of illustrated goodies – including limited edition art prints, cards, mugs and stationery.

I’ve always loved drawing, right from when I was a kid. I studied art at school, graphic design at college and then went on to do a degree in illustration. After I graduated, I moved back to Bristol and started working full-time in graphic design. For quite a while after university I really struggled to produce my own artwork – a lot of the work I did during my degree used digital techniques, but when I started working with computers all day I didn’t have the enthusiasm to do it after work too. It took me quite a while to find a way to create work for myself that I enjoyed.

I started painting in inks and watercolours a few years ago and fell in love with the process. Since then my creative practice and my business has grown organically, from painting gifts for friends and family to producing a whole range of illustrated products. My original artworks and prints have been featured in exhibitions across the south west and you can purchase my products online in my Etsy shop or in real life through my lovely local stockists. I also take on freelance design projects and create bespoke artwork for private commissions.

Can you talk us through your making process from start to finish? How does each of your pieces come to be?

All of my paintings start life in my sketchbook, where I use a combination of pencil, watercolour pencil and pen to plan out the main shapes. I usually start with a wash of black India ink, which I use to build up tonal areas and pick out key features. Then I add colour using layers of Japanese watercolour paints, which are lovely to work with and produce super vibrant colours.

The last stage of my painting process is to add in illustrated details using a very fine paintbrush, my trusty white gel pen and super-sharp coloured pencils. These delicate finishing touches are common features across all of my artwork – it’s also my favourite part of the painting process and I find it almost meditative. My paintings are then transferred onto a computer, where they can be reproduced using digital printing techniques. I’m lucky enough to have my own scanning and printing equipment in my home studio on the outskirts of east Bristol. This allows me to have complete control over the end product for things like my art prints and greetings cards. Anything I can’t produce myself – like my range of mugs and notebooks – is produced in the UK by Awesome Merchandise.

Each of your designs is unique and original – how do you sustain that diversity? What inspires you?

My artwork and designs are inspired by my love of the natural world, featuring animals, landscapes, oceans, galaxies and constellations. And bears. Lots of bears. I get a lot of my inspiration from wildlife photography and nature documentaries, as well as my own adventures exploring the UK countryside in our campervan.

The best thing about creating artwork inspired by nature is that there is so much source material to draw from. The natural world is incredibly diverse and there are millions of species of plants and animals. Throughout 2019 and 2020 I painted a different animal each month and there are still loads on my list of things I’d like to paint. Sadly a lot of the animals I paint are threatened or endangered, so I have been exploring ways to use my art to make a difference. This year I have been creating print collections linked to a particular habitat and donating a portion of print sales to environmental charities, like Rainforest Trust UK and Surfers Against Sewage through Work for Good.

What is the piece of work you’re most proud of?

Last summer I painted a blue-ringed octopus. This was my awesome animal design for July and it’s probably my favourite painting I’ve ever done; the original is on display in my home studio and I have no intention of ever selling it.

Like lots of people, I went through a bit of a tough time in 2020 and my mental health really suffered. I painted this piece a few days after I started taking antidepressants and I was really worried that the side effect of shaking hands was going to affect my painting. It made painting the tentacles and rings a little tricky, but it turned out to be my favourite painting. I’ve never shared the story behind this one before, but looking back on it makes me feel proud of myself as an artist and as a human. This back story is part of the reason I named the piece Little Blue.

Bristol is renowned for being a creative city, how has Bristol had an impact on or inspired your business?

Bristol is my hometown and even though I talk about retiring in the mountains, right now I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else. One of the things I love most about this city is its friendly and supportive creative arts scene. The collectives I’ve been a part of have had a massively positive impact on my business – Bristol Market and Tribe Aisthetica.

There are so many friendly creatives in Bristol willing to give advice and offer support, with a real sense of community over competition. I really value the connections and friendships I’ve gained. We’re so lucky to have this in our city and I’m super proud to call Bristol my hometown.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Outside of Jem Loves to Draw, I also work full-time as the manager of an in-house design team for an education charity in Bristol. Having two jobs is super hectic at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way – it allows me to be creative in so many different ways.

When I’m not working or painting, I like spending time outside and going on adventures in our campervan. We’re gradually ticking off trips to all of the UK national parks and I’ve had some amazing adventures hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking and wild swimming in some seriously beautiful places. I also go climbing two to three times a week – mostly indoors but outside when the great British weather allows.

When the weather is bad you’ll find me at home under a blanket, drinking tea and eating snacks. Probably watching a wildlife documentary.

Click here to contact Jem

Click here to visit the Jem Loves To Draw shop

Author: Geraldine Wise