Jake Carruthers is an illustrator and designer from Toronto. Over the years, he has developed a unique style and has acquired a loyal clientele. We were able to speak with him about his art, techniques, and everything in between.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN AN ARTISTIC HO– USEHOLD?
Very encouraging. Although I can’t imagine growing up with people who do not understand creativity, I consider myself lucky to have had a support system. However, art was not what I wanted to pursue as a career when I was a child; the title of an aerospace engineer seemed much more appealing.
DO YOU THINK THAT BEING AN ARTIST HAS MADE YOU A BETTER PERSON?
Yes. The ability to build allows one to reverse the process, and to deconstruct and understand, which isn’t limited to a particular facet of life.
IT’S PRETTY EVIDENT THAT YOU HAVE A STYLE WITH YOUR ART. HOW DID YOU DEVELOP THIS, AND WHY DO YOU LIKE IT?
There was never a moment when I sat down and decided what I wanted my art to look like, or that I even knew where my art would fit within a bigger industry. In fact, until I started to see the possibility of art being a career, I had to be begged to use reference. If you were to look at a drawing that I made when I was six years old and then at one of my most current projects, you might actually be able to see a connection. Many different artists have had an influence on me, and I’ve taken small aspects of their work throughout the years, but only in ways that I’ve felt would lend toward creating a ‘drawing’. That is the only way I have ever looked at it. Now that my work has made its way into several different types of media, I have had to twist and manipulate it to fit a particular outlet. These experiences have all had a subtle but lasting effect on my work’s current state. I like the direction that my work is moving in because, as my ability increases, I feel like I am strengthening the connection between how I would like a piece to look, and my ability to bring that to life.
HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANYONE TRYING TO PASS YOUR WORK OFF AS THEIR OWN?
Yes, I have. Unfortunately, we now live in a society where people care more about being cool on the Internet than having any integrity whatsoever. I haven’t seen any of my work for sale before, and so I haven’t had a legitimate reason to be affected by it. However, I have seen dozens of Instagram accounts of people trying to pass my work off as theirs, usually just to get some sort of social approval without actually having the work ethic involved with learning how to draw.
MANY PEOPLE SAY THAT IMITATION IS FLATTERY. DO YOU AGREE?
Based on the circumstances, I do. I have tried to imitate shading techniques, subject matters, etc. from a lot of artists before I tried bending them into something of my own, and so it makes me happy to be on the other end. Still, there comes a point where a line has to be drawn between inspiration and theft.
I FEEL THAT BETWEEN HAVING TATTOOS AND DRAWING FOR A LIVING, I ALWAYS HAVE TO JUSTIFY MY ACTIONS.
ASSUMING YOU — USE BOTH PHOTOSHOP AND ILLUSTRATOR—IF YOU COULD ONLY — USE ONE, WHICH WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Photoshop, for sure. I started working in Photoshop about a decade ago, and have spent more time exploring it than almost anything else in the world. Illustrator, however, is my immortal enemy. In recent years, I have had an interest in understanding it, but, ultimately, I have little to no use for it in my work. I am aware that it helps other designers make things that I wouldn’t even know where to begin with, though.
MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT ART SCHOOL IS A WASTE OF TIME, WHILE OTHERS THINK THAT ART SCHOOL IS ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING PATHS ONE COULD TAKE. BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I recently decided to bring my experience with art school to a halt. I attended The Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U… the C is silent) for three years, and, the entire time, I felt like they were trying to make every part of the experience as unnecessarily difficult as they could. On top of this, I felt like I hadn’t learned a single thing after my freshmen year. This being said, I did learn a lot in the first year I went there, and although I felt the classes weren’t helpful to me after that, I was surrounded by thousands of people who were still interested in creating. I constantly crave knowledge, and the means to improve. Now, it’s just up to me to find that.
Still, this was just my personal experience. Despite that, I do entirely agree with artistic education, and I would recommend it a thousand times over to anyone. At least try it out if you have an interest in bettering your work and understanding art and design in general. It is an amazing place that offers life-changing opportunities… It just wasn’t for me.
WAS BUILDING A CLIENTELE DIFFICULT FOR YOU?
Very much so. In fact, I am constantly working on maintaining and expanding my clientele. It’s very important to put out as much work as you can, and to make sure you push every piece that you put out. The entire business relies on word of mouth.
WHAT DID YOU TRY IN ORDER TO GET PEOPLE’S ATTENTION? WHAT DID YOU NOTICE WORKED BEST?
I worked really, really hard. Once I started to believe that my work was at a level that I was comfortable with in terms of sending it out into the world, I started (and haven’t stopped) emailing everyone and anyone who I believed might have a use for it. On top of that, I am always consistently trying to improve the quality of my work. Working with bands was definitely something that has helped me in many different parts of my career.
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING THING TO LEARN ABOUT ILLUSTRATION AND DRAWING?
Drawing from life is so outrageously important. There was a time when I believed that I could draw everything based on what I thought it looked like, and, thinking back on it, that seems ridiculous. The more you understand how things are supposed to look, the easier and more accurate your manipulations of them will be.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT DOT SHADING?
It’s meditative in nature. After the initial process of mapping out a design and placing the base line work, I am able to zone out for hours. The repetitive motion rids me of the need for focus, and I can thoroughly enjoy working on a piece while also keeping calm. It also translates to print incredibly well.
DO YOU PREFER DOING YOUR ART ON THE COMPUTER OR SOLELY WITH A PEN AND SOME PAPER?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I prefer one to the other as it is somewhere between the two that my work finds a home. The process of physically drawing can be challenging while also therapeutic, whereas the digital half of the process provides me with the tools that I need to bring the graphics to life.
WAKE UP EVERY DAY AND THINK ABOUT HOW YOU CAN BETTER YOURSELF. DON’T HAVE A BACKUP PLAN. YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.
WHEN WORKING ON A DESIGN, WHERE DO YOU GATHER INSPIRATION?
There is no specific way to gather inspiration. Illustration occupies the majority of my brain most of the time, and so I feel like I am constantly analyzing many different aspects of visual language—whether that be subway ads, t-shirts on passersby, car decals, architecture, nature, etc. I’m not just analyzing on a level akin to a mental note; I’m always taking photographs of anything that stands out to me. The subject matter is irrelevant. These cell phone pictures have leant reference to many pieces that I have worked on. However, when branching out, I turn to the outlets that originally made me want to pursue design professionally. For example: tattoos, comic books, 50’s pulp, propaganda, record covers, religious texts, renaissance and other classical art movements, etc.
DO YOU EVER FEEL ARTISTICALLY STUCK? HOW DO YOU SNAP OUT OF THIS STATE?
I don’t consider myself to be an artist most of the time. The majority of the time, I build for function, as most of my work is client-based and it needs to serve a purpose. When I have trouble thinking of ideas, I look to designs that serve the same purpose, and build and combine from there. I am focused more on the way something should be designed, rather than on what I’d like to say with it. This being said, I have the opportunity to make work that represents myself once in a blue moon, and, because this opportunity is so rare, there is so much that I feel I can say when I’m able to exercise expression.
HAVE YOU DESIGNED ANY TATTOOS? IF SO, DID YOU ENJOY IT, AND WOULD YOU CONSIDER BECOMING A TATTOO ARTIST?
Yes, actually. I completed an apprenticeship at a shop in Toronto where I was able to make quite a few tattoos. I realized as I progressed that both tattooing and illustration are two-feet-in type professions, and I didn’t want to give up what I had started with illustration. I had too much respect for tattooing to continue to take it only half seriously.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED AS AN ARTIST? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Sharing a home with bugs and rats and not being able to pay rent or buy groceries was very tough, but I knew I would make it through. This isn’t to say that I’m entirely well off now, but money isn’t something I worry about anymore. What has been, and will always be, incomprehensibly tough is justifying to older generations that I know what I’m doing. Even if not directly said, I feel that between having tattoos and drawing for a living, I always have to justify my actions. This is something that I will only be able to overcome by continuing on my journey, and proving myself adequate.
WHAT MADE YOU TO WANT TO START WORKING WITH MUSICIANS?
Music has always been one of my biggest passions, and it has always been something that I’ve been involved in. I’ve been playing guitar for over ten years, and have been in and out of hardcore bands as a vocalist. Music helps me whenever depression hits me like a truck. In short, music has meant and continues to mean a lot to me. I’m happy to be working with musicians, because I feel that I’m still able to be involved in creating a safe world for people that are not unlike myself to be able to express themselves and to understand their place.
IS YOUR GOAL TO CONTINUE BEING AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST, OR DO YOU SEE YOURSELF JOINING A CREATIVE TEAM IN A COMPANY?
I will always be independent. This is actually why I care so much about succeeding in my own game—it allows me to have as much freedom as I would like. I’m not attached to money, but rather to experience. Still, this is not to say that I wouldn’t join a creative team that allowed me to work within my own boundaries.
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER ASPIRING ILLUSTRATORS?
Burn your boats. Realize that there is no finish line, and do nothing but follow your passion. Wake up every day and think about how you can better yourself. Don’t have a backup plan. You are in control of your life. Never give up… Ever.