Featured Artist: Jade Delmage

This month’s featured artist, Jade Delmage, is an emerging British artist recently graduated from the University of Brighton. Jade’s work exists in a multitude of forms that all have in common a kind of playfulness, from her “weird videos” (as she herself describes them) reminiscent of David Lynch’s early short films, to her colorful paintings of animal figures and her hypnotic animations about birds and loneliness. Her illustrations have been featured in It’s Freezing in LA! as well as in several exhibitions and art fairs such as The Bazaar or Joseph Bradley Hill’s Paperweight and Late Works. Jade discussed life after university, adapting to the art market, and the female gaze with us in a FaceTime call as she was spending England’s second lockdown at home.

Who are you? How did you become an illustrator?

My name is Jade Delmage, I’m an illustrator, maker, and sometimes animator based in Brighton, UK.

I studied Illustration at the University of Brighton. It was quite a unique course because we studied alongside Graphic Design students. We all shared the same studio, which was really a positive experience. I feel like illustrators are quite frantic and need to be pulled back down to Earth sometimes, while graphic designers are very polished and precise, so the merging of the two was a smart decision in designing the course.

I kind of struggle with describing myself as an illustrator. I don’t feel as though I fit it a classic illustrator mold, so I kind of sit in between fine art and illustration. Recently I’ve been focusing on work that is more visually attractive and engaging, moving away from illustration-style communication of story and idea. I don’t do a lot of editorial work but I really enjoy it when it comes my way.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

I guess my work is pretty immediate. I like to use a limited colour palette, and to contrast bold clean lines with chaos. My work is kinda scrappy, often covered in fingerprints and glue stains & studio lunches – so, charming!

How did you find it? How has it evolved over time?

I still feel as though I’m figuring it out. When I was at university my work was far more moving image, I had a lot of freedom to plot up these bizarre short films. I don’t really do that anymore, I guess my work evolved in a way that had to be a bit more “grown up” as I began to believe that no one would ever hire me, and I found it hard to picture myself in any kind of corporate-creative environment. Saying this I’ve recently started renting a studio again, and I’m looking to re-engage with my old practice, and am trying to discover the intersection of that practice to a more commercially useful one.

When I left university, there was a great pressure to be a creative and make money from working. It was really difficult leaving somewhere where I was so free to do whatever I liked. I could make work that was really personal, and then I went into a world where nobody cares about your personal feelings. It was almost a bit shocking, a bit of a reality check. I don’t know what I expected, of course you have to make a living. And I think it was hard for professionals to look at my portfolio and see something in me that was commercial, something that they could use. It was hard for me to promote myself in that way.

So I feel as though I kind of adapted to these expectations. I stopped making so many videos and everything became much more 2D, pen to paper, much prettier and less gory—even though I don’t think that’s necessarily more “commercial”. I think my space also had an influence on my work. I used to have a big studio in university where I could be really playful and make all these weird sets and masks and costumes, then I started renting a studio that was much smaller, so I had to come to terms with my space and start making things that could fit in it.

What did you think was not going to work in your original style?

It was very unpolished, much more intuitive and ideas-based. In university, I could take the time to explore my ideas, to experiment, to collaborate with other people, and all of a sudden I didn’t really have that time or space anymore, so I think the really nitty-gritty of it, that part of the research, kind of went away.

What would your work look like if you could do anything you wanted? Would you go back to that?

I think so, I think I would.  I miss expressing that side of me, maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to open that door again. I’m really interested in animation, specifically hand-drawn animation. I think it has a really beautiful human quality to it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that a lot of animations are done on computers these days, but I think the magic of seeing the mistakes or the numbers makes it much more intimate and beautiful. It’s like a craft, I really admire that.

I’m not too fussed about accidents in my work because I want it to be real and I want it to be tactile. I like feeling things and seeing textures, especially texture. I’m dyslexic and I feel as though writing on or drawing on cold white paper is really challenging. I don’t know why! I use newsprint instead, because I like the texture of it. It becomes less threatening. So I always use an off-white, textured paper, especially with animating. Newsprint is brilliant for me, because it’s thin enough to see what’s underneath.

But I would love to go back to filmmaking! I think it’s really interesting to put animation and film together, and explore what works and what doesn’t. That’s something I really enjoyed and that I’d love to explore more. Maybe in lockdown number 3!

Have you ever wanted to experiment with other art forms?

Oh absolutely! I’m obsessed with clothes, I wish I could make my own. I consider the pieces you choose to put on your body in many ways, wearable art. Currently I’ve been hitting a wall with drawing and painting, so I’ve been making things out of clay. And when I’ve had enough of clay, I pick up a paintbrush again. It’s quite a confusing relationship.

What inspires you? Which artists have influenced your work the most?

Well I seem to draw a lot of animals these days, I mean, why not – they’re hilarious. I love that they have this secret language that humans will never understand. Visually I’m very much stimulated by colour, fabric, clothes, old graphic magazines, nature, oh and food.

Artists that inspire me most, oh so cliche but definitively Picasso and Matisse. Bloody timeless! I’m also very lucky to have three arty sisters, they inspire me endlessly.

Also I really crave creative environments, a studio space is really important for me. Partly because I’m super nosey but also I find that the people that work around you, keep you in shape.

How do you work? What are the different steps in the making of a piece?

Good question, I spend a lot of time staring at a wall thinking. Sometimes I subconsciously draw or paint things i’ve seen or overheard. I spend a lot of time drawing the same thing – over and over and over until BAM that’s the one. I feel like in 100 drawings sometimes it’s just one that works. Often pieces of paper end up screwed up and in the bin, I often need time away to look again with fresh eyes. Other times it’s the medium itself I’m inspired by, like a new set of delicious pastels that are dying to be played with, or a piece of wood brought to me from the street

What does a workday look like for you?

I’ve been trying to work out of habit rather than when I feel exhilarated to do so. I have a job working in an independent shop, and when I’m not working I go to the studio. I try to get there at about 10 or 11. I go in with an idea in my mind of what I want to do that day because I find that if I don’t, I just sit there wasting time, so knowing what I want to do makes everything easier. I really enjoy the walk to the studio, that’s when a lot of my ideas come to me. So I like to go in with an idea in my head of what I’m going to do (doesn’t always happen though!), then I make some coffee, and I go and speak to someone, and I eventually start working on my own at my desk. It’s quite erratic. I usually work very quickly, so I can make a lot of work very fast. If I’ve got something specific in mind, I will make lots of that same thing and then I will look at them all and pick details that I like about each piece, and then I will try and put these details together. From that the whole process starts again and I will make more. Once I’m finished I will choose my favourite one and send it and hopefully they’ll like it! It’s not very time-efficient, and often I need to take some time off so I can clear my mind and see things in a new way, which doesn’t help, especially if I’ve got a short deadline.

How do you balance your day job and your artistic work?

It was hard to balance the two initially, because with my work I used to rely a lot on momentum, I would get really excited and have a lot of energy. But I have to pay my rent and my bills and I can’t really rely on my artwork for that—but hopefully it won’t be like that forever! So I need a steady job which allows me to do that. It’s difficult because I don’t gain that same momentum. I had to teach myself to pick stuff up and put it down, and to maybe use that time in between to think about it more, or to go in a different direction. I’m learning along the way about how I can make it work and I think that trying to be creative by habit rather than waiting to be in the right frame of mind has helped.

What was your favorite experience in your career and why?

I really loved working on this project for Late Works, an event organised by Joseph Bradley Hill, who is an incredible curator, graphic designer and multidisciplinary artist. He was really inspired by finding materials and making art out of them. He would look for materials that he would then draw on, paint on, collage on,… He presented me with three panelled sheets, like something you would dress behind, and he asked me to do whatever I wanted with them. The art was to be presented to a jazz band composed of people that had never met before, and they would play live to the piece of work. I think that was the most special, most rewarding project I’ve ever done. Seeing this band that didn’t know each other responding live to my artwork was just magic!

Is there anything you’d like to accomplish in your career?

I’d really love to have an exhibition in my own studio, or somewhere sunny, with big windows, almost like an orangerie or a conservatory, all windows everywhere, with hanging pieces of art. Or to have some sort of “art meets nature” experience. I’d love to do a cover as well, for a magazine, I think that would be amazing. I’m no graphic designer but within my work I try to explore the relationship between text and image, and that’s why I would love to do a cover or an album cover or a record sleeve, that would be incredible. Or to design a play, to design a set and costumes, I think that would be amazing.

What’s next for you?

I’m in conversation about maybe doing something about lockdown, a project about nature, humanity and Covid. I haven’t even really had the meeting about that yet but that’s hopefully to come! I’ve also been playing with ceramics and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been making little candle holders. I think functional art is really interesting, it produces something that is both useful and attractive to look at, so that’s something I’m exploring right now and that I’m really excited by. I’m learning a whole new thing, I never did ceramics at school or university, and it’s so complicated!

What have you been reading, watching, and listening to lately?

Ivor Cutler: Jammy Smears for nonsense poetry.

Any arthouse lesbian drama, I’m there. But Wallace and Gromit will never fail me either.

I recently watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire.That was really beautiful, I loved the costumes. I’m really intrigued by the female gaze, I wrote about it in my dissertation a few years ago. I wrote about this incredible woman named Lee Miller, who was a model before the war and then became a photographer and a war correspondent. I studied the differences in the ways men and women looked at her, and how she herself looked at them.

Is there a question you wish I had asked you?

What piece of art in the world do you wish you’d done?

And what is the answer?

It has to be Saul Steinberg’s paper bag portraits!

Jade Delmage is a freelance illustrator, animator and maker based in Brighton. Recently graduated from Brighton University, Jade continues to explore both medium and form in an intuitive manner to create energetic assemblies, characters, and scenarios that are full of life. Jade’s work explores the relationship between text and image in both illustrative and filmic contexts, to explore that it means to be a young female artist in a contemporary Britain. 

See more of Jade’s work on her Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/jadelmage/

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.