Interview: Jeffrey Phillips
"When it’s not for work, it’s all by hand – all ink and nibs. That’s what made me fall in love with drawing and that’s why I can still do it.”
- Jeffrey Phillips
It really is incredibly difficult to walk away from an introduction to Jeffrey Phillips. Makers first bumps in to him at the Festival of Steve, note book and fountain pen in hand, hired to work this crowd as a live illustrator – a little side line business the “reformed financial advisor” squeezes in during time not spent working on his commercial illustration jobs.
He’s a great guy with whom to strike up a conversation. Jeffrey is open, gently humorous and inquisitive. Much like the drawings that, on this particular Saturday evening, fill his notebook: caricature-style portraits in black ink that capture completely aesthetics and character. The drape of a young designer’s scarf and its wearer’s serious intent; the poker-faced trio at a green felt card table; the bearded suave ‘tude of a couple of the Oscar Hunt boys dressed to impress.
Jeffrey: “I’ve always been a doodler. I would spend my evenings drawing and learning how to use different pens and fill up sketchbooks with, in hindsight, just horrible, horrible stuff. People would say, ‘Man, it’s too late to do something different now, isn’t it, yeah it is’.”
It explains much of the energy surrounding the man that Jeffrey, without fuss or fanfare, went ahead and did it anyway.
Jeffrey: “Someone said, ‘I’ve got someone who’s doing a short film and needs some story boards’, and I said, ‘What are story boards?’ and then one thing led to another and work just picked up from there.”
Speaking with the artist is a lot like this. Nothing harried. No stress. He’s intelligent but not pretentious, observant though not judgemental. Rare qualities. It's as if he’s somehow identified the portal to his own slipstream and just stepped right in.
Perhaps it’s being so in tune with his own creativity that enables Jeffrey to garner such insights in to his studies. He is quick, challenging himself to spend no more than a glance before sketching from memory with his beloved fountain pens – an ease of use he found growing up as a boy in Mumbai where this instrument was standard issue in the schools he attended until moving to Perth, age 14.
And while his insights are acute, his gaze is forgiving.
Jeffrey: “You can get quite a lot of personality from drawing, unlike a photograph which just depicts that still scene. If someone is really loud and flamboyant, you can express that a lot better, exaggerating an action or a piece of clothing. If they have a big nose you can make them have a really big nose. If they are tall, you can make them loom over. It is opportunity to embellish and bring out aspects of character in a scene."
Analysis aside, his live illustrations are, Jeffrey explains, an opportunity to continue bettering his craft. The digital focus of most all commercial illustration means these forays with pen and ink serve as a constant series of mini tutorials.
Jeffrey: “I’ve always done it as a way of practicing my skills, trying to get better at getting as much information in a snapshot and then just being able to draw without too much thought or planning. I can draw you even if you’ve wondered off.”
The morning marches on and his shared warehouse studio space begins to buzz with the arrival of fellow artists and creatives – these people with whom he has come to share a space.
It’s an enviable scene: light-filled, the room’s interior pulled together by someone with an eye for warmth and character, from the copper wire fairy lights to the arresting over-sized bird sculpture. Someone paints in the corner while a writer sits down in a corner to peck at her keyboard.
Jeffrey sees Makers of Melbourne to the door and the joy and pleasure of his company follows, even as his last words fall out in to the light of day.
Jeffrey: “It’s a very interesting dynamic to get paid for something you would do anyway.”