Creators, Makers, and Doers: James Lloyd
Posted on 2/9/16 by Arts & History
James Lloyd, illustrator, commercial artist, and creative force behind the beloved Treefort brand and marketing vibe, is a self-proclaimed fan of the low-brow style. He integrates storytelling throughout his body of work and has developed an iconic style that resonates with Boiseans. As a resident of the creative community, his disciplined and prolific production is based upon creation for its own sake. At the end of the day, James leaves us with one thing: “Just make things, even if you don’t think anyone will see them.”
Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
I’m James Lloyd. I’m an illustrator and commercial artist here in Boise. I’m kind of into the low-brow illustration style.
What is it that you like about illustration or what drew you to it initially?
I think illustration is about the storytelling. If you’re going to make a movie or a play, then it takes a ton of people to help you out, but it’s kind of easier just to do things yourself sometimes. You can just tell the whole story alone, in a dark room.
You said you make commercial art, but do you also see yourself as a fine artist?
I want to be an illustrator, mostly, but design definitely supports the habits because there’s a lot of crossover. It’s the same tools—the color, composition, Photoshop—so it’s pretty similar. I wasn’t really trained in design, so I get kind of leery to call myself that. There’s definitely a crossover between fine art and illustration. But I don’t know if I would call everything I do fine art, just because a lot of times with commercial art, you’re selling something. It’s just different, the intent is different. And sometimes I don’t have the patience for fine art. I’ll get an idea in my head and I just want it out really quick. I think it’s harder to make money as a fine artist as well. I think you have to have the skills, but also like the idea behind it, and I feel like sometimes those concepts are harder than telling a story. I think they’re both important. But I have a lot of respect for fine artists. One day I’ll be one.
What are some projects you’re working on right now?
Right now I don’t have a lot of personal projects going on. It’s a lot of commercial art stuff. So, I’m working on branding Treefort, and there’s a lot of illustration and design that goes into that. I also work at a video game company downtown, inside Drake Cooper. It’s a small video game company and I’ve been working on character design and animation and art direction for some video games, which is pretty fun. I’ve also been working for Boise Rock School. They’re putting together a curriculum booklet, so it’s a small textbook and I’ve been doing illustrations for that, which is also fun. Any time I kind of get to draw, it’s pretty fun. I have a hard time turning it down.
Can you elaborate a little more on the video games you are working on?
I think it’s pretty cool. I’ve been working with them for about a year and it’s mostly app and mobile games right now. We’re trying to break into PC and console games. They did a holiday card last year, a Christmas card that was a video game called “Rat Holiday Party,” where you just go through this office building and you interact with co-workers and people and just get drunk. Then, eventually you end up beating up a Santa Claus and that’s the end of the game. It plays like a side-scrolling Mario-like game, and I got to help do the graphics. I also worked on a mobile game called NBA Escape, which is like a puzzle game where you just do trick-shots. It’s officially by the NBA, so it was interesting to work in that sort of capacity. We were working with real life players who had input in the game. I just did animation for it, moving the characters around, but it was interesting. Now we’re working on a trick-shot golf game called Time Golf. You just golf during historical events, and I’ve done all the characters for that. It’s fun to work on things that people interact with. I think with comics or art, someone can just look at it really quick and get the gist of it and leave, but with a game it forces people to interact with it and have some sort of emotional response to it, whether they like it or it’s frustrating. At least they’re feeling something.
Were there major challenges you faced between illustration and video game design?
Yeah, it’s the technology barrier because I didn’t go to school for animation or game design at all. It just takes a little longer. It’s just more time on the computer. I guess that’s the future, but just those hurdles. And also, you have to make a distinction of what’s just decorative and what you interact with. So, you have to think about color a little more. But I like the color stuff; it affects moods and all that.
Would you say illustration is your full-time job?
Yeah, I’d say so.
Could you describe how you make it work?
Early on, when I moved to Boise, I was just doing my own work, just my own personal projects, and posting them online. Then I was going to school, which was good, so I got to meet a lot of people. And meeting people kind of snowballed it. Other people were seeing my work and showing other people my work. When I did a cover for Boise Weekly, that was kind of my first paying job here in Boise, and a lot of people have seen that. So, I was offered to take part in other art shows and people would just come to me, asking to pay for drawings. It seems like every job has kind of led to another job or another two jobs. I feel bad, sometimes I have to tell people I can’t do it, but it’s a good problem to have. I just keep working and working and working, and even when I don’t have anything paying, I just keep working. It might dry, eventually. I really don’t know, but it’s working right now.
How much time do you find yourself working creatively a week?
Well, because I’m at home, it’s different. I have a time-tracker, so it usually ends up being, like, seventy hours a week because I work in my office. You know, it’s hard to leave work when you’re always at work. You can tinker on something and then maybe get a snack and come back. So, it’s no real set hours. It’s kind of broken up a lot, but, it’s just always here, so I can always work.
Do you work mostly in the digital realm or do you also create physical work?
Yeah, I feel like a fraud, but it’s mostly digital now. Just, because so much of it is commercial artwork and gets printed or ends up online eventually. It’s kind of the fast-track. In my office I have a box of a stack of paper where I used to do line drawings and then scan it in, in color, but I have a drawing tablet now and I can just avoid that, killing trees and just clutter everywhere. But, yes, it’s mostly digital. It’s nice because it’s so flexible and it saves a lot of time, but at the same time, I don’t like zooming in. You don’t really know how big the piece is once it is printed. That’s kind of an obstacle. You also never know how it’s going to look on a different person’s screen, or when it’s printed as well. You have no control over that. It also saves space and isn’t messy. If I have to go to the ball, I can wear my formal clothes and work right after and not worry about ruining my tux.
Where do you draw influence for your work?
I have a lot of like magic elements and I like to play with scale. There’s usually huge people or huge creatures. And I think all that stuff seeps in because, it’s 2016, and there’s not too many mysteries in the world. We have science, that’s pretty good; it helps us explain any question we have. We can just look up things on our phone if we’re disturbed by something and we can’t rationalize it. I feel like mystery and wonder is kind of gone. With my work, I try to play with that or add it in through the narratives. There are a lot of fantastical elements, I guess. There are existential elements as well. I think it’s kind of interesting to believe in a God or some kind of Supreme Being and believe that this life is some kind of test for something greater, and at the same time be worried about what’s going to be on Netflix. You know, that contrast, that’s really what my work is. It’s a contrast between mundane things and apathetic and then trying to live in a world that’s so mundane and apathetic mixed together with fantastical elements. I think it’s funny more than anything.
What is your opinion of the arts community here?
When I first moved here, there were a lot of illustrators, kind of, in the same sort of style. It was Ben Wilson, Kelly Knopp, Elinor Wiese and Julia Green, when I moved here. There are just so many illustrators. I think that’s kind of going away, but that’s good. It was just nice to see when I moved here, people who were interested in the same style. If I had a criticism, I think everyone is like really nice and really supportive. I don’t know if there’s enough criticism. If someone doesn’t like something, I don’t know if you’d ever really hear it. And I think that helps you grow, to hear what’s not working. I don’t want people to be mean, but I know there’s a balance.
What keeps you here in Boise?
I think Treefort. It’s the fifth year. Hopefully they keep having it and I’ll stay. I’ve been doing the art direction for that and it’s been pretty fun. Usually I can kind of draw whatever I want and people don’t get too upset.
What does art direction entail fully?
So, when I first started doing Treefort stuff, it was really heavy illustration-based, because it was a big idea, just bringing a full-size festival to Boise. There weren’t any photographs or pictures because it hadn’t happened. There wasn’t any way to show scope, so I just created these illustrations that tried to make it look like there was a big party here and left and all that trash thrown around. I think that kind of helped create a mood, and so that’s why I’m still doing it. I’m trying to create a broad mood for the festival and trying to keep it cool and on the cusp of being trendy, but a step ahead. At the same time, keeping it playful, because I think, I don’t know, do people like that? Up until this year, I was doing all of it. I was pretty responsible for everything, but this year we have two people helping out, and I just show them where to go to get illustrations I’ve made and where to find the logos and things. I still do all the illustration and the main design, but then a lot of the layout is by some helpers, people that, I guess, I direct. It’s pretty rad, bands from all over the world and all kinds of genres, music genres that I don’t think people would expect to be showing up come. It’s kind of something for everyone and I’m lucky because I am in charge of all the illustration and direction and just humbled how people have like embraced it. I’ve done that, but because there are so many people involved and so many volunteers, everyone can make it their own a little bit. There’s a lot of imagery and I don’t even feel like it’s mine. It’s just doled out to everyone, belongs to the people of Boise.
Do you have any advice or inspiring words for others who would pursue what you’re doing?
Just make things, even if you don’t think anyone will see them. Just make stuff that you’re excited about and post it on-line. I think mostly, just complete something, make it and complete it. That way, you can move on to the next thing and hopefully build on that until you’ve eventually created or said what you want. People will see that you’re making stuff and know that you work hard, and they’ll hopefully like to pay you for that.
Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.