Inspo Series: James Jean

I’m always curious to know the driving forces behind someone’s creativity. Knowing what books they read, what podcasts they listen to, and even the individuals they are inspired by helps paint a bigger picture of who they are as a creative. Knowing this, I figured it would be interesting to jot down the things that I’m inspired by. Hope you enjoy this mini-series!



James Jean is an illustrator based in California that works within both commercial and fine art realms. He rose further in popularity by collaborating with fashion entities such as PRADA and Philip Lim and illustrating posters for Hollywood films like Bladerunner 2049 and Shape of Water. I’d say he’s equally, if not more, well known for his personal and distinctive body of work.

Jean graduated from the School of Visual Arts. Fun fact: he was roommates with Yuko Shimizu when she attended SVA for graduate school. I have to note that because they’re both prolific illustrators that are very in tune with creating work that addresses and challenges culture. Not to mention how highly skilled and intelligent they are!

It’s been an amazing journey to watch how Jean developed his life and career. I think I discovered him mid-2000’s, back when artist-centric websites were (and still!) the rage and blogs were the method of showcasing process.

James Jean in home and studio, captured by  MAEKAN

James Jean in home and studio, captured by MAEKAN

Year Of Monkey by James Jean

Year Of Monkey by James Jean

I came across a story on MAEKAN with James Jean and Juncha. It delved into the idea of unlearning as a way to help an artist grow. When things feel stagnant — which is the ultimate creativity killer — how does one overcome that?

Unlearning involves letting go of long-held ideas so they can be better understood objectively and if necessary, discarded. By freeing oneself to assess the value of an idea as it contributes to the bigger picture, it can allow an artist to improve their current style, or even pursue an entirely new creative direction altogether.

MAEKAN hit the target when addressing how Jean is comfortable with being uncomfortable. He continuously puts out work that pushes the limitations of what is both expected of an illustrator and a painting/visual. By result of constant exploration and a discomfort with repetition, he’s come to have a distinct style that transcends mediums and collaborations.

Inspiration and Relevancy

It is in a creative’s inherent nature to be open to something potentially inspiring. Inevitably, these moments leave an impact on their work and mindset. We are what we consume. All of our experiences, the individuals that we look up to, and the things that we aspire to be and achieve are a few of many aspects that make us unique. It’s important to recognize and be confident in the power of your voice by virtue of its uniqueness. It lends way to a vision and purpose in design that’s different from others.

There is something to be said about being inspired by those outside of one’s field of work. While it’s important to understand design, design does not exist in a bubble. I think design is very culturally driven.

Good design is relevant. It has the power to start a conversation or influence one. It also contributes to the identity of the user. The things you own say something about you. This is why it’s important to truly understand the audience that a product is for. Not only will the designer develop a product that hits the target on what it aims to achieve, but the product will be much more relevant and impactful through its representation to how it’s being perceived.

To give an idea a stronger purpose for existing, there are some considerations that should be addressed. What are the pain points that this product is aimed to solve? What is the narrative that it fits in or is establishing? What is the greater message that it is sending? These questions help contribute to its relevancy within the culture it is designed for.

Cruising to the Beach

This past Saturday was another car sketching day at OSCC — this is a car design class that’s led by automotive and industrial designers Cliff Krapfl and Mike Herbert from TEAMS Design. We studied a bit of Dusenberg history and learned how to sketch super old school. The last time I used a Higgins bottle of black ink was about 7 years ago. As to a calligraphy pen — that was probably 10 years. It was so incredibly refreshing to become acquainted with this medium again!

There were a few collages of vintage posters and photography clustered on the table. Some of the thumbnails caught my eye with their compelling storytelling. With a 11x17 sheet of paper and two hours of class left, I tried to capture what I was inspired by...

Cruising along to the beach… what a perfect contrast to the 50 degree Chicago weather ;)

Cruising along to the beach… what a perfect contrast to the 50 degree Chicago weather ;)

Flipping Cars

Around a month ago, I sketched with a few OSCC pals at TEAMS Design. There were some model cars lying around at the table. I liked the Studebaker. At that time, I was really into drawing machine guts, so I decided to flip the car onto its side and sketch it. I set a timer for 5 minutes (the grandest lie) - no pressure, just something quick to warm up.


I ended up getting really into it!

For a couple of weeks leading to this sketch, I had been doing some daily quick sketching exercises (mentioned in the previous post). I studied all sorts of photos. My intent was to sketch quicker and get better at proportions.

Sketching this flipped Challenger was my first time applying the lessons and habits from these daily exercises. I sketched my way through the car more strategically and was more aware of the lights and shadows. Some things could be better, but honestly I’m just glad I finished it within the evening.

I didn’t realize the kind of impact this kind of sketch would have on others. This sketch has come up a few times since then in conversation or through instagram attention. I guess it is uncommon to sketch a car on its side. Maybe it is a bit daunting? To tackle this topic, I saw past the mechanics and focused more on the values.

Anyway. It is hard to see where the improvement or progress is, especially when sketching and designing everyday. That is, until defining moments occur, like this sketch!