Ironic, clever and provocative, JACOB STEAD‘s illustrations know how to simplify the world of 2016 and play with all its contradictions. From traditional printing to A.I., fascinating oriental philosophies to the allure of Virtual Reality, here we are at ON! Storie‘s third artist-of-the-week Q&A.

Jacob, where are you writing from?

I am writing from my desk at a studio in Amsterdam that I moved into around a month ago.

How does your city inspire you?

I’ve been living in Amsterdam just over 18 months, so the city still feels pretty new to me and I’m still discovering new places all the time. It’s a strange place in a way, it’s a weird blend of beautiful, historic buildings and canals along with a garish, seedy side. Therefore, there’s an interesting juxtaposition going on which I don’t think any other city has to this degree.

If you inherited a bigger than life sum, how would you invest it art-wise (buy a studio, start a magazine etc)?

I feel like I have most of the necessary means to create the work I do at the moment. I think if anything, I would use the money to give myself some time to relax into creating some personal work and experimenting more, which can be hard when illustration is your source of income. I probably would buy a studio too, and maybe invest in some print equipment and make some more physical work.

Which are your major sources of inspiration?

I’m interested in all sorts of ideas and beliefs and how these affect our outlooks on life, from Eastern philosophy to the application of emerging technologies such as VR and AI. I’m inspired by the exploration of new ways of seeing and experiencing life, but I’m not sure how much that comes across in my (mostly editorial) work.

Three illustrators that today you think are doing a great job.

I like people who have a very honed craft and whose work conveys dedication to this. The kind of artists I like are Jonny Hannah, Bjorn Lie and John Broadley. They’re all artists who have a traditional/print based approach to illustration, which I appreciate as someone who falls back on digital methods too often!

What are the colours you could never do without, and how would you choose them?

I basically choose colours by accident, and there are certain colours that I return to (probably more out of habit than anything else). I would love to be able to work with more refined, limited colour palettes but it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

Do you have a favourite illustration/art magazine?

I don’t often buy magazines, but I’m always impressed with the range and use of illustration used in Little White Lies.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy cycling around and exploring the city, finding new places where to eat. Also, reading, cooking and watching TV and films at home. Just the usual things!

How would you define the process of finding one’s style?

It’s a process that I can’t really define, but in my experience style is something that has to develop naturally. I have my influences, but there’s hopefully something that is ‘mine’ which is recognisable too. I think it’s very important to experiment and not get too hung up on style, which is something that any illustration student is taught. I used to think that was a stupid attitude because I was anxious to produce work that matched that of the people I admired, but I realised that I’m probably never going to be too happy with anything I create, and this is where the drive to keep refining and developing my work comes from. In the end, I’m not sure anyone ever ‘finds’ a style because it’s an ongoing and organic process. One technique that I try to use is to do something (however small) different in each new image. Things don’t always work, but each success/mistake is a stepping stone to something better.

One advice for wannabe freelance illustrators.

I’ve read a few cynical articles by illustrators which attempt to persuade people not to attempt it as a career. So my advice would be to just go for it, if it’s what you want to do. It’s hard to get established and it doesn’t always pay well or offer great security, but the positives outweigh the negatives in my opinion. In reality, illustration is a career which allows a lot of freedom of expression without the constraints of having a boss, and to me, it’s pretty perfect.

For more from Jacob, follow him on Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to check his amazing website!