Artist and illustrator Jim Spendlove molds his own worlds into his unique creations. Often surreal, sci-fi, and mystical, his signature style has helped shape the visual catalog of Chillhop Records. From plants that push out of heads to humans relaxing on floating cars to nature scenes where raccoons can roam. Residing in Sheffield, United Kingdom, Spendlove has been prolific in his output as of late. Having handled the artwork for four recent Chillhop singles (featured below), he also provided the covers for the full-length Body N Soul by French producer C Y G N as well as the debut EP Mind Garden by German producer leavv. Because 2018 was such an exceptional year for Spendlove, in the interview below, we chat about his past year, what he has planned for the future, and his creative process (and creative space) that allows him to evolve and progress.
Artwork for ‘All Us’ by Nokiaa x Nofeels (December 2018)
Now that 2019 is in full swing, how did last year treat you?
2018 treated me very well. It was the first year where I feel like my work was starting to reach a wider audience. I’m grateful to have been able to connect with so many artists to work on different projects.
How long have you been taking your craft seriously?
I’d say I was around 17 when I started seeing it as something I could make a living from. I’m 26 now. I went down the education route and spent five years studying at college and university. The last two years I’ve really been putting a lot of effort into developing my work and portfolio, establishing a target audience, reaching out to people, etc.
A great deal of your pieces involve plants/nature sprouting out of humans. How did this surreal vision initially come about?
It started from having an interest in the balance between city life and the natural world, also the idea of personal growth being linked to providing the right balance of everything to nurture and take care of yourself like you would say a garden or a plant. A few different ideas started feeding into it over the years but I’d say that’s where it started.
Artwork for ‘Rosewood’ by Harris Cole x arbour (November 2018)
Have you always been drawn to surrealism?
In some ways, I think it’s always quite open to interpretation. I think people will always link stories from their personal life to pieces of art, everyone has their own stories that are drawn from their experiences. I like to leave things open enough for people to come to their own conclusions on what the meaning is, sometimes because the meaning can change for me over time. I like to think the work is quite fluid and can relate differently to different people, there is no right or wrong answer.
How did you first link with Chillhop?
I’d been interested in Chillhop as a label for quite some time. I’d always listened to the live YouTube mixes while I worked, and I always thought that the music I listen to finds its way into the work somehow. I saw some of the artwork they’d used for some of their covers and thought my work might suit it quite well, so one day I decided to reach out with my portfolio to see if they’d be interested in working. Since then I’ve built a good relationship with the people there. They have a great vision and they really respect the artists and the illustrators that work with them.
Illustration for Nujabes and J Dilla’s birthday (February 2019)
If you can, please provide a photo of your workspace. What are some essentials?
A warm environment is key, and that’s something my studio space lacks throughout the winter [laughs] I work there or at home in the evenings. Music is essential, I rarely work in silence. I have speakers in my studio and a vinyl player at home. Lofi hip hop is a regular, old jazz albums, new jazz albums, then just a bit of everything else, I tend to find that music without lyrics helps me to focus more.
What’s this year looking like for you?
Hopefully it’s as good as 2018 was. I’ve got a lot of work that will be released soon. I have ongoing work with a few people and my collaboration with Chillhop will continue throughout.
You’ve been providing a great deal of album and single covers for various artists, including numerous Chillhop producers. Is there one particular piece of art that stands out for you? One that took longer than the others or perhaps one that you found more challenging to create?
I loved working on the cover for C Y G N’s album, and seeing it as a vinyl cover whilst listening to it was so rewarding, I’ve really milked that one on my Instagram story. The piece that was used for Leavv’s “Mind Garden” cover was my first entry into working with Chillhop so that is a standout piece for me too. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve worked on throughout this past year, though. I’m so grateful to be able to earn a living from something I enjoy so much.
Is it difficult to split time between commissioned work and personal projects?
Very. It’s becoming harder and harder to find time for personal projects, but to be honest, as long as I’m drawing I’m happy. Everything I do I can apply my style to, and for me it’s mainly the act of drawing that I love so much, taking on briefs for things that I’d have never chose to draw myself is very interesting. I like the challenge.
Vinyl cover for ‘BODY N SOUL’ by C Y G N (November, 2018)
Outside of music you’ve been providing artwork for, what else have you been listening to?
I’ve been listening to all sorts, people like Kamasi Washington, Kamaal Williams, Joe Armon Jones, Alfa Mist. Ivan Ave, Knxwledge, Kiefer. Just to name a few. Music is quite important to me when I’m working so I tend to listen to a lot, mainly hip hop and jazz, with some experimental electronic music thrown in too.
Outside of art/illustrations, do you have any other hobbies or interests?
I love to read if I find a book that grabs my attention. I’ve never been drawn to fiction but I enjoy reading philosophy, psychology books, things about society and how the human mind works, things that I feel help me to be a more well-rounded person. I love music. Once in a blue moon, I’ll play about with music software. I’m not very good, to be honest, but it’s a good thing to give myself a break from making artwork every now and then. There’s less pressure involved because I’m not doing it for anyone, no one ever really hears it, I’m not expected to be good.
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
Be patient and keep working, keep building on it. I always like to think that every piece of work is progression from the last whether you see it or not, even a bad piece can be learnt from, just stick with it. I spent a lot of time focusing on creating a style only to find that it eventually came on its own just from making a lot of work, just enjoy the journey. Be inspired by other people and implement things into your work if you think it fits but always try to make something that’s yours. Lastly I’d say don’t pressure yourself too much, I’m still learning all of this stuff myself, it’s always an ongoing process, that’s the best part.
Any final thoughts / words of wisdom / shout-outs? Thank you for your time!
I think I’ve said it all, thanks to whoever has took the time to read it, and thank you for taking the time to interview me.