Profile: Jasper Goodall

Celebrated illustrator Jasper Goodall tells Adrian Sandiford about changes in his work, plagiarism and saying goodbye to butterflies and rainbows.

"Here's the thing: I'm never, ever going to use a concentric circle again; I won't use a rainbow; I can't use butterflies. That's the end of that," says Jasper Goodall, the man responsible for popularising the three images he's now banned himself from drawing.

Born in Birmingham, educated in Brighton and acclaimed at The Face, Goodall's stunning use of silhouette, sex and style came to define an era of cool, made him one of the most famous illustrators around and set trends that are still being copied to this day. But then you knew all that, didn't you. What you probably don't know is how Goodall has changed. He strives towards art. He's embraced photography. And, ultimately, he seems to have rejected huge swathes of his past work and styles.

"The biggest turnaround at the moment is moving away from being a commercial illustrator to doing my own work," says Goodall, referring to the prints he's been producing for online gallery Product Of God. "I've been an artist stuck in a commercial illustrator's body for quite a long time," he continues, "and I've never really had the proper confidence in my work that people would fork out to put it on their wall. But it seems to be happening. That's really encouraging because it's the way I've wanted to go."

Having sold 20 limited edition prints in the space of a week, it seems strange that one of the biggest illustrators of his generation should talk about a lack of confidence and a need for encouragement. After all, Sprite was so impressed by his work that it once paid £25,000 for three illustrations, while Gucci approached him to design a pack of cards (Goodall's biggest disappointment is that the fashion label was, in the end, too traditional to run with his work). Perhaps it's a result of moving into slightly unfamiliar territory.

"I suppose I'd like to be known as an artist, really," continues the 34-year-old, pensively. His answers meander, stop, start and often overtake themselves. It's like having a direct feed into his thought processes. "It's giving me an opportunity to do the work that I want to do - that comes out of my head - and not the work that someone has influenced or asked me to do."

Commercial developments
All of which is not to say that Goodall has completely abandoned the idea of working on commissions. First off, there's what he calls "bread and butter commercial work", which thousands of people will have seen over the years without realising he was behind it. Goodall simply states that it is "generic stuff that goes in my commercial portfolio but not on my personal website". And then there's "the nice, juicy, good-for-your-profile kind of jobs. Commercial work where, by doing it, you grow as an artist, rather than being a drawing machine for an ad agency." His cover art for Muse, which shows a real development of style - full of boldly colourful smoke and cosmic fantasy - clearly falls into the latter category.

"I went off at a complete tangent and did something different," says Goodall, "and that's also a direct result of me actually starting to take photographs." Through doing his own line of swimwear, JG4B (a collaboration with designer Louise Middleton), a lack of funds led Goodall to develop his skills with a Canon digital SLR to overcome the company's need to employ a professional photographer. The illustrator spent hours and hours learning a completely different side of Photoshop and it gave him a new technical ability to tackle things such as shooting smoke and manipulating the image for the beautiful horse that appears on the cover of Muse's Knights of Cydonia single.

Words before pictures
"I don't keep sketch books," reveals Goodall, when pushed to explain further his approach to work, technique and getting started. What he does do is keep notebooks and make lists of words. "I'll sit down with a cup of tea, get my pen out and start writing. I don't do sketches or thumbnails. I just write down scenarios." Goodall will get an idea that he likes and flesh it out by writing down what's going to be happening in the picture. The search for visual references then begins.

So, for example, Goodall may fix upon producing a goddess of invincible wrath. He'll then imagine her pose, collect a number of images that could go towards making his goddess, chop them up, put them together, get a basic figure and use that as the basis for his drawing. He'll also hand-draw additional images for the composition, such as a flaming sword or a necklace of skulls, before scanning everything back into the computer where he uses both Illustrator and Photoshop to complete a vector drawing. He doesn't rely on creative software though. "It's a way of getting a line down; l see it as a very sophisticated pencil," explains Goodall.

"Normally, the way I work is very figurative and photographic based," he adds. "It's heavily drawn from photography and, up until recently, that would be pilfered from all over the place - websites and magazines chopped up and reassembled in Photoshop. That way I can create my own models. But that's changing because I'm taking a lot more photographs for use in my illustration than I did before."

Goodall's changing habit is, funnily enough, also mirrored by a growing interest in photography among the students he teaches illustration to at his alma mater, the University of Brighton. "Not editorial or fashion photography," explains Goodall, "but a big influence seems to be someone like Big Active's Rachel Thomas. She's creating a set or dressing a room - there's a lot of control over your subject and the end result is a communicative image.

"Our main concern at Brighton is whether an image is communicating effectively," continues Goodall. "It doesn't really matter what media it's done in, it's whether it's successful. I love teaching. I'm utilising a completely different set of skills in myself. It's really good to get people to a place where they're feeling enthusiastic and excited. You're not sitting there struggling away. It's not insular, it's completely the opposite."

While Goodall may love teaching the illustrators of tomorrow, he's not so impressed by some of the images he sees today. "I think a lot of illustration is a bit bland now. A couple of years ago I'd have been saying that I thought purely decorative illustration was completely valid - because that's what my artwork was about - and that everyone puts too much store in having to have a concept and an idea."

Illustration with soul
"I was really into fashion illustration and wanted to make beautiful imagery," continues Goodall. "But I got bored of that and realised that an image has to have some sort of power behind it. Everybody else started to draw pretty girls with loads of flowers and butterflies - loads of vector shit chucked on a page, which I feel a bit responsible for. There's nothing behind any of it and I started to get more interested in illustration with more of a soul."

So, with this change in attitude, who does Goodall rate? "Jody Barton, because he is all about the message; he's got a social conscience but in a very black-humoured way. And then there's Vania Zouravliov, who's like the reincarnation of Albrecht Durer - incredible, detailed, amazing pen work that blows me away."

As for dislikes, Goodall is vocal about those who rip off his work. "There are some people who visit my website, take all my old ideas, rearrange them and rip me off. I really hate that. I don't see the point."

Much like Jason Brooks ("a revelation who inspired me"), Goodall has had to deal with starting graphic trends so celebrated that they've become widely imitated. But he isn't motivated by the idea of keeping his work fresh to deter copycats. It is, quite simply, more interesting to seek change.

"I think it's unfortunate that some people get a style and sit in it for years and years," insists Goodall. "I take what's happened to me on the chin. In fact, I'm a little bit flattered by it. It pisses me off when people literally rip me off, but people using vaguely similar imagery or composition, that I take for granted. Even if they weren't doing that I'd be moving on and trying new things. The best artists change over the years - look at Kam Tang."

It's not only Tang and Goodall who are moving on. So is illustration. "It's matured enough to get to a point of crossover into the art world," says Goodall. "It's getting a bit fuzzy. Someone like Geoff McFetridge is an artist, a designer and an illustrator - he's a bit of everything. Illustration is defining its own weird, new role. It's getting more respect. It's becoming collectible. That's where the most interesting new development is happening." And, as ever, Jasper Goodall is leading the way.