Multidisciplinary designer Jenks In The Cut talks about making his clients shine
With his sights initially set on being the star of his practice, Bristol-based illustrator and multidisciplinary designer Jenks In The Cut soon realised that being the facilitator was the key to his successful freelance career. From humble beginnings making graphics with a friend for their own small skate brand, to gradually building up a portfolio including exciting projects with the likes of Spotify, Puma and JD Sports, Jenks has come a long way. He shares with us the ups-and-downs of utilising social media as a freelance creative, escaping the mindset of having to create ‘relevant’ content and how to effectively reach out to clients.
Jenks In The Cut
Illustrator and Multidisciplinary Designer
Spotify, Puma, E4, JD Sports
Graphic Designer, Curious Universe (2019-2021)
Place of Study
BA Industrial Design, Brunel University, (2015-2019)
What I do
How would you describe what you do as a multidisciplinary designer?
I illustrate, animate and design for a wide range of clients. I typically start with super-rough sketches and questions to feel out what the client truly wants, before ironing out big changes (if any) early. Then I start working digitally, keeping the client updated along the way until any final amends and delivery.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
I think my main inspiration is the drive to better myself. I have a whole bunch of influences, notably MF DOOM, Keith Haring, Basquiat, Mac Miller and Jason Jagel, but I don’t think their work comes out in mine. It’s more about seeing just how sick they are at their own craft, and wanting to be a better version – a truly pure, unfiltered version – of me.
“I have many influences, but my work isn’t like theirs. It’s more about seeing how sick they are at their craft, and wanting to be a better version of me.”
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Training, no – just a love for what you do. I think it’s super easy to get caught up in hustle culture and the “find something you love and monetise it” mindset. What people leave out [when they say that] is that they would probably be doing what they do without the money, because work doesn’t always find you. And sometimes that’s gonna get to you, so you have to really love what you’re doing – because killing yourself just for a cheque isn’t worth it.
If you could sum up your job in an image, meme, emoji or gif, what would it be and why?
(Above) When I started my freelance career, I had my sights set on what I thought were huge milestones: big clients, billboards and being relevant and sought after. But you learn that, while being the star in the room like Michael Jordan is cool, being the ‘facilitator’ like [fellow Chicago Bulls player] Scottie Pippen – and making your client shine – is the most important aspect of your freelance career.
“Being the star in the room is cool, but being the facilitator – and making your client shine – is more important for your freelance career.”
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
I have a few in the pipeline which I’m not allowed to speak on yet (typical artist’s answer), but, any time [musician] Izzie Gibbs and I work, those are my favourite projects. We connected in late September last year and FaceTimed for an hour, talking about everything from music to anime. Now I handle the majority of his visuals and merchandise. He trusts my vision and he’s not afraid to say what he likes and doesn’t – we act a little like Jordan and Pippen!
What are your favourite things in your workspace right now?
I have way too many! My workspace is essentially a compilation of my favourite and weirdest possessions, and then a small space to fit my laptop and tablet. The weirdest, though, has to be this metal MF DOOM mask my girlfriend got me last Christmas. My favourite thing is my desktop mini fridge – essential for iced coffees and cans.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I got my first commission relatively quickly, to be honest. I think it took a week, maybe. But as my style developed, I realised I needed to pivot; I was kind of trapped in the mindset of having to create work that was ‘relevant’. It took a minute, but now I’m taking my time and making work I’m really proud of, and everything seems to be falling into place.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
My girlfriend encouraged me to start illustrating, so she’s definitely one of the catalysts for me pursuing freelance work. Before that, I was making graphics for a skate brand that me and a friend started, and only vaguely scratched the surface of digital art.
Unknowingly, skateboarding was a big one too – I always found myself drawn towards certain board graphics and styles within skate videos. I later found that most of my favourite pieces are all from the artist Andy Jenkins.
Lastly, the music video for Hunnybee [by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, directed and animated by Greg Sharp]. I remember watching that video on repeat for a solid 30 minutes, just taking in all the intricate movements and anticipation built by the fast changes of scene. It opened my eyes to how I want my animation to evoke emotion.
“I was trapped in the mindset of having to create work that was ‘relevant’, but now I’m taking my time and making work I’m really proud of.”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I think it’s been just getting out of the fast, snappy social media mindset. My first posts went straight to social media and immediately it felt like I needed to keep up, post regularly and let people know I’m there. I think it was maybe my third or fourth year when I started trying my hand at animation; it forced me to slow down and I got used to a new – and initially uncomfortable – process of taking my time.
Now, I sketch first before starting any piece, super loosely – just showing forms and angles. It feels a little like an instruction manual, and the more thought and time taken on the sketch, the more I usually like the piece in the end.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work? Do you have any advice or learnings to share?
Social media is a real double-edged sword. Without social media a lot of artists, designers and creatives wouldn’t have known where to start – it gives you a place to show the world your work and definitely helped me get to where I am. But knowing how to push past social media is essential, and building a website and communicating with your clients and friends about what you can do can help significantly.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Save 25% of your money for tax, always. If you want to live off your passion, you’ll want to legitimise your business as fast as possible. 25% is a little more than you need to save and makes sure you’re always covered.
Sometimes you’ll take jobs you aren’t 100% hyped about. Everyone has at least one experience where they need money, or the rates are too good to pass on, but they just aren’t excited about the work. That’s okay – you can just not post the work [on social media]. You can control your image.
Treat yourself. You aren’t gonna go bankrupt from buying that pair of shoes you’ve always wanted (unless they’re unbelievably expensive). You work hard, so you deserve it.
How did you go about landing your first clients/commissions?
My first client came to me through Instagram around a week after posting my first or second illustration. Recently, I’ve been working on a lot of repeat client work and, when I’m not busy, firing out emails to clients I’d like to work with. Work is likely going to slow down for everyone at some point, and sending out emails to potential clients helps close those gaps between projects.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
“Slow down to speed up.” I may be paraphrasing, but I think it’s from Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights.
The concept is that life – or a freelance career – has a bunch of green lights, and sometimes slowing down allows you to catch these green lights just as they change, rather than being caught at a red light, which can seem like forever.
Those red lights can be dry spells between projects, but taking on smaller projects – or even starting self-initiated projects – can be a perfect way to close the gap and hone your skills.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
If I had to start again, I’d make a list of the type of work, or even just the sectors I would love to work within, and then find companies, individuals or agencies that fit the criteria, who I also like.
I’d make 10 pieces that I was really proud of; a basic, but clean portfolio website to explain the thinking and concept behind the pieces, then I’d make a digital, PDF portfolio of those 10 pieces.
I’d fire out emails to as many people as possible, whether to companies, individuals, or agencies, to talk about my passion for that sector and explain who I am. And then I’d reference my website or attached digital portfolio and hopefully, someone responds the first time. If not, rinse and repeat until they do!
You can work on your social media presence while waiting for responses, or make your 10 pieces. Post them everywhere and cover as much ground as you possibly can. In the beginning, the goal is to oversaturate [your social media presence with your work] until you can “undersaturate” and curate, posting work to your chosen platform(s).
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
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