artists' open houses

Jonny Hannah talks illustration, pop culture and when he learnt the art of a bowtie

Resident AOH blogger, Guy Maberly, caught up with this year’s brochure cover artist, Jonny Hannah...

Jonny Hannah

Jonny Hannah answers the phone in a broad Scottish accent. (It seems broad to me, but then I don’t know a lot of Scots!). I wasn’t expecting it so I ask him how he got it and he tells me that he was born in Dunfermline. So, how did he end up at the opposite end of the country, right on the southern coast of the UK?

According to Jonny he ‘just kept going south’. Various college courses (At Edinburgh, then Liverpool Arts School and then The Royal College of Art, in London) and then work gradually brought him down to where he resides now, in Southampton.

Jonny Hannah

Why did you choose illustration (and not another art form)?

‘Well, there’s money in it’ he says. ‘Where I come from not a lot of people have got good jobs –jobs doing things they like to do. I enjoy illustrating. And, I always liked graphic art’.

After completing his studies, at the Royal College of Art, in London Jonny took a job with an animation company. I ask him when he got his ‘break’. He explains that his first real commission was a Channel 4 short, animated film called The Man with The Beautiful Eyes, which is based on a poem by Charles Bukowski. The film was completed in 2000 and went on to win a BAFTA that same year. Since then he has steadily done more and more work – for internationally renowned publications like Vogue, The New York Times, The Sunday Telegraph and countless others.

As well as all the illustration commissions he does, Jonny now teaches at the Solent School of Art & Design, in Southampton.

Jonny Hannah

Where do you get your inspiration?

‘Pop culture: Music, poetry, film and books’, he explains. He tells me that one of his favourite films is L’Atalante, by French director, Jean Vigo. He also cites French directors Jaques Tati and Jaques Tourneur, as inspirations. (Tourneur made Cat People and I Walked with A Zombie).

He likes American poets, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Charles Bukowski, because ‘they write about everyday things, like buying a loaf of bread, or having a drink’. Jonny says he was never interested in fantasy stories like The Lord of The Rings.

Music-wise he listens to jazz, Hank Williams, and blues singers, like the Australian banjo player, CW Stoneking.

Can you tell us about your experience with AOH?

‘I’ve done the Artists Open Houses for a while now’ he says. He exhibited at SIX (at 6 Clifton Street -home of AOH head honchos Judy Stevens and Chris Lord) for many years and then in Wolfe at The Door in Hove for several years after that. This year he’ll be exhibiting his work at Jo Riddell’s house in Florence Road and also in a one-person show at The Old Market, in Hove, titled The Road To Dark Town. He sounds pretty excited about the work he’ll be exhibiting this year. ‘I’ve done some large, digital prints, something I haven’t done before; so that’ll be interesting’.

Jonny Hannah

How do you go about making an illustration?

 ‘I like to work with words’ he says. ‘My ideas usually come from poetry or books. Then I like to work as quickly as possible. I find the quicker I work, the better the result’. I’m never quite satisfied with my work, so I’m always keen to move on to the next piece; to try and improve’. I suggest that this must be the way of the artist - forever wanting to progress and improve.

Tell me about your snappy dress-sense.

‘I don’t wear jeans’ he says. He likes correspondent shoes and bow-ties. ‘When did you learn to tie one?’ I ask. ‘My brother-in-law taught me how to tie a bow-tie over the phone; which was an interesting experience. I suppose I was about 23’.

Jonny Hannah

What plans do you have for the future?

‘I’ve got a book coming out in September - about me; which I’m pretty excited about.’ It’s called Greetings from Dark Town, and is inspired by a Fats Waller song called Darktown Strutters Ball and CW Stoneking (the Australian blues singer). The book will be an overview of his work from the last 15 years, set around a story with images.

Have you got any words of advice for aspiring illustrators?

‘Don’t hope to be rich’ he says, straight off. ‘Enjoy working hard and do your own work if there are no jobs to do –write a book or something. Just keep working. Never stand still. And enjoy it. It’s good fun’.