James Lancett's First Year at Bright!
last updated 01 October 2018
Since he joined Bright just a year ago, life has been a whirlwind for illustrator James Lancett. His illustrations have graced the covers of James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein’s Max Einstein series, as well as Alesha Dixon’s Lightning Girl. And things won’t be slowing down for him anytime soon! We asked James to reflect on how his life has changed since he became part of the agency and give us a peek behind the scenes at his process and studio.
How has your first year with Bright been?
My first year with Bright has been great! There have been a lot of highlights, such as working with the Einstein estate on the ‘Max Einstein’ series and illustrating Alesha Dixon’s first kid’s book Lightning Girl. It was so surreal to see Alesha Dixon on TV, talking about my illustrations!
Everyone at Bright is so wonderful and supportive! They have made this first year something really special; bring on Year 2!
Illustrations from Lightning Girl, by singer and Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon.
Had you worked professionally prior to joining Bright?
Yep! I have been working as illustrator/animator since I graduated in 2011. When I started working in the industry, I focused mostly on animation and I worked for lots of different London studios as a 2D animator.
This continues to this day…except now I am represented by Bright and I also work as an animation director for Blink Industries. I love having this balance between still and moving image and both sides of my career inform the other and keep me on my toes. After spending a long time on an animation project, is nice to do some illustration work, and vice versa.
What advice could you give to other artists that are thinking about getting an agent?
I would recommend getting an agent to most illustrators. An agent can help you get more frequent work and projects that would be very hard to land on your own. They are also great help when negotiating contracts, fees and helping out with any potential issues that may arise on a project. Ultimately, having an agent allows you to focus more on your art and less on the hunt for new work. It’s a symbiotic relationship and the more drive and positive energy you put in, the more you get out!
Cover for Mossbelly MacFearsome and the Dwarves of Doom, publishing in 2019 with Penguin.
How did you find out about the Bright Agency?
I found out about the Bright Agency through my fiancé Marta Kissi, who is also a Bright artist. Marta has been with the agency for quite a few years now and so I had been along to Bright parties as her plus one. I’m always amazed by how warm and friendly everyone at Bright was and, most importantly, it felt like a family. When it came time for me to look for a new agency, my first thought was Bright. Luckily, they were happy to take me on too, and the rest is history!
What’s your creative technique, and where do you normally begin on the page?
I normally start with a little doodle or warm up sketch either on the computer or on a sticky note. This is usually something completely unrelated to the project at hand, but it helps get the creative juices flowing and loosens you up. Sometimes these little warm up sketches even turn into personal pieces in their own right, or give me ideas for characters to use in other projects. I have a folder on my computer where I save all of these warm up sketches and a box in real life full of doodle covered scraps of paper. You never know when one of these little sketches could come in useful!
How did you develop your style?
How I draw now is very different to how I drew when I was a recent graduate and my style will probably keep developing. ‘Style’ is a big scary word for a lot of artists and encapsulate all sorts of anxieties such as, how do I define myself through my drawings, what technique feels most “me” and how do I draw eyes in my “signature” style?! I have spent many an hour worrying about things like this, but currently I feel like I have come to accept these feelings. These doubts about style will always haunt an artist, but if you are able to not let these worries derail you, then you will feel a lot more confident. Ultimately, I feel like it is important for an illustrator to draw in a way that feels most natural to them. In my experience if you are struggling to achieve a certain style or have style in the forefront of your mind when drawing, that means that it is not natural for you. Always push yourself to be a better illustrator in terms of character design, expression, acting, storytelling and don’t worry about the style, once you start focusing on what matters, the style will just happen naturally.
What mediums do you prefer to work in, and where do you create your work?
Me and my fiancé, fellow Bright artist Marta Kissi, share a studio together (aka our living room). We work side by side every day on two identical desks, hers is always lovely and tidy and mine is always messy and covered in radom bits of paper and doodle covered sticky notes! I primarily use photoshop to create my work, I have a laptop and a wacom tablet that I use to draw my images. I have various Photoshop brushes and techniques that I have developed or stumbled on to over the years.
I love the immediacy of drawing on the computer and I can’t imagine creating art in any other way!
James’ studio (and a close-up!).
What are your inspirations? And your aspirations?
I know this may sound cheesy, but my biggest inspiration is my amazing fiancé Marta Kissi. Not only is she a brilliant illustrator, but she is also an incredibly strong and determined person. She inspires me on a daily basis to be the the best I can and to work hard to achieve my goals. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her!
I have many aspirations and dreams that I am hoping to achieve. I’d say my biggest goal is create my own stories and share them with the world. Whether this be in the form of a cartoon, comic book or kids book, I just love storytelling!
What would you have told your graduating self?
If I could have told my graduate self my thoughts on “style” that I discussed in my previous question, then I could have hopefully saved myself a lot of worry. That said, would I have become the same artist without those hours of self exploration and criticism? Oh no, its a paradox!
What advice do you have for other illustrators, especially for those like you, who are currently attending school?
Apart form my thoughts on ‘style’ I would like to share this other advice nugget with any aspiring illustrators.
Being an illustrator isn’t just about being good a drawing! As a illustrator you will also be running a business and the sooner you get a handle on this the better. Seemingly boring things like accounts, taxes, contracts, etc are all important things to know when running a business. Having a grasp on these things will take a lot of stress out of running that side of your life so you can focus on the fun creative stuff. My parents are both self employed so when I started out they suggested I opened a separate bank account for my business. This was a great idea as it kept all of the money I got from illustration work and business payments separate form my messy normal account. When It came to tax time all I had to do was look at one account and that made things so much simpler! So I would suggest get yourself a separate business account and save your self a lot of headaches!
What are the most formative experiences of you career so far?
The most formative experience of my career so far isn’t necessarily an illustration-centric experience but very much informs my illustration work.
Over the last few years I have been working with the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon in the US to develop two separate cartoon pilots for shows that I have created. When I originally pitched these ideas to the networks I was just a hopeful kid with dreams of making a TV show and I had no idea how intense or rewarding this process would be. From designing the characters and writing the scripts to storyboarding the pilots and directing the voice actors I had to learn it all. Along the way I had the chance to working with many amazing people who taught me so much and the whole process was like a crash course in storytelling. It was very stressful at times but I am so thankful for this amazing experience.
These experiences have helped me develop so much as an artist and as a storyteller and this is something I have tried to carry over to my illustration work. I still have a long way to go and a lot more to learn but this really was a big changing point in my career!
To see James’ portfolio, click here.
To work with James, please contact James Burns.