Ladies and Gentlemen, let us introduce you to an illustrator who, in our opinion at least should have his work featured everywhere. Jim Gilbert. Remember the name, because you’re going to recognise the talent, we can promise you that.
Jim appears to be able to capture the likeness of his subjects in just single digit strokes and sometimes only just two colours. To him though it’s all just a working progress. We caught up with Jim to hear about his work, influences and love of Stoke City.
Cult Kits: First things first… So, you're a Stoke City fan?
Jim Gilbert: I sigh as I write this. I love Stoke but F me it's been a rough ride recently. From our last season in the Premier League and every season since there have been very few highs! It’s draining. The same mistakes repeated, the false dawns. We're getting a bit of a reputation as being a place where players and managers, go to trash their careers.
A very real chance of us getting relegated this season. But there were good times. I'll never forget Mark Stein, the SAS (Sturridge and Sheron), Rory Delap's long throws and the likes of Fuller, Tuncay, Bojan and Arnautovic tearing it up in the Premier League. Sigh.
CK: What's your earliest footballing memory?
JG: There are two I really remember. My first Stoke game at the Victoria ground (now demolished) was Stoke vs Piacenza in the Anglo-Italian Cup—which was a great competition by the way. I can vividly remember standing (it was standing back then!) quite far back on the terrace in a freezing cold Boothen End, watching the steam, illuminated by the floodlights, rise off the rows of fans in front of me. The smell of Bovril in the air. It really felt like being part of something big.
It sounds weird but it was almost like being inside a photograph, if that makes sense. It was like a 10-second experience, probably less, but that one snapshot in my mind is perfectly preserved— to the point where I still think I can see the exact positions of the players in that scene as a substitution was made. It’s very vivid. Which is weird because my memory is usually terrible. My frame of reference for football before that was photographs or TV so to be there felt surreal. There's that feeling of entering the stadium too as you step out and see the pitch. Always gives me butterflies.
The other experience I vividly remember is going to Carrow Road to see Norwich play Tottenham back when Norwich had the likes of Chris Sutton and Ruel Fox and Tottenham had Darren Anderton, Teddy Sheringham etc. it wasn’t a brilliant game but we experienced every single weather condition imaginable. One moment it was sunny, next rain, hail, then driving snow, then rain again then sun. It was wild.
CK: Tell us a bit about your illustrative style
JG: I consider it a work in progress. I'm only ever fleetingly happy with anything I do creatively. After a few hours, I always feel that it could be improved or changed. Sometimes I look back at older work and value it more and think, ‘I need to do more stuff like that’ - then I'll do something new and think ‘That’s better…’ and then a week later I'll want to try something new again. It's an evolving process I guess. The whole practice is about trying to not be too precious and having fun. I don't think I've cracked it yet.
"I'm only ever fleetingly happy with anything I do creatively. After a few hours, I always feel that it could be improved or changed."
My Instagram is basically a documentation of the process of trying to define a style. A series of happy accidents and experiments. It’s usually just portraits but I did start a series called ‘Footballers laying down’ which was players on the floor after a tackle or harsh challenge. The shots of footballers you usually see are celebratory, of them being heroic or dynamic, but in this case, they’re smashed, vulnerable and rolling about on the floor. I should do more of those come to think of it.
CK: How long have you been drawing for?
JG: I’ve always drawn. When I was a kid I'd make comics or design characters and draw them battling. I still do. At the moment I'm drawing a series of made-up Kaiju (Japanese monsters) for my son which I want to turn into a card game for him. My day-to-day work has always been as a graphic designer though so the drawing dropped off a little as I was mostly on computers.
I was still sketching and hashing out design ideas etc but not properly drawing - so I lost the knack a little. That's how this project started. I wanted to get better at it again so during the World Cup and over COVID/lockdown I just started using my iPad to sketch as I was watching football. Then I kind of got addicted to drawing portraits of footballers and set up an Instagram to post them.
CK: What designers/artists influence or inspire you?
There are tonnes of designers I appreciate. Build, Hey Studio, SPIN. Illustration-wise, I love Rob Bailey's work. Stan Chow. Luis Mendo. There are too many to list!
CK: What draws you to portraits of football players?
JG: I don't know really. It's a bit embarrassing, isn't it. It’s like a kid drawing their heroes. I mean, fundamentally, I just like football! It's weird but I've always had this thing where when I like something I have to get more involved with it. Like, it’s not enough to just consume something, I need to get closer. For example, I’ve always been into music so the next logical step to get closer to that world was to make music and so that’s what I did.
I still make and release music too (you can check out my stuff on Spotify etc, although Bandcamp is better, they actually pay artists! Search ‘Petteril’). I think that drawing footballers is like a version of whatever that is… maybe? I am not good at football. Not at all. I played a bit of 5-a-side in Manchester at the power league and our team lost almost every game we played for about 3 seasons. Ha ha. I mean we bloody loved it and gave it our best, but we were just terrible. It was a grind at times. Just because you love football, doesn't mean you can do it! So yeah, I feel like this is my way of showing some appreciation for the people who can and somehow feeling closer to the sport.
CK: Which player have you found to be the most difficult to capture?
JG: I don't know why, because there's really no reason for it, but for some reason, Kieran Trippier just won't work for me! I've done about 4 or 5 pics of him and they never seem to look right! I reckon maybe he's not from this world. A lizard person or something. That's the only explanation.
CK: Have you had anyone contacting you requesting certain players?
JG: I’ve done a few for friends and relatives. I did Cantona for my brother-in-law who is a Man United fan and Drogba for someone else. Glory Mag commissioned some Ronaldo CR7 portraits at varying stages of his career too. But I don't get too many requests. I'd actually quite like to get suggestions for players though so if anyone has any fire them over, especially more obscure or unknown fan favourites. I might start maybe a weekly or monthly ‘request for player suggestions’ story via my IG or something and then choose one and draw it.
CK: Who have you worked with over the years? Any interesting collaborations?
JG: Through my design work, I've worked for loads. JD Sports, Puma, Kitbag, Sony PlayStation... But the illustration work is currently a side project. It’d be amazing for this to become my main line of work, but I think there's a limited demand from people with the big bucks for commissioning illustrations of footballers' heads in my very specific and still evolving artistic style! Ha ha.
But if there's anyone out there, please do hit me up. I'm not cheap though so get your credit card out. I've done some work for the Mundial podcast ‘Reminding you why you love football’ (love Mundial) which will hopefully be out soon and there was some of my work in the Portugal issue of Glory mag (love Glory mag). I did some Hull players for the Journeymen podcast too. Worth checking that pod out.
CK: What are your plans for the year ahead?
JG: Develop my style, keep busy, make music, make art, watch football, draw football, enjoy the summer with my wife and kids, learn chess, start a radio show. Maybe work some things out. Stay healthy. Live and let live.
CK: Where can people view/buy your work?
JG: View at IG: jim_a_g or my website: jimag.myportfolio.com/
There’s nowhere to buy my work yet. If the demand grows then I’ll work something out. I’m experimenting with some RISO/screen printing hacks that might allow me to make limited-run artwork prints but it’s slow going at the moment due to other commitments and I want them to be high quality, not just glossy digital prints, but high-quality paper and inks.
The problem is that at the moment if I build it… I'm not sure if they’ll come. It’d be much better for me if we flip it and everyone turns up first so I know there’s a demand and then I’ll build it. So, if you would buy prints, let me know and maybe I'll make it happen. I made some ‘arty’ trading cards last year which went down well, but no plans to mass produce as of yet. You can see them on my IG. If 1m people comment ‘want’ on the post I’ll make another limited run. How about that?