James Oses artist interview

22 February 2024

Equally at home in his studio or out in the wild with his dip pen and brushes, James Oses has an observational style so relaxed in its delivery you could be fooled into thinking it was easy. This is a painter at the top of his game and we spoke with James about his projects and practices.

How often do you pick up a pencil?

Every day. All my illustration projects start with a pencil. Drawing rough pencil sketches is such an important part of the process for me. It allows me to figure out the bare bones of an illustration, but also gives me the confidence to be lively and spontaneous when it comes to painting and drawing in pen and ink. The only exception is when I’m out drawing on location reportage style, then I just go for it without any preliminary drawing.

Tell us about a project you've found particularly fulfilling.

I was asked to illustrate an amazing book called Rooms of Their Own written by Alex Johnson (published 2022). This featured over 100 full-colour illustrations of famous writers’ workspaces, both contemporary and historic. The brief was very much to depict things as if the writer had just left the room. This project, in particular, really made me grow as an artist and step outside my comfort zone. I had to research and draw such a wide variety of spaces (some of which don’t exist anymore) and I think this made me a lot more versatile and imaginative as an illustrator.

What dream project are you hoping will land in your inbox?

One day, I’d absolutely love to draw a wine label. Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to work on some fantastic projects with wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd. This has helped me to learn a little about wine, but also got me thinking about how great it would be to illustrate an actual label. I’m definitely guilty of choosing wine based solely on a nice illustration, so I love the idea of someone doing the same with something I’ve drawn!



Has your visual language evolved significantly over the years?

As a young artist I often sketched from direct observation in pen. Drawing from life, and not being able to rub things out made me more decisive. I’m still very much informed by this approach. I rarely pick up an eraser, even on pencil roughs, usually just preferring to start again if things go pear shaped. What has changed over the years is I use a lot more colour now. One of my first big commissions was for Borough Market producing black and white line drawings almost exclusively. I love using watercolour and mixed media, but working solely in pen and ink is still something I like to be asked to do.

Who had an early influence on your career?

When I studied BA Illustration, I was taught life drawing in my first year by the brilliant Aldous Eveleigh. I owe all my tutors a lot, but Aldous fundamentally changed the way I thought about drawing as a young art student. His approach has a kind of rock ‘n’ roll energy which really resonated with me at the right time. I realised that drawing could be an instinctive, expressive experience, not just a means to an end.

What is your current workspace like?

My desk is a slightly awkward wooden table, painted in a rather lurid yellow from a previous owner’s DIY job. I meant to sand and refinish it ages ago but such is life! It’s got quite a nice paint splattered patina now which I’ve begun to accept.

Looking around, I’m surrounded by the usual analog artist ephemera all within reach. Tubes of watercolour, brushes, oil pastels, ink, my favourite dip-pen nibs, broken mugs now exclusively used as pen pots etc. I also have different plants on the windowsill, and some truly terrifying creations made by my friend, and punk jeweller, Tim Carson.

Other artists I admire are up on the walls: a lithograph of Greece by Paul Hogarth; a small Lucinda Rogers print of a removals van; as well as a beautiful linocut of Amsterdam by fellow CIA artist Clare Melinsky which I treasure.

Nearby, I’ve got a collection of different magazines, book covers, and other physical media which I’ve illustrated. Spread out on the floor (my partner is very patient at the moment) are the illustrations for an exciting book project I’m working on written by historian Professor Kate Williams. It’s called The Royal Palaces: Secrets and Scandals (comes out June 2024). This one has over 110 illustrations: regency banquets; tudor jousting; ravens; polar bears; corgis; crumbling castles; and literally golden rooms. It’s been a lot of fun to illustrate!


See more beautiful illustration from James here. 

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