A retreat to Japan in an attempt to escape London for a while was the starting point for John Paul Thurlow’s best known work. Whilst drawing the contents of his room he came across a travel sized copy of British Elle and recreated the cover as a pencil drawing (amending the title to read ‘Hell’ as an expression of his mood). From that point on John Paul has made it his mission to ‘recreate cover art for every great magazine and record’ he owns. The meticulously intricate drawings are far from perfect reproductions – they are filled with his own additional scrawlings, notes, thoughts, feelings and scribbles to make them a one of a kind piece of art based on a mass produced piece of media.
John Paul was kind enough to take the time out to answer our Ten Questions.
1. How do you describe what you do?
People who know my work know me for making pencil drawings that are fucked-up flip-sides of disposable pop icons. Bullshit sound-bites aside, it’s all really my therapy, an antidote to my day job, somewhere I can say whatever the fuck I want about the things I love and hate. It’s my hand drawn autobiography.
2. What made you want to do what you do?
In London, a frustration with others telling me what I could and couldn’t do creatively. Simply put I felt like I knew better and invented a project to prove it. I won’t lie, Covers was a positive thing that came out of a very dark time. In moments like that you focus on the basics… the people and things you really care about come into focus. I literally drew my way out of a depression.
3. How would you describe your workplace?
I live and work in a 1915 Cass Gilbert warehouse on the bank of the East River in Brooklyn. I can hear waves 24/7. This is a good thing. I have a large gloss white table. A Fios internet connection… a Mac Book, my library, a plan chest, a bag of 0.7mm pencils and a propelling eraser… Spotify…. A2 paper stock… Sennhieser earphones, a Canon Eos camera and an Epson scanner.
4. What is your favourite colour?
Right now probably mid grey with yellow pinstripe. As if you needed proof I’m currently sporting a grey pedicure. The colour is called skull and gloss bones. To be honest I use color every day 9-5 so to not use colour in my illustrations is a relief.
5. Who is your favourite artist or writer?
Artist? That’s hard. Within the span of my own lifetime probably Richard Hamilton. Beyond that? Possibly Holbein the Younger. I would have been his loyal and attentive apprentice.
Writer, that’s easier. One of my closest friends is a writer and I’ve read almost every draft of everything he’s ever written. A long time ago now we were a creative team. One day soon the world will discover his literary genius and he’ll be famous. Hollywood heeds him.
6. What was your previous job?
Currently beauty and fashion advertising. In the past digital media. I am a creative director. That doesn’t automatically make me a tosser. People you’d like tell me I’m actually quite good at it.
7. Do you work within a team? If so, how many people do you work with?
My illustration is usually a perfectly solitary occupation. I do have a handful of trusted collaborators. Tom Meredith at Elle, Steven Gregor at Gym Class, Christopher Shultz at Pinups. These people are my friends and when they talk ideas they do so in a generous and truly collaborative way. They know me, my foibles, strengths and weaknesses.
I work at an ad agency in NY where I am surrounded by incredible intellectuals and a high level of ambient creativity. I am a lucky man who worked hard to get what he wanted.
8. Do you listen to music whilst working? If so, what do you listen to?
Spotify or vinyl. Mostly stuff without lyrics. M83’s last three albums seem to have a high number on my Last.fm profile. I like electronica, soundtracks and beard scratching classical.
9. Who inspires you to do what you’re doing? / 10. Which advice has helped you the most?
My grandfather was a painter who once told me I wouldn’t ever be any good. My parents encouraged me to ignore that advice. I chose to listen to them.
My godfather is a painter who taught me a true history of art – he gave me a historical context and an appreciation for real excellence of technique.
I have discovered an ancestor who illustrated the first cover of UK Vogue. That was a boot up the arse.
A small group of friends who never bullshit me.
Me. I’ve learnt to be artistically self-sufficient. Given the chance I would have no problem what-so-ever filling my time just drawing. It’s a limitless pursuit.
And bad reviews. I’ve only had one or two but I fucking love them. They bring out the steel in me.
Huge thanks to John Paul for his time and thanks to you for reading, until next time…