Jelly Presents: Damien Weighill

It’s been a long, grey January, and we’re in need of something light-hearted to lift our spirits. Cue London-based Northerner Damien Weighill.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

An imaginative use of comedy and humorous references to popular culture underpin all his creative output, as do dolphins, fried eggs and aliens… all of which the illustrator is, in his own words, “obsessed” with.

In the latest Jelly Presents, we dig into the roots of Damien's comedy, his approach to characters, the importance of creating self-initiated work, and of course - his favourite joke...

What inspired you to get into illustration?

I began my career as a graphic designer and found myself staying late at the studio a lot, doing things that felt incredibly important like drawing really bad portraits of people. I was lucky enough to pick up some illustration commissions (Thanks Jelly!) and eventually it snowballed to a point where it wasn't possible to do graphic design work, illustration and also get some sleep. It felt like a scary crossroads to arrive at but I chose sleep and illustration and I'm very happy that I did.

What’s your favourite type of project to work on?

One of the things I love most about being an illustrator is that you don't know what kind of project is going to come up from week to week. I like to be involved in the ideas part of the process. It can be fun to arrive at a project when everything is set in stone and draw what's required in my style but really I love projects where there is room to add some of my ideas into the mix.

Much of your work is light-hearted and uses comedy. Where does that come from and how did you learn to apply it to different projects?

I think it comes from being a shy kid (and then a shy adult). Making light-hearted drawings became a good way to get some attention without stepping into the spotlight. You can shout "hey! look at this!" and it's a bit like shouting "hey! look at me!" but it has the advantage of not having to deal with people actually looking at you.

How do you develop your unusual characters?

No matter what I'm drawing I find it almost impossible to resist the urge to see what it would look like if it had eyes. I don't know if that counts as developing a character but I get a lot of joy out of it. I get obsessed with drawing certain types of characters. For a long time it has been dolphins and then I moved on (I haven't really moved on) to drawing fried eggs and aliens.

How have your style, approach and outlook evolved since you started out?

When I started out I only really cared about ideas and not so much about how my illustrations looked. I didn't really make sketches and there was very little in the way of editing. Drawings just came out the way that they came out. Over time if you are doing something a lot it is almost impossible not to develop your craft. I've gotten better at drawing against my own will basically.

What have been the catalysts in your career that helped develop your craft?

Often an element of one drawing or project inspires the next. You draw one dolphin and a couple of years later you've drawn hundreds and you can't really explain to anyone why you do it.

A big thing that has really been an influence on me is sharing studios with wonderful, inspiring people. Walking into a room and seeing friends producing works of genius really makes you want to turn up everyday and push your own work forwards.

Do you have any current interests that are inspiring you or feeding into your work?

I'm running a lot these days and I'm really enjoying the headspace that comes with it.

It's exhausting enough that my brain can never hold onto any one particular thread for too long before I have to concentrate on just not giving up. I find that my brain makes the weirdest connections. It has the same idea generating/problem solving magic that being in the shower has for some people but with the added bonus of better scenery.

How important do you think it is to create self-initiated work?

It's massively important to me. I think I'd still be making silly drawings and just putting them in a drawer somewhere if I wasn't an illustrator. On a professional level, so many projects happen because someone has seen another piece of work that you've made. Doing self-initiated work that you love can be used as a kind of rudder to steer you towards getting commissions that are more aligned with what you want to create as an artist.

Any dream clients? Why these brands/organisations?

It's always nice to work with cool businesses/brands/charities but my dream clients are just nice people who are passionate about what they do. I like working together with people on projects and ending up creating things that I would never have made on my own.

What’s your favourite joke?

It's got to be one of a million things said by my mate Rob Auton. There's one where he is home for Christmas and his mum is trying to persuade him to shave his beard off....

Rob's Mum: First impressions last.

Rob: Do they?! Well if they do then I'm a baby to you. I'm naked, covered in blood, bald all over, and screaming in your face. Is that what it's like Mum?!

Rob's Mum: Yeaaahhh. Every day Rob! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.

It's better when he tells it.

See Damien's portfolio, here.