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A note from the field


Jul 24, 2019

Who is Jakes Smithies?

Originally hailing from Sheffield; Jake Smithies is a man of many talents. An avid illustrator and musician, one could say he has many strings to his bow. Having discovered his undeniable talent for drawing when he was just an infant, Jake has since gone on to build his illustration portfolio, designing for events, musicians and brands alike. His illustrations are never hard to spot, often composed of heavy line work and taking styling notes from the 20s–50s, they are sure to catapult you back in time and leave you feeling nostalgic for decades you may never have even lived through.

We met up with the maverick behind the fountain pen to chat doodles, Dr Seuss and dressing in the 21st century…

ST: So, tell us, why illustration?

JS: Well, I’ve always drawn since I was a child. It would be very rare to see me without a pen in hand! If you looked at my books from my school days, every book had doodles and scribbles in the margins and all over the covers.

ST: I bet that’s funny to look back at now…

JS: It’s quite surreal. By the time I went to university I had decided that illustration was for me and formed a publishing company to pursue my career. That then led to me getting some commission work, which in turn lead to my first proper client and branding job.

ST: So, chasing the dream really worked! Who was your first proper client then?

JS: It was Wunderkammer Musical Instrument Maker. Once I completed that project it all skyrocketed from there. Also, whilst touring with my band Dead Mans Uke, I would meet loads of other great musicians and found myself creating plenty of album artwork and tour branding for other artists.

ST: Interesting, so your talents in the music and art world ended up crossing over nicely. Those all sound like exciting products. Do you have a standout project that you are most proud of?

JS: So far, I would say my favourite project to work on has been the Alpine Classique 2019 branding. It was great to work with Sebastien at A Piece of Chic who create Alpine Classique. We worked on so many different elements to create an entire brand and concept. We had everything from silk scarves to pennants and posters – everything you could imagine really.

I am working on some exciting projects in the latter half of 2019 that I am super excited about, but I must keep these under wraps as it’s all ‘TOP SECRET’. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled in 2020 when these start hitting the scene.

ST: We look forward to it. You have a really unique sense of style – how would you describe it?

JS: Since I can remember I’ve always had a passion for fashion. Through both my music and my art I have explored a range of styles and have landed in the 1920s–1940s for formal wear and the 1930s–50s for my casualwear with some heavy western wear influences. I constantly shift between the whole period, so each day is a combination of that. In terms of illustration though, I have two main styles; my ‘signature’, monochromatic, heavy linework style that is reminiscent of old etchings and woodcuts that are very typical of turn of the century children’s books.

ST: And your other style?

JS: ‘Retro-noir’ I would say. It combines the looks for 1920’s – 30’s fashion illustrations with the more 40’s/50’s advertisement style, with a slight comic book modernist fresh touch to it all.

ST: Do you think you take your inspiration from anywhere in particular?

JS: My inspirations across both fashion and illustration are largely the same. My biggest must be Edward St. John Gorey. His writing style, illustration style, whole life and aesthetic has had a massive impact on my life…and my bank account! I was always a fan of Tim Burton and Dr Seuss. These three paved the way for me to get into illustration and view it as a career and lifestyle. Clothing-wise, I think Edward Gorey and Tim Burton again played a big part. The slightly Victorian/Edwardian themes that ran through their work really enticed me.

ST: Do you think your love for music has influenced your style?

JS: Yes, certainly. As I got into music more, I discovered the Jazz Age and the Big Band Craze that shot my style from the New-Romantic, Robert Smith period I was experimenting with to turn of the century clothing. Then, as my musical tastes developed and I opened myself to more things, my style did the same…I guess I just absorbed the things that I love and ended up here!

ST: You wore one of our sweaters on your recent tour. What is your favourite Smart Turnout product?

JS: Well you answered the question yourself. My favourite Smart Turnout product has to be the Navy Cricket Sweater; the long-sleeved one. I pair it with an off-white shirt – both casual, open collar, or formal with a tie.

It’s great for the cold winter months or a nice summer’s evening sat outside working on projects or just relaxing with friends.

ST: They are very versatile! Speaking of relaxing with friends, is that what we can find you doing on a weekend?

JS: During the weekend you can usually find me on tour, gigging, digging through an antique store or flea markets. If none of those, I will be in my studio drawing and drinking copious amounts of coffee…

ST: Sounds like you will need plenty of coffee with everything you have going on. Will you fit in time to travel this year?

JS: Well, so far I have already travelled between Germany and the UK, a lot! We have played festivals in Poland, France, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Next, I am going to the Czech Republic and Finland for shows, and then the plan is to end up in America. This is with Dead Mans Uke, and a few with a new act, A Muckrakers Cabaret.

ST: Seeing as you will travel so much, do you have any travel essentials?

JS: In terms of clothing, I always pack a pair of mid 30’s high waisted wide-leg pants, some spear-collar shirts, a western/ricky jacket and a bucket load of neckties! Recently I’ve added my Piece of Chic silk scarf and my Smart Turnout pullover to that list, of course.

When I am travelling and illustrating, I can NOT leave the house without my sketchbook. I have a favourite Rymans one which I have used for 10 years now. I take a tin with a 1930’s Kaweco Dia fountain pen, a Kaweco AI Sport fountain pen (extra fine nib), a Blackwing 602 and a set of ‘pass the pigs’! You will never find me without these things.

ST: Jake, thank you so much for chatting with us today. We wish you all the best for the rest of 2019!

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