Friday, October 16, 2009

Interview - Jeremy Wortsman of the Jacky Winter Group

Buzzcocks graphic By Karl Kwasny
Claire Bowditch album cover artwork by Kat Macleod

Is Not Magazine - a collboration between Jeremy Wortsman, Stuart Geddes, Penny Modra, Mel Campbell and Natasha Ludowyk. Is Not was awarded a Premier’s Design Award in 2006.

SUPER gorgeous work for Victoria Tourism, by Sydney illustration geniuses We Buy Your Kids, and Commissioned by Publicis Mojo Melbourne. (close-ups below...)

OK so if you read this blog regularly (thankyou!), you will most definitely know Jacky Winter. The Jacky Winter Group = Australia's premier illustration agency.... (are there any others..? No, seriously, are there?).

Jacky Winter was started in 2007 by Melbourne' favourite New Yorker, Jeremy Wortsman. It's hard to believe that until then, there was no dedicated Illustration agency in Melbourne. Can you believe it? With so much immense talent in this little city... it took an out-of-towner to come and package it all up for us!? Typical.

Anyway, in just two short years, the agency has grown from 12 artists (managed from Jeremy's bedroom!) to 76 artists across three distinct categories. Under the Jacky Winter umbrella, Jeremy also runs the Lamington Drive gallery, which exclusively showcases artwork by Jacky Winter illustrators - enabling Jeremy to promote and raise the profile of these talented creatives and showcase their work not just as commercial illustration, but as collectable artwork. GENIUS or what?

So yes, Jeremy is one clever cookie. He has grown Jacky Winter from a little seed into a beautiful fruitful tree! ....and in the process has helped nurture the careers of so many incredible local artists. He is truly such an inspiring designer and creative entrepreneur, and I have such a huge amount of respect for his company and his incredible talents and drive. I really need to hang out with him a bit more often in the hope that some of his brainy ideas will rub off on me.

Read on for an insight into the super lovely and very entertaining Jeremy Wortsman!

PS) Jeremy is giving a talk later this month at Loop Bar in the city, as part of a new free Melbourne monthly creative event called The Vault. Great opportunity to meet and be inspired by JW in person! Details at the bottom of the post!

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?

This is a bit of a tricky one, as things have taken such twists and turns, and each and every step along the way lead to something else. Things that were crazy at the time (like my 5 hour stint as a dishwasher in South Melbourne) all actually fit into the big picture in retrospect. When I give talks, I actually have to show a flowchart to explain things! Without getting into too much detail though, my first experience in design was doing a Pre-college course in Graphic Design at Parsons School of Design in New York (where I am from), This led to an internship with my professor there that I did after hours during high school. I started a degree in design at Pratt Institute, then switched to Film, and then eventually dropped out (or deferred as you like to say, which sounds alot nicer!). From there, things just got a bit crazy. There was a weird day spent in jail, accidentally living in a cult-like house in Bondi Beach, Lots of retouching pictures of Dog Food, and somehow I've ended up where I am. Like I said, It's a bit complicated!

What were your initial goals for Jacky Winter, and how has the business evolved since you first set up shop?

After leaving Pratt, I somehow lucked into this incredible job at a startup magazine called Book, as their associate art director. Part of my job was commissioning all the illustration for the issue, which was an incredibly rewarding task. Working at a magazine with a largish staff really inspired me, as it was almost like this creative utopia, only with money involved. There were writers, photographers, editors, business people, art directors, etc, and each month you get to create this wonderful new thing and put it out into the world.

Book Magazine covers

I think I missed that idea when I moved to Australia in 2001, so along with 4 other people, I tried to create it myself, and the result was Is Not Magazine. Stuart, (also a co-founder and designer of is/not, who I went on to found Chase&Galley with) and I were both passionate about illustration and comics, so we sought to find new and exciting illustrators for each issue. Each month I was astounded that there wasn't an agency here representing young and contemporary illustrators, and was even more shocked that our regular contributors such as Eamo, Paul Davis, and Lachlan Conn, were struggling to find work in the field. My goal was simple: to bring these talents together to get them work, and make a living myself as both the curator, manager, and producer of the talent that was already here, and to do it in style, in a way that would actually capture the attention of creatives.

Obama by Eamo, commissioned by Blender Magazine (USA), Art Director: Robert Vargas

In terms of how the business has evolved, I never would have predicted things would have gone from 12 artists, and me working by myself from my bedroom to how it is now. We have 38 artists in the Core Group, 22 in The Hatch, which represents more emerging and avant-garde Australian Illustrators, 16 in our most recent agency, The Bowery, which represents more traditional and technical artists such as storyboarders and 3D renderers. There is also Rock of Eye, which I run with Rebecca Wolkenstein, which is almost like a reverse Jacky Winter Group, representing International artists in Australasia. Rebecca also represents Jacky Winter in Sydney. Finally, there is Lamington Drive, our bricks and mortar gallery in Fitzroy below our offices, which shows Jacky Winter artists exclusively.

All that said, our core values and how we work has not changed one bit. We have grown to the point that there is enough staff to handle the workload, and I still pride myself on the personal attention and care I offer to both our artists and clients. All in all, it's been quite a natural progression that in the end all comes back to the same principal, which is getting as much good work as we can for our talent that everyone can be proud of, and grow both financially and creatively. I feel we're at a really solid and stable place right now, and at the same time, we're only just getting started!

OK so Jacky Winter represents all the best illustrators in the land. Then you also have Lamington Drive… and now Rock of Eye.. The Hatch… And you still design stuff too? Where will it end?! What is next for JW!?

Chase&Galley, the design practice I co-founded with Stuart prior to starting the agency, is still going strong with Stuart at the helm. As the agency grew, I sadly had to exit the partnership as Jacky Winter required my full attention and resources. I still do all the design for Jacky Winter, but even that is being scaled back a bit. I get ideas faster than I can make them happen, but now everything ties back to Jacky Winter in some way, which is essential.

Even notepods, which I just launched last week with our web partners Inventive Labs, has had huge flow-on effect back to Jacky Winter in ways I never anticipated. Lamington Drive is similar as well, in that it just generates more interest back to our artists and the agency. In that way I hope it never ends! The industry is changing so much, so fast, that new ideas and methods to establish and maintain our relationships with our current and potential clients is more important than ever. In terms of whats next, well, I have to keep that as a surprise for now, but I can tell you it will be exciting as always...

Next Wave Corporate ID by Chase&Galley (Jeremy Wortsman and Stuart Geddes)

Can you give us an insight into the inner workings of Jacky Winter? How is the business structured? Do you employ lots of helpers? Which significant tasks do you outsource? How on earth do you keep up with everything?

Basically, I'm a complete nerd when it comes to computers or any sort of gadget. Not that we have an assembly line of robots or anything, but I have invested a great deal of time, effort, and money into systems and processes that streamline how the agency is run. From our custom database software which manages our contacts, estimates, and invoices, to our online project management and collaboration systems, I like to things that things run pretty smoothly. That said, the agency is very simply structured on a business level. There are four of us in Melbourne, and Rebecca is in Sydney and employs one person there. I keep up with everything because I just work all the time. I think some people might view this negatively, but in all honesty, nothing makes me happier! It's my own business, but I have hundreds of bosses. I work for my illustrators, clients, and employees. The whole proposition is just thoroughly invigorating, and as cliche as it sounds, its not a job or work, its simply my life. Even though I am much more on the business-side of things, I have never felt more creative in my life. The day doesn't start or end, it just sort of all fits together and works. I feel very lucky to be able to say that.

How do you pick such amazing names for your business ventures? (Jacky Winter, Lamington Drive, Rock of Eye, Peter Peter!??)

Ugh, naming is my most dreaded activity. In the 6-8 months it took to actually make the agency a reality from an initial idea, I reckon I spent at least 4 months fussing about with names. I knew that I didn't want to name the agency after me, which seems to be a tradition amongst most agencies, as its really not about me, however I did want it to have some sort of personal touch. As we were representing Australian Illustrators to the world, I wanted there to be something specifically Australian, and the bird metaphor just fit in terms of giving artists the ability to reach new audiences. When I came across The Jacky Winter, an Australian Robin, and realised we shared initials, it all sort of clicked. The whole identity, including our annual Field Guide promos all stemmed from that, as well as all the names for the sub-agencies, as we had a base to work with. Lamington Drive was actually going to be the original name of the agency before Jacky Winter. I always thought it was a bit funny, as it sounded like a cute little street where people lived. I think it works much better as a name for a gallery though! Its quite apt actually...

Which illustrators, designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by right now?

At the risk of busting out with yet another Cliche, everyone we represent continue to surprise, delight, and inspire me every day. I feel so privileged to be able to witness the creative process each day, and seeing things go from words and sketches to fully fleshed out work is just sublime! Taking my gaze away from the agency however, I wouldn't know where to start, as I could write pages and pages of people doing amazing things! Abi at Third Drawer Down, apart from being my neighbor on George Street, is doing some of the most exciting work with Third Drawer Down and is a huge personal inspiration for me. Jessica Hische in New York makes typographic illustration that just makes me melt. I just finished reading the massive Kramer's Ergot, which is published by Buenaventura Press in California, which apart from being the largest physical book I have ever held, is simply amazing. Apart from that, Patton Oswalt is the most amazing comedian living today, and I don't care what anyone else says or thinks, Dave Eggers is my role model. I also listen to Morrissey every day, and at least one member of Wu-Tang to balance things out.

Meanjin Quarterly pagespreads by Chase&Galley (Jeremy Wortsman and Stuart Geddes)

Which 5 websites do you visit daily?

Without google reader, I would be completely lost. As you can probably sense, gathering inspiration and knowing what is out there across all creative fields is essential. If I had to narrow down the 50 feeds that I read daily (and excluding the design files of course!) I would
say: to keep up with whats happening in the local
ad agency world, any of the sites in the family,
especially Ask Metafilter,, to keep
everyone honest,, and finally, my
favourite webcomic ever.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

The agency has three distinct modes of operation, which are Promotion, Management, and Development. While each day involves working across all three aspects, right now I'm working primarily in the management part, which means that the bulk of the day is spent on the computer (surprise, surprise) and phone, just ensuring that whatever jobs are on at the moment are moving along to both artist and client expectations. Between that, I review folios from students and prospective artists, meet with our artists in Melbourne to catch up and talk about strategy, blog on the Jacky Winter Peter-Peter, say lots of offensive things out loud, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, think about quitting smoking, make estimates, send invoices, pay artists, pay bills, read rss feeds and the victoria police twitter feed, send some random tweets, sign contracts, stuff envelopes, open mail, not drink enough water, make my own lunch, talk to printers, practice my Australian accent which is largely based on Public Service Announcements, and a whole lot more.

What would be your dream project?

Getting Oslo Davis into the New Yorker.

'Hang on' Oslo Davis cartoon for The Age

What are you looking forward to?

For the last 8 months I have been rebuilding a 1975 Honda CB750 in Gippsland with the president of the CB750 club who owns this incredible shop in Yarram. The whole bike has been taken apart and put back together again, each part being completely customised. Lachlan Conn, who has designed all the Jacky Winter logos is even doing some art for the side panels for our new Motorcycle Gang, The Jacky Winter Skull Peckers, which right now consists only of me. I pick up the bike on December 5, the day my license suspension ends (long story, I am completely innocent though!), and I even have a countdown clock on my iphone telling me how many seconds away that day is. So I guess you could say I am looking forward to it quite a bit.

Melbourne Questions –

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade (ie reference materials, computer gadgets, drawing / design stuff etc?)

Line up all the usual suspects here. Metropolis, Minotaur, Magnation.
Regretfully, I do heaps of my shopping online though.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I would have to say at James Cameron's house, where he cooked homemade pizzas with the same love and attention to detail that he put in his clothing. He did a series of pizzas including desert pizzas that pretty much guaranteed I will never fit in said clothing.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Bed. Hopefully. Or at the E-Vam Institute in North Carlton where I regularly volunteer.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

I don't care what anyone says, Docklands is totally underrated, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. I absolutely adore the fact that its pretty much a ghost town. Its close to water, it has a Costco (which being american I of course love), and ACTION ZONE!! They are also finally opening up a real ice rink there in February, which is the second thing I am most looking forward to.

Cricketers illustration by Clemens Habicht, Commissioned by The Bulletin Magazine.

HUGE thanks to Jeremy for his time with this interview! If you would like to see/meet Jeremy in person, you should totally go hear him speak at The Vault event later this month.

The Vault
- guest speaker Jeremy Wortsman

6.00pm - 8.00pm, Monday 26th October

Loop Bar, 23 Meyers Place, City.

For more information: please see the Vault Melbourne facebook page or email


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