A chat with… designer and artist Glenn Jones
Glenn Jones was always creative. His life-long love of art led him to a job as a creative director for a graphic design company, and more recently, to starting his own art studio with wife Julie where the couple create nostalgic art prints that tap into Kiwi childhood memories, think water bomb instruction guides, buzzy bee scooters and fighter lolly jet planes.
At one point, he was behind an international T-shirt brand that had quirky designs worn on hit TV shows The Big Bang Theory, Arrow, and by comedians and film stars, including Shaun of the Dead and Mission Impossible star, Simon Pegg.
Jones lives in Auckland with Julie and their three children aged nine, seven and six, who are both his biggest fans, and strongest critics.
Bridget Jones sat down with him to talk about his approach to art, creativity and the power of memory.
You’ve said the joy in your art is nostalgia. What was your childhood like? A picture of perfect Kiwiana?
It totally was. I grew up next to a dairy and so that plays a big part in my memories. Taking glass bottles back and getting 1 or 2 cent coins, and swapping those for a lolly mixture. Looking back, those mixtures were huge - maybe it’s just because we were little, but it felt like you could hand over 5c and get a whole lot back. That nostalgia’s the inspiration behind a lot of my work. When I post a print, the amount of people who share their memories of swinging on old rotary washing lines, or taking a walk with a grandparent who would buy them a chocolate fish. It’s incredible how much emotion can come from something quite simple, but recognisable.
Have any ideas been sparked by Covid and the past 18 months?
Not really. As much as we’re adapting and finding new ways to live, it’s a time of frustration for lots of people, so I think it’s nice to concentrate on stuff that makes us feel good. Online buying of art has gone through the roof. People have a bit of time, and they are staring at the same four walls. There are lots of Kiwis overseas, and a lot of people wanting to send art overseas as well.
Do you think you will ever run out of ideas?
We’ve been doing it for seven years, and I reckon I would have made 500, 600, 700 different print designs. Some of them take, and some of them don’t. And some days I feel like I’ve had my last idea, and others they just flow. It’s the simple, clear ideas that resonate. And when Kiwis think we’ve got a bit of an in-joke, we like that as well.
Were you always creative?
As far back as I can remember. I never thought of anything else as a career. I’ve seen huge changes in the industry. My kids are creative, and now, with the internet - which has played a huge part in my career - it’s such a pathway, in so many directions. The world’s their oyster.
Let’s talk about your T-shirt fame. How did all that happen?
I was working in a design company in 2004, and Threadless.com was a site where you uploaded your design, the community on the site voted, and if you won, you’d get some money and they’d print and sell your T-shirt. It was one of the first crowdsourcing sites. It was a bit of a hobby and it just started taking off. A firm in Austin, Texas got in touch and said, we’ll fly you up, show you everything and if you’re happy, let’s talk about going into business together. It was too much of an opportunity to pass up. The buyer for The Big Bang Theory found our T-shirts and put them in the show. And because that show was so massive, we had thousands of orders. And every time it was on, we’d get thousands more. It was completely unexpected.
You’re about to release your first kids book, The Rhyming Pirate.
Having kids, we’ve been exposed to such wonderful kids books and I always thought, I’d love to do that. I knew nothing about the process, but lockdown created one of those situations where you do start to think, what if?
Did you use the kids as guinea pigs?
My middle daughter is into art and she’s very straight with me. She’s a great sounding board, and a great critic. She’ll tell me if she doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Whereas I read my youngest son the book and his quote was “it’s as good as any book”. That’s the biased push I need.
What was your favourite book growing up?
The Giant Jam Sandwich, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch, all these books I've bought for our kids, too. Talk about nostalgia, those books still resonate today the way they did when we were kids.
It must be quite a lovely feeling drawing on happy memories every day for your work.
It is. And I think that’s what resonates with people - we all can draw on that, and the emotional side of it. I’m often still surprised at what and how much these things connect and really mean a lot to others.
Do you have one piece of work that brings back the most memories for you?
Milk bottle lollies arranged in a classic milk bottle carrier is one. I remember how we had put the milk bottles out, with the tokens. The simple things are what I keep going back to.
And if you tried to explain that concept to your kids, they would think you were mad!
Even a dial telephone. I’ve tried to explain it to them, and they will walk away before you could get to the end of dialling the number. It’s so foreign to them.
Imagine what nostalgic works you’ll be creating in 20 years time.
Who knows, right? Something as clunky as an iPhone will be nostalgic to them, like that dialling telephone is to us.
The Rhyming Pirate is out now, and Jones’ art can be found at glennjonesart.com
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