Jabari Weathers is under suspicion of being a goblin prince from beyond the veil who keeps his glamor up by making illustrations. You can see their work at jmwillustration.com, follow them on Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They provided art for December's "Sasabonsam," by Tara Campbell.
This interview was conducted by email in December 2017.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
Jabari Weathers: A deceptively complex question! I've been working hard at trying to make my work have a unique voice to excite others to look at as much as it does for me to create, but that wouldn't be for much without the immense amount of support I've gotten from other illustrators, friends and family.
As far as how I got to where I am in most of my industry work, I typically work on making illustrations for tabletop roleplaying games. A lot of the indie market is close-knit on Twitter and Tumblr, so a lot of my professional relationships in the last three years started with reaching out not jusr over email but also through Twitter directly to the amazing designers that are working at smaller indie companies.
That community, much like the illustration world, is remarkably close-knit, so I'm sure that two of my biggest jobs (the two tarot decks I illustrated) were landed in part because of crosstalk in pen and paper games. There are a lot of amazing minds in that sub-industry and a sharing attitude at the indie level. It also happens that a lot of indie designers are willing to take stylistic choices that I imagine larger companies would love to take but can't because of established reputation. It's proven a good fit for me the past few years.
Tory Hoke: The composition, character, and action of each work in your portfolio suggests a fully-realized story behind it—and a fully-realized world as well. Where do these stories come from? What is planned in advance, and what arrives through the execution?
Jabari Weathers: As I've alluded to above, I play a lot of pen and paper RPGs, so I do my best to try to cling onto the visceral feeling of that. I'm constantly finding new media that has a particular sense of atmosphere, films like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, City of Lost Children, and Dark City; computer games like Thief: The Dark Project, Dishonored and its sequel; books like Neuromancer and Titus Groan; and especially music that creates an atmosphere and sense of place through its textures. Artists like Massive Attack, Slowdive, and Susumu Hirasawa make soundscapes that I try to evoke the feeling of in my work.
As far as how this manifests in my workflow, I usually think of my compositions in rhythm and pacing, and how I'd move through it if I had a camera. That kind of thinking gets me to figure out my visual hierarchy for my composition and what I want to be revealed by which 'read,' much like framing in a movie. As I'm working, I'm looking at a lot of references for the specific kinds of objects (clothing, people, etc) that I'm depicting, but often looking for things that surprise me while still fulfilling what I want. In the end that makes it into my final piece in an organic way. In a way, I'm treating the final pass of my work like I'm walking down an alley I've neglected in a town I'm familiar with; I know the larger flavor, but there's always the chance of these new wrinkles to fold interestingly into my final piece.
Tory Hoke: The play of light and translucence in "The First Grand Face" is hypnotizing. What inspired this piece? What was your process?
Jabari Weathers: That was an unusual piece to work on because it was made at a time where I could slow down a bit more. For a while, I've been turning over a large worldbuilding project in my brain and wanted to do a style test for that.
I was also trying to push my gouache painting further, with a piece I was sitting with for a good amount of hours, once I'd heard that I should slow down more in some critique I'd received from Justin Gerard at FaerieCon in 2014.
The idea behind this was that I wanted to make a regal fictionalized portrait of one of the major powerful personas in that world, in a society where the major rulers wear masks that they've made based on their own face to signify the era of their rule. The glowing hourglass was supposed to allude to how long her rule would be as consequence of her actions, with the glowing sands moving back and fourth based on her decisions, a means of keeping someone with so much societal power in check.
Tory Hoke: What inspires your creations? What effect do you hope to have on your viewer?
Jabari Weathers: As I've said, a lot of what inspires me is in the media I consume. A lot of strange F/SF works are the kinds of things that I'm attracted to, but I find myself thinking hardest about what my artwork sounds like when people look at it. I listen to a lot of dissonant, abstracted, and ethereal music from the likes of My Bloody Valentine, A.R. Kane, Cocteau Twins, Portishead, and a lot of Michael Nyman soundtracks and other pieces of music that are spatial and strange. There's a weird romance to them, and something that gets me in a transcendent headspace; that's the true feeling of fantasy that I find myself aiming for because it is taking me to a different place. Sometimes it's scary, and it's usually beautiful.
I also look more and more at how I relate to a lot of the genres I want to create for. There isn't much room for people of color in mainstream western SF (though that's shifting, it's still slow in the communities and conversation), and a lot of what I'm attracted to and want to achieve stylistically isn't particularly sought after in a lot of markets that I want to be involved in. I find a lot of valuable tension and questions to ask in examining how I relate to the worlds that have helped shape my tastes, despite not being demographically represented by them well. I'm always chasing tensions in the stories I tell, and media that articulates that beautiful tension proves a profound and reliable guide.
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
Jabari Weathers: Baltimore is an excellent community as far as indie comics and comics creators go, and there's a robust street art and fine art scene here. As far as a town for illustration, I find more ties to editorial illustration than publishing here. There's a DIY sensibility in this city that I'd love to see embraced in more places, but the flip side is that there are talented creatives that come through here and don't stay, despite its being a city that could have a lot to offer artistic voices. It's a complicated place, but what city isn't?
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Jabari Weathers: In no particular order, a slice of the artists I think about when I work: Yoshitaka Amano, Katsuhiro Otomo, Ayami Kojima, Rebecca Guay, Ivan Bilibin, Marion Churchland, Juan Giminez, Enki Bilal, Moebius (of course), Tamara De Lempicka, and so, so many more illustrators. There are a lot of illustrators working currently who I'm amazed to call contemporaries, and it's overwhelming the amount of inspirational people in my professional industry that I am connecting with on a day-to-day basis. It's amazing.
And that's not even going into musicians like those listed above or others like PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, and Tricky, or film directors like Peter Greenaway, or Satoshi Kon (whose loss is still devastating for me), or even game designers like Harvey Smith (listening to him talk about game design articulates so many ideas about games as an artistic medium that I've pulled into visual art), or games writers (and musicians, again) like Terri Brosius.
Even immediate collaborators like Marissa Kelly, Sarah Richardson, and Whitney Beltran, and their work on games like this year's Bluebeard's Bride make me think hard about not only how art can manifest but how powerful it can be. That "game" is the most powerful artifact I've encountered this year, and I'm honored to contribute to an aspect of its identity.
All these people and many more have made so much stuff that I bounce around near constantly in my head, and I'm so grateful for it.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Jabari Weathers: I would like to see mainstream F/SF get weird(er). A lot of what I want is out there, and coming from the kinds of creators that I wish would get more support. If we talk about these two genres as industries, there are a lot of decisions based on commerce that don't allow these genres to flourish.
I also want to see it get more introspective and aware. A lot of what we look at as aesthetically fantasy is highly appropriative; to a certain degree that's not avoidable—we absorb whatever is around us and rearrange it into interesting stories, but the creators we support aren't as diverse as the cultures and the experiences we're collectively, as an audience and industry, pulling from. I'd love to see more people of color and women artists getting support in western SF. It's happening slowly, particularly in book publishing, but art and visual media are a different story. Still, what's being made makes me hopeful. Star Wars finally looked at itself critically through its fiction; it made people mad, but it was a necessary step.
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
Jabari Weathers: It's that worldbuilding project I mentioned. It's something that I imagine being a crossmedia project, after I lay the groundwork. I want to invite a lot of other creators who aren't me to tell different stories in my fictional context, both to find new angles that I'd never have (due to my lack of or different perspective), and to critique the conceits of the world. I also like the idea of making (pen and paper) games, music, short animations and comics, and prose for this weird little thing. I love fostering that kind of creative and narrative collaboration—most definitely because of all the tabletop gaming. I want to bring that to a project and see where it organically grows.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
Jabari Weathers: I've been doing a lot of prep work on the above. I'm animating for the first time in forever as a result (in order to make a trailer that gives some of the flavor of that project). It's thrilling. Soon after, I'm hoping to mobilize a Patreon. For this first short animation, I've already started collaborating with a friend of mine who makes music.
Otherwise I'm preparing my first solo show here in Baltimore: a collection of the originals of the two tarot decks I illustrated from July 2016 to July of this year. The show's called "The Fated Year," and it's happening at Tectonic Space. Thus far, it's been thrilling to prepare, but also terrifying trying to figure out how to display 185 pieces in a compelling way.
I've been working on two different pen and paper games, one of them related to this worldbuilding project (I refer to it as an 'existential fantasy' RPG), and the other being a more 'fluffy' affair: an ode to John Woo in narrative game form.
Tory Hoke: Thank you, Jabari! It's been a pleasure.
Jabari Weathers: Thanks so much for this! I hope that these answers are nicely insightful.