A quick chat with Stephen Jenkins
We talked to Stephen Jenkins about his career, his time at The Guardian (where we at Breed were introduced to him), right up to his current position at Tommy Hilfiger.
Tell us a little about your career trajectory. How did you get from a being an MA student at Central Saint Martins to senior art director at Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein?
I returned to university to study an MA at CSM as I wanted to further develop, as I was unimpressed and uninspired by my degree course. Studying a Communication Design MA exposed me to graphics, illustration and digital design, which was the first time I realised you could work in a variety of different media within the same role. This facilitated my love of magazines and I was lucky enough to intern at Wagadon (publisher of The Face and Arena) towards the end of my MA. After that I worked at Dazed and Confused and Vogue. Over the coming years I worked as a freelance art director for numerous publications and brands including GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Wallpaper, Mr Porter, Matches Fashion, The Guardian, Mark Porter Associates and now at PVH as a senior art director.
Was becoming an art director always the plan?
The concept of being an art director was always interesting from my experience of working at fashion magazines. But it’s very different to working within an advertising agency. I’m much more interested in the concept of working with people than directing, although there are now so many voices in the room during the creative process that it’s important to direct the project as much as the concepts.
How did you first come across Breed?
I’d always been a fan of Kate Moross and James Joyce was a friend of a friend, so Breed was a natural discovery. I’ve also known Matt Blease for a while, so it proves we have some chemistry!
How much of the work you commission comes out of agencies?
Unfortunately, I’m commissioning less and less artwork due to the demand of working in fashion and the majority of this work being photographic. The bi-annual runway shows are a great way to create branded content for PVH but I’m noticing more and more illustrated content being used by the big fashion houses in a variety of innovative ways.
How would you otherwise scout artists to collaborate with?
Social media is by far the easiest way to find new talent, although finding it can be tricky. The shrinking publications and their budgets are making it harder to find exciting examples in print, which is frustrating as this is where artists can be their most experimental. But there are some new independent publications that are promoting new artists.
You worked at the Guardian for eight years. Are there any particularly memorable TV Guide covers from those eight years?
I was lucky enough to work with a great editor who understood the power of creating strong, graphic covers that gave a clear identity to a simple A5 magazine. I worked on multiple redesigns, launches and projects within The Guardian but The Guide was a favourite magazine to embrace the new developments in illustration and typography, and I miss the exciting freedom of finding talented artists to collaborate with. I enjoyed promoting the talent just as much as the commissions.
You’ve worked with several Breed artists for TV Guide covers, namely Kate Moross, James Joyce and Steven Wilson. What was it about their work that stood out?
What I liked most about the Breed artists was their direct, modern approach. I prefer strong, graphic imagery that can communicate as quickly as possible. I also thought that Breed felt more than a collection of illustrators – they were part illustration, part artist and part agency.
What qualities do you look for when commissioning artists?
It’s important that artists are flexible in their approach and delivery as the brief is in constant flux. Working together to achieve a successful project is important to create something unique and mutually beneficial whilst answering the brief and hopefully pushing the overall direction.
You must have a huge number of artists pitching work to you. Do you have any advice for artists when approaching art directors?
Be direct – make contact.
Stand out from the crowd.
Know your audience.
Don’t chase, hassle or irritate.
Do something different.
Keep it simple!
Any parting words of wisdom for creatives aspiring to work with high-profile brands and publications?
Illustration has changed so much over the years and is now much more accessible for big brands. Embrace becoming your own brand and promote yourself as a fully functioning agency being able to deliver a full 360 approach to commissions. Don’t restrict your reach, and have fun!
Matt Blease, Kate Moross x 2, Mark Ward, Jackdaw and Sophie Henson