Favourite artists: Bobby Chiu, James Jean, Justin Kaufman, Jason Chan
By day Jake Rolfe has a pretty typical 17-year-old’s existence in Australia’s sleepy capital, Canberra. His time is split between school classes and hanging out with friends, then later between homework and listening to music. But come the evening Jake throws himself headlong into his art. You see, you don’t get the kind of illustrative skills and dazzling potential Jake has without practise, practise and more practise.
“When I was 16 I realised that making art as a career was for me,” Jake says of his epiphany moment. “There was just no other option. Doing something I love as work would be heaven. Ever since then I’ve been working myself to the bone to improve.”
And improve he has. In the space of two short years, Jake has grown from a kid with a doodle-pad to become one of the hottest illustrative talents on the block, with a huge portfolio any professional illustrator would be envious of. Having started out with a pen and pencil copying MAD magazine
characters, Jake’s skills have grown considerably, and his recurring subjects of eerily-precise portraiture and far-out
monsters have quickly garnered a reputation for the young artist. Trial and error
What is most astonishing about Jake’s burgeoning talent isn’t solely his age, but the fact that he is completely self-taught. No art college education and rule of thirds for Jake, he was educated the hard way – through the process of trial and error.
“I learn a lot of what I do with digital art from simply observing other people,” Jake admits. “I like to paint digitally as if I was painting on a canvas. I start thin, and build it up, and although I’m completely self taught, I have had a lot of great advice from a lot of great people. I think a good amount of what I know now about rendering has come from lots of experimenting with what works for me.”
Like most artists, Jake always keeps a sketchbook close to hands. And though most of his portraiture and especially his monster art starts out in sketch form before it’s drafted into Photoshop CS2 or, more recently, Painter X, Jake’s dependence on his digital programs is laced with a refreshingly reserved attitude:
“I experiment a lot with some of the different brushes [in Photoshop CS2] and I find myself always going back to a nice simple round. I don’t use too many fancy effects in my paintings, I’m used to painting just like I would with real paint,” Jake states pragmatically. “What I’d say to people beginning to use these programs, is that the fancy effects and features should be utilised after you‘ve become used to painting with a simple brush. Start with the basics and build it up from there.”Evolving style
In taking his cues from artists such as Bobby Chiu, James Jean, Justin Kaufman (El Coro), Jason Chan and Nic Klein, Jake has quickly forged a style that mixes both the realism of his portraiture with the otherworldliness of his fantasy art.
“I think recently my style has been changing quite a lot. When it comes to portraits I just love painting the features. I like to be able to capture an aspect of emotion in the person,” Jake is quick to admit. “More recently, I’ve become quite interested in a realistic approach to painting, I think it has integrated with my more child-like aesthetic.”
By child-like, though, Jake doesn’t mean undeveloped. Rather, his monster art blends the surreal nature of his portraits with innocuous looking creatures that engage the viewer more than shock. Within each of Jake’s monster images is a quirky add-in; the hands hanging out of Eeek’s mouth or the Love Monster’s hollowed-out heart.
But even though Jake’s found a recognisable style at such a young age, he’s weary of becoming stagnant. Like any illustrator – no matter how old – you’re only judged by your last work, and Jake is shrewd enough to realise innovation is paramount.
“Lately, I’ve been fiddling with the idea of bringing both the monster side and the portrait side of my work together. Like monster self-portraits I thought would be fun. At the moment I’m trying to delve into the concept side of art, doing some more realistic rendering of monster-like characters and making things look believable. It’s all about making the audience actually feel like this could be something alive.”
But what does this young man’s future hold? His career may be off to a flying start, but Jake is sensible enough to keep everything within perspective. Elevating praise and magazine articles aside, there’s still so much to be accomplished as far as Jake’s concerned.Down to earth
What’s more, with all the ‘rising star’ labels that are being thrown his way, Jake’s admirably careful not to believe his own hype: “There’s always a bit of pressure to perform. Although in many cases I think pressure brings out the best in me. I want to be able to make my mark, and I think that it is through being able to work under pressure that can help this.
“I think it’s nice for people in a few years time to be able to say: ‘Oh I remember his work from when he was 17.’ I think most people enjoy being in the spotlight but I think it’s up to me to perform to a standard. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and constant dedication to make it happen,” he candidly admits. “Although the journey can be just as good as the destination.”