James Lemon: illustrator

25 Jun

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Does a career always have to be a choice between money or creativity? After seven years as a banker James Lemon ditched the suit to set up an illustration business. With an exhibition at Newington Green’s eclectic 13 The Gallery planned for September, this summer sees the illustrator expanding his dog and cat portraiture. Scroll down to see what marvels he did with interviewer Nicola Baird‘s dog.

James Lemon

James Lemon: “Out of Islington, Hackney and Haringey, where I’m living now, Islington is my preferred borough.”

Islington’s infamous for being so close to the City that many bankers rent here until their bonuses let them do better… At 26 James Lemon found a place to rent on St Paul’s Road, N1. But after breaking his ties with asset management he remained in the area.

“I kept changing jobs and then getting to the same point where I wasn’t happy. Eventually it dawned on me that I shouldn’t be working in the financial services – I should be playing to my strengths and being creative. It’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable, even though I’ve sacrificed the salary,” he explains when we meet for coffee at the fabulous Lizzy’s café on Newington Green.

James Lemon pet illustrator will have a show at The Gallery in September 2014.

James Lemon pet illustrator will have a show at 13 The Gallery in September 2014.

In order to build his illustration business – and these are no ordinary illustrations, they are witty character sketches – James also works a couple of days a week building sets, interns at an Islington art gallery and works as a trainee chef in central London.

He left the banking world last November (2013), so how did he settle on illustration and pet portraiture? Turns out the animal part was a given…

“My family lived abroad while I was growing up – in Nigeria, Oman and Bangladesh – but I was always very interested in insects and animals. I was always rooting around under rocks or chasing grasshoppers.”

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A new portfolio
“My subject matter tends to be animals, fruit or lifestyle rather than people so a friend suggested I create pet portraits. It’s competitive and hard work – a £60 commission takes a full day – but what I most like about illustration is that I’m constantly building my portfolio. It’s something tangible that no one can take away,” says James showing me his latest sitter, Coco, who is an English Toy Terrier. “She’s a rare breed and quite dainty. I know that everyone likes to depict some sort of image on to their dog – basically an extension of their personality and I enjoy doing that in a playful way. So I depicted Coco enjoying fine dining – eating salmon with a glass of wine. Her owner loved it!”

Lizzie's on Newington Green is an oasis with fine coffee and cake. It's opposite the oldest row of terraces in the UK.

Lizzy’s on Newington Green is an oasis with fine coffee and cake. It’s opposite the oldest row of terraces in the UK.

Places James likes in Islington

  • I love running through Highbury Fields and like including the Emirates in my route. I’m looking to beat my older brother’s 10k time (43 minutes), but I’m not a particularly good runner.
  • I like a lot of the architecture on Holloway Road – like the unusual tiled front on the Coronet (now a Whetherspoons pub) and the Odeon. They are slightly dilapidated but still in use. I also like some of the other iconic buildings, like Holloway prison and the Sobell.
  • I use the Sobell’s squash courts.
  • I used to work in the Alwyne Castle at 83 St Paul’s Road – it’s a very nice pub (it opens again after refurbishment on 26 June 2014). I also like going for drinks in the Swimmer with my friends who live on Holloway.

Pets for the petless
As well as A4 portraits James caters for the petless, with his range of witty tea towels greeting cards and info-prints.  “One of the most popular designs celebrates the diversity of British fish with blonde rays, conga eels and skate – not many people know we have such exotic fish,” says James.

James Lemon: "I see your dog wearing a nice red suit with a collar and brass buttons, but a bit scruffy – Pete Docherty style." Turns out I couldn't resist having a portrait of my dog. "it's a digital illustration, but I drew and inked him by hand before scanning the image to apply colour."

James Lemon: “I see your dog wearing a nice red suit with a collar and brass buttons, but a bit scruffy – Pete Docherty style.” Turns out I couldn’t resist having a portrait of my dog. “it’s a digital illustration, but I drew and inked him by hand before scanning the image to apply colour.”

James can be found on stalls at fairs around the borough – I met him at the Holloway Festival – and can’t wait to see how my border terrier will turn out under his artistic gaze. Will he be a smug journalist, would-be banker or a talented scruff like Pete Docherty? What better way could there be to frame man’s best friend than the James Lemon treatment?

  • 13 The Gallery, 13 Green Lanes, London N16 specialises in fair trade, community and internationalist art – it was the first Cuban art gallery to open in Europe and is part of Whitechapel Gallery’s First Thursdays. http://www.13thegallery.com/  info@13thegallery.comTues- Fri 11am-7pm; First Thursday 11am-9pm; Saturday 10am-6pm. Closed Sunday & Monday
  • Lizzy’s on the Green, Stoke Newington Green, open Monday – Friday 7.30-16.00 and Sat – Sun 10-17.00 for coffee, cakes and ice cream. Added bonus: public toilets, lovely playground for kids and a view of the oldest terrace in England (look for more details on the community noticeboards).  lizzysonthegreen@gmail.com

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


4 Responses to “James Lemon: illustrator”

  1. nicola baird blogs June 27, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    From Facebook (about Vulcan’s pic)
    Lindsey: He’s gorgeous!

    Katharine: very cute – he looks like he’s off out hunting!

    Sarah: Handsome boy!

    Nicola Baird No he’s not hunting – although I can see why you think this. He is channeling Pete Docherty, which given Vulcan’s activities at the last festival he went to is absolutely right! http://www.theguardian.com/…/14/day-my-dog-got-high-drugs
    The day my dog got high on drugs

    Jane: Slightly unnatural!! Dog in clothes! What next? Xxxx

    Pete May: Though Vulcan has heard rumours that some humans wear dog collars! Xxx

    Pete May: If anyone wants canine pics then details of the artist are on on this blog http://islingtonfacesblog.com

    Richard: Looks like a hunt coat to me. Retired MFH.

  2. The Unbelievable Mr X July 7, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Brilliant, thanks a lot for this Nicola!

  3. The Unbelievable Mr X July 7, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    He should try to advertise via Vet surgeries, maybe link up with Dogs Trust in Angel / Battersea Dogs & Cats…

    • nicola baird blogs July 11, 2014 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Mr X – that’s a good idea, will definitely pass it on. Thank you. Nicola

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