Figurative illustrator and animator Daniel Jamie Williams builds quirky worlds filled with melancholic moments and humorous details. The British artist’s work features solitary characters partaking in everyday activities: riding a bike, playing a piano, jotting down notes. But Williams infuses these commonplace scenes and morose protagonists with quirky personalities. Large-headed figures cut strong silhouettes, consuming the frame, and oddball details like drooping limbs and patched-on noses create an air of curious, otherworldly delight.
After studying graphic design with an illustration focus at university and developing a distinctive style (and subsequently garnering a following), Williams discovered a passion for animation at a recent full-time job. He’s currently focusing on deepening his animation skills within his own practice, bringing his drawn characters to life one raised eyebrow, jointed limb, and puff of cigarette smoke at a time.
“I’m combining frame-by-frame animation with keyframe animation to make it a bit smoother. I’m more used to one style than the other. Keyframing in After Effects comes a bit more naturally to me,” Williams explains. “If you wanted an object to move, for example rotating around a pivot point from A to B, the software would do everything in the middle. I’ll have elements of a character—say their nose—would wiggle, and that would be keyframed, but then the general animation would be done frame by frame.”
As Williams evolves his style and technical skills, many core elements of his work have stayed consistent. Going through many years of sketchbooks, he notes that what he’s drawn has been somewhat consistent, whereas his line weights and the way he shades have varied quite a bit.
He says, “One of the main things I noticed is that I now make each line very prominent. There aren’t a few little lines that are faded or less involved. Now I press down quite hard and really make each mark count.”
This clarity of line helps Williams’s work translate between hand-drawn and digital processes. Although many people assume that his work is painted, almost all of it is pencil-drawn, scanned, digitally colored, and finally edited in Photoshop. Williams also taps into software to create initial digital sketches, working out the overall concept and shapes. “I find it really easy to erase, resize, and paste it on the page. Then I print that off and I use my lightbox to draw over it.” This multiple-step process is especially helpful for client work, where scale and proportion need to be just so. “I’m a big fan of digital software, and I’ve used it for a long, long time,” he notes. “I’ve been obsessed with computers since I was a kid. I loved going through the free software you used to get with digital cameras, and of course using Photoshop now.”
Alongside Williams’s computer, scanner, lightbox, and bins of drawing supplies in his North London studio are musical instruments and recording equipment. Williams explains that music and visual art have been twin passions throughout his life. Raised in Britain’s Midlands region, he grew up in a creative household. From drawing and making comics with his siblings to playing music with his father and brother—a portion of the house was dedicated entirely to music-making—the Williams family fostered creativity.
Describing the relationship between illustration and music, “I think they’re fairly similar in terms of what I’m trying to get across,” Williams says. “Some people look at my illustrations and say, ‘Wow, that’s really depressing,’ whereas I think some of it’s quite funny…. I don’t think anything needs to be one thing or the other. I like that crossover of emotional dark stuff and funny, weird stuff. My music and lyrics are similar as well.”
In addition to drawing inspiration from his own music and the singers and songwriters he admires, Williams has found social media to be a powerful tool to connect, inspire, and challenge him as an artist. His first foray into social media’s visual world was Tumblr, and now Williams estimates that he follows hundreds, or possibly thousands, of illustrators on Instagram.
Rather than avidly tracking the trajectories of a few artists, Williams finds inspiration in the sheer quantity of work he encounters online. “Often when people ask me my inspirations it’s hard to say a few key ones. It’s from seeing so much different work,” he explains. Alongside his immersion in the contemporary illustration community, Williams studies surreal, quirky, and figurative artists from throughout history, such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali, and Hieronymus Bosch.
As Williams shapes his career, he continues to experiment with different techniques, approaches, and outlets for his creative work. From designing digital album art for studio sessions to creating physical products that feature his illustrations, to collaborating on shows and other projects, Williams strives to always be challenging himself while maintaining a sense of curiosity.
“Sometimes people are discouraged from doing creative things,” he reflects. “It’s sometimes complete strangers. I remember a hairdresser telling me, ‘Don’t study graphic design.’ Especially when I was freelance, some people would ask me if I was going to get a job…. Some people don’t really get that. But in London people do get it a lot more, and I came here for that reason.”