It’s not uncommon to meet multitalented people, but when you meet someone who is a jack-of-all-trades and truly a master of it all, you take notice. Oliver Jeffers is just that: talented artist, author, painter, illustrator, storyteller, bookmaker and filmmaker, and he is brilliant with every medium he touches.
The Belfast, Northern Ireland native has been making waves (literally, you have to check out Oliver’s series on water and depth, Fathom Seascapes) in New York for almost a decade now, but will never claim that it has been a one-man show. “My studio is probably where I spend most of my waking hours. I have a team of people who help me: Hannah, Patrick, sometimes Steve, and Hayley is new to the team. The show is run by my wife Suzanne (so that I just get to draw the pictures) and our dog Scampi is Head of Security. I do a lot of very differing, often ambitious projects, and none of it is accomplished alone, it’s a team effort.” An effort that has produced numerous works that are constantly winning awards and praise from around the world, and he isn’t slowing down any time soon.
With a recent exhibition at Bryce Wolkowitz studio in Chelsea, the release of the first-ever illustrated version of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for its 10-year anniversary and the recently released A Child of Books (which the NYT called “a fresh and fascinating collaboration between two gifted masters”), Oliver is on the move and the accolades are all well-deserved.
Prior to his current space, Oliver spent years in a shared studio that served as an old hot dog cart facility. There was a lot of charm, but the building was falling apart around Oliver and his studio-mates (and fellow artists Mac Premo and Aaron Ruff of Digby & Iona), making it more and more difficult to work. “One day the landlord decided to end our (nonexistent) lease, so we had to find a new place to work pretty quickly. We found this building because we were dumpster diving when the place was being renovated. I think I still have a photo from that day!”
As the scope of Oliver’s projects grew, so did his studio. Initially starting in a smaller space in the same building with a growing team and expanding workflow, the time came to find a larger studio. “I knew that I needed empty, quiet space so that I didn’t feel constantly mentally cluttered, and there was available space if a particular project demanded it. I knew that I needed space away from the front door so I could hide when on an important call or in the zone of writing or drawing. I knew that I worked quickly and needed to know EXACTLY where something was the instant I thought I might need it, so that required extreme organization of materials. You can often tell at what stage of a project I’m at by the mess in the studio. Very clean means just started, and very messy means close to completion.”
With everything they’ve been through in the past, Oliver is grateful for the things often taken for granted: a roof that’s secure and doesn’t leak, a hammock hidden away for emergencies, and heating and air conditioning; things that were all absent at his old studio. Choosing function over form, there is still a distinct style in which the new studio is set up that is a direct extension of Oliver’s unique and special work. —Gigi
Photography by Patrick Reynolds