“Growing up I think creativity was in some way or another fuelling much of what I was doing or thinking. That sounds like a given, but I was one of those kids who couldn’t pick up something without wondering what I could make out of it,” says Jamie Baird of his early penchant for creative endeavours.
For the Belfast-based illustrator and designer, who works under the moniker Jamie Beard, this began with making stop-motion Lego horror films with his brother and going to museums with his mum, but quickly turned into drawing comics and making 2D animations as he got older, by which point he was generally considered as one of the ‘arty ones’ in school.
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Thanks so much to everyone who came to @usfolkillustrate’s annual showcase exhibition at @riverhousebelfast! Here is my piece for it, based around the theme of ‘Play’. I’ve always been heavily influenced stylistically by Medieval art so I had a lot of fun working on something a lot more direct than usual in reflecting this influence. ‘Four queens playing cards’ is already patented as a standard Friday night for me and my friends, so I’m calling this one ‘Game of Thrones’…
“When it came to thinking about uni I ended up applying to various fine art degree courses, and one graphic design and illustration course at Belfast School of Art,” says Baird. “It was at the interview for this that I got chatting to one of the course directors, who helped me to realise how much better suited I would be to this sort of career path than I would be to a more fine art-based direction.
Roughly a year after graduating he was signed to Irish illustration agency UsFolk, and since then has been developing his distinctive style, which typically hones in on people’s distinctive facial features (think rosy cheeks and pronounced noses) to bring out their individual quirks.
“I would say there’s a Venn diagram somewhere in my mind between folk art, kitsch and queer. My influences and the themes that tend to inspire me are pretty diverse and I think these all pour into my work and its style,” says Baird. These influences range from medieval art and symbolism to the iconography inherent in 20th century pop culture (his illustration of Swedish pop sensation ABBA is one of CR’s personal favourites).
So far, some of Baird’s biggest commissions have come from the likes of the Ulster Museum, a project which involved him studying classic outfits from designers including YSL and reinterpreting them as character illustrations for the museum’s recent fashion exhibition Vice Versa.
For this year’s Belfast Pride Festival, he also created an illustrative portrait of 20th century gay liberation activist Marsha P Johnson to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which appeared across the festival’s visual output.
The project closest to Baird’s heart though, and the one which resulted in him starting to feel like a “real illustrator”, is Tapestry NI. The aim of the ongoing project is simple: “to develop a portrait of Belfast’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community, through individual portraits of the people making it what it is,” he adds.
Regardless of the commission, what’s certain is that people and personalities will remain at the heart of Baird’s future work. After all, he says, “I love an opportunity to reimagine an individual in my own way.”