Jamie Beard’s illustrated portraits celebrate people and personalities

Real name Jamie Baird, the illustrator’s subjects have ranged from Belfast’s LGBTQ+ community to Swedish pop icons ABBA. He speaks to CR about how he knew illustration was for him, and his gloriously messy tapestry of influences

“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.

“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.

Baird’s interest in 20th century pop culture has led him to create portraits of pop icons including ABBA

“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.

The illustrator reinterpreted fashion artefacts as character illustrations for the Ulster Museum’s recent 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.

Baird’s portrait of gay liberation activist Marsha P Johnson to mark the 50th anniversary of Stonewall

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.”

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