English illustrator and musician Jim Stoten has a penchant for bold and vibrant colours, endearing elements of cheeky humour, and psychedelic rainbow stripes, creating striking and whimsical illustrations. His clients include Moog synthesisers, VanMoof Bicycles, and international publications such as The Guardian and The New Yorker. He has humorously published his sketchbook under the title "Skotchbook." In addition to periodic album releases, his work spans illustration, animation, collage, and acrylic painting, constantly pushing boundaries.
▲拍攝於英國 Hastings 之工作室，整間房宛如一件拼貼作品。 Jim Stoten with his famous collage desk in his old studio in Hastings.
Rejecting Success as the Ultimate Label
Having just celebrated his 43rd birthday, Stoten and his wife recently relocated to her native Venice and welcomed their first child. He is thriving amidst significant changes. His eyes twinkle with excitement during our video call. In fact, he fears nothing more than complacency, both in life and in art. Apart from his full-scale, colour-blocking compositions with contrasting stripes, Stoten's art is filled with playful details and thoughtful homages. However, he isn't content with his "signature" gags and "usual" Easter eggs. Stoten takes issue with words such as "signature" and "usual," as he finds replicating his past work limiting and mentally draining. When clients approach him for commissions, they frequently reference prior works where they can see the approach is appreciated by the audience and garners desirable engagement. Stoten aims to break free from all labels, amongst the most imperceptible of which are high praise and so-called "success."
▲Jim Stoten's sketchbook
Jim 作為插畫界迷幻風（Psychedelia）代表性人物，不論是高對比的撞色條紋，或者橫空出世的高反差拼貼，都融會了日本迷幻開山祖師橫尾忠則 Tadanori Yokoo 的視覺語言，他注入大膽獨到的配色，將極繁主義與複雜場景推向極致。深諳拼貼技法的他，曾經將舊工作室當作他最大的拼貼作品，並以大紅底色，襯出鋪滿書桌、長年蒐集而來的舊書報素材；在他的畫作中巧妙的移植與重組比比皆是，不但讓角色造型擺脫常理與公式的限制，更將迷幻插畫推向了卡通般活潑嬉鬧而充滿娛樂張力的境地：諸如懸浮在空中的白髮紳士頭顱、以鴕鳥的身軀為主體的金髮長頸女郎等，兼具動物與人類特徵的角色例證實在不勝枚舉，將拼貼的精神發揮得淋漓盡致。除了形象生動豐富的角色外，Jim 構圖較為複雜的作品往往揉合了「排版設計」與「商業展示」的特色，正因如此，他能夠將大量的物件如陳列樣品般穩妥地安置於畫面各角落，而無憂於擾亂整體敘事；又有時他在如漫畫框線的構圖內置入自成一格的情節，營造出多重宇宙一般的平行敘事（如專輯《LIGHTS》內頁插畫）。綜觀近作，除了上述配置的巧思外，定睛一看，不難發現他擅於以「重複規律」以及「漸變」兩種恰能捕捉動態、標誌時空推移的手法「壯大聲勢」。例如逐漸向內縮小、旋轉的正方形組陣，以及由遠逐漸拉近特寫角色局部的分鏡畫面等，以單純的元素稍加變化後層層堆疊，大大提升了畫面的豐富性（參見Grafik聯名海報）。
Stoten is second to none when it comes to psychedelic illustration. He is known to combine high-contrast colour schemes and unexpected collage-like compositions. His visual language draws inspiration from the pioneer of Japanese psychedelia, Tadanori Yokoo, incorporating bold and distinctive colour combinations, pushing maximalism and busy scenes to a new height. Proficient in the technique of collage, he once transformed his old studio into his largest collage artwork. Against the backdrop of a striking sea of red, he displayed a collection of old clippings and vintage materials gathered over the years on his desk.
In his artworks, Stoten shrewdly transplants and recombines elements, allowing his characters to break free from conventional and formulaic constraints. He takes psychedelic illustration to a lively and entertaining level, featuring characters with a wide range of characteristics that blur the boundary between animals and humans. It is evident when you look at the grey-haired gentleman's head floating in thin air and the blonde, slender-necked lady with the body of an ostrich. Beyond colourful characters, Stoten's more complex compositions often integrate features of graphic design and window display. This ability enables him to place numerous objects elegantly in the corners of an artwork without disrupting the overall narrative. Sometimes, he incorporates unique scenes within additional frames, reminiscent of a storyboard, creating a parallel multiverse, as seen in the album LIGHTS.
A closer look at his recent works reveals his skill in utilising repetition and gradation to capture motion and signify the passage of time. For instance, he arranges a group of gradually shrinking and rotating squares, or he zooms in on close-up character details, both of which demonstrate his ability to enrich the image through simple yet strategically applied changes.
Stoten's signature works often embody the maximalist spirit of more is more. He employs a practice of establishing order through rules and then breaking it. This allows him to create dynamics and visual focal points simultaneously. His artworks frequently feature iconic elements of psychedelia such as stripes and stars. However, his unique perspective on space and motion sets him apart. By manipulating the density and distortion of stripes, he reshapes visual dynamics and spatial distribution. He introduces symbols such as stars, entrances (including nods to Tom and Jerry with mouseholes and golf holes), doorways and windows, as well as balls and ribbons. These symbols intermingle with fruits and mundane objects known from his personal life, creating a characteristic yet highly personalised psychedelic illustration.
▲〈Department Store-interior Part I〉
▲Grafik: Jim Stoten
多年以來 Jim 每日在速寫本上塗鴉，內容囊括諷喻時事的極短篇漫畫、詩與歌詞、影視娛樂金句笑哏，以及手繪字體，可說是他爬梳生活雜感的圖畫日記。將他的塗鴉與商業插畫做比較，可以更清楚他在創作上的思考脈絡，更能夠體會他力求突破的理想與實際。實際上並沒有辦法二分工作與私人創作，尤其是「模擬商業作品」，如〈Everyone Loves the Sweet Taste of Cooca Loo〉、〈Department Store Interior〉等近作，前者意指可口可樂，後者則是隔空向愛馬仕示愛；以此展現其插畫廣度與多樣性，卻也因此觸發了「為何而畫」的創作核心思辨，長期以來，插畫對於 Jim 最大的困阻即是被客戶要求「複製過去的成功模式」，以深獲觀眾喜愛的熟知手法詮釋新的案件，然而這樣的做法令 Jim 相當不安，也驅使他轉向傳統繪畫，以壓克力顏料塗抹〈A Totally Alien Level of Control〉畫名同時巧妙呼應面對全新媒材形式，且毫無客戶介入，全權自主創作方向，無人指導的陌生體驗。這或許更接近他與音樂創作的關係，他坦言音樂是他最即時而直接的抒發管道，從來沒有人要求他創作音樂，他也沒有任何的商業考量，每當他畫累了，譜想、錄製音樂讓他可以斬斷過去的任何預設以及期待，重新出發。
Jim 的音樂看似與畫作八竿子打不著，實際上迷幻視覺語彙深受二戰後西方反主流文化（Counterculture） 風潮影響，90年代眾英式搖滾樂團（Britpop），諸如 Blur、Oasis 等汲取了60年代的迷幻文化，形塑 Jim 早期的音樂品味，也開啟了他對於迷幻文化的探索，逐漸接觸60到70年代的專輯封面、演出海報設計，從色彩搭配、空間扭曲到符號象徵，提供了豐富的視覺語境，並成為他日後創作取用的重要泉源。如此一來，也就不難理解專輯裝幀設計為何對 Jim 意義非凡，而他的專輯又是為何如此極端華美，令人目眩神迷。
在 Jim 的創作中不時可以發現樂器與黑膠唱機的描繪，還有前東家 Moog 機型為原型的合成器，除了設備之外，音樂人如 Animal Collective 團員，以及更近期的 Beck 肖像在在展現了他精準捕捉人物形貌氣質的能力，然而私底下他更常塑造各種驚奇怪誕的超現實角色，以習作〈People, People Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink〉為例，他盡可能打破統一性（uniformity），以彼此斷裂、毫不相涉的方式與邏輯塑造不同角色——或者以細密點畫，或以大面積渲染；有的以三角形充當鼻子，有的則以圓形構建五官。以此概念衍生出〈Dinner with Friends〉一畫，Jim 分享靈感來自於 Podcast 節目中，經典的「理想晚餐賓客」問題，他常想像自己晚餐聚會邀請的賓客，可能來自不同的背景，並藉由他的描繪凸顯個體的獨特性。越是暢談拉近彼此的距離，越是能夠發現出乎意料的脾性癖好（idiosyncrasies）。
▲〈Everyone Loves the Sweet Taste of Cooca Loo〉
▲〈Dinner with Friends〉
Between Commissions and Personal Projects
Over the years, Stoten has been drawing daily in his Skotchbook. This diary of sketches covers short comic strips with satirical takes on current events, poems and lyrics, famous quotes from film and entertainment, and hand-drawn typography. It's his visual diary that delves into the daily experiences. Compared to commercial illustrations, his Skotchbook reveals the thought process in his creative journey. In fact, there isn't a clean cut to separate the two. Especially in "simulated commissions" such as Everyone Loves the Sweet Taste of Cooca Loo and Department Store Interior, the former referring to Coca-Cola and the latter, a direct appeal to Hermès; these recent pieces represent both the breadth and diversity of his illustrations. At the same time, they trigger the inner dialogue of debating his purpose in creativity - "The Who and Why?" For Stoten, the biggest obstacle in illustration for a long time was clients asking for an iteration of his previously critically acclaimed work, something guaranteed to be recognised and loved by the audience. This approach, however, makes Stoten quite uneasy, prompting him to turn to analogue painting. He used acrylics to paint the wittily titled A Totally Alien Level of Control, echoing the use of new materials, and without art direction, he took full creative control. This experience was free from all expectations and allowed him to start anew.
Stoten's music might seem unrelated to his artwork, but in reality, his psychedelic illustration and artwork are deeply influenced by the Western counterculture movement that followed World War II. The '90s Britpop bands like Blur and Oasis drew from the 1960s psychedelia, shaping Stoten's early music taste and opening up his exploration of the psychedelic culture later on. Gradually, he was introduced to album covers and concert poster designs from the 1960s to the 1970s. From colour combinations and distorted spaces to symbolism and iconography, these provided rich visual contexts and became significant sources for his later creations. In this way, it's apparent why album sleeve design holds significance for Stoten and why his album art is so extravagantly otherworldly and visually captivating.
In Stoten's illustrations, you can find depictions of musical instruments, record players, and occasionally, his former client the Moog synthesisers. Apart from music equipment, his illustrations also frequently feature musicians like Animal Collective members and more recently, Beck. While these portraits showcase his ability to accurately represent the essence of individuals, in his spare time, he often creates more surreal and bizarrely supernatural characters. Taking People, People Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink as an example, he tries to break uniformity as much as possible. He creates different characters in ways that are entirely disconnected and illogical—some are drawn with fine dots, while others with large area shading; some have triangles as noses, while others are constructed with circular features. This concept gave birth to Dinner with Friends. Stoten shared that his inspiration came from a classic podcast question, "the ideal dinner guests one would invite over." He often imagined inviting guests with diverse backgrounds to his dinner gathering and, through his art, highlighted the unique characteristics of each guest. The more you get to know them, the more idiosyncrasies you notice.
▲Comission Work for Moog Synthesisers
▲〈Department Store-interior Part III〉
「意料之外」確實是求新求變的 Jim 唯一不變的創作方針，訪談中，他並不直接分享、歸結自身的創作理念，但是一再提及大膽嘗試與冒險的重要性，並且以披頭四的專輯《左輪手槍》、《胡椒軍曹寂寞芳心俱樂部樂隊》為例，兩者在發行當時都轟動一時，並且開創樂壇新局，更重要的是，後者並不是直接延續前者的成功，而顛覆了樂迷對樂團的既有認識。
據此反觀他的畫作〈A Totally Alien Level of Control〉畫面最中央的視覺焦點落在綠衫藍西裝的主角，以及後方無端生出的一扇門；角色斜前方有通紅的蘑菇，正對著滾出彩球的一道紅牆，紅牆是畫面中最穩固而龐大的存在，遠方風吹來的種子也都已經在此茁壯開花，從牆後滾出繽紛但大小形狀一致的彩球，像是公式化的量產品，它們不斷滾來，讓人下意識想要彎身撿拾。對比遠方懸浮，有如盛裝著棉花糖的杯子蛋糕，形狀不規則而難以捉模，似乎隱喻了創作中未知的機會與挑戰，而空中漂浮的星星與幾何圖形，也許是腦海中的素材思緒，靈感正在成形⋯⋯。
Jim 直言自己不擅長自我剖析、以言語及文字分享創作的語境，然而畫作彷彿封存盛載了記憶的碎片：「基本上每當我看著 我以前的畫作、聆聽我製作的音樂，我都可以回想起當時的情景、思路、 生活中正在發生的大小事。」也坦承「最喜歡不過於直白的藝術品，因為它能給我足夠的空間帶入自己的想像。」他質疑作者直接向觀者分享創作脈絡的正當性，並且對於可以清楚言說的創作賞析持保留態度，他笑稱或許有機會遇到有緣人替他爬梳詮釋——又或許，理解 Jim 創作的最佳途徑，正是隨著 Vanmoof 廣告動畫中的青蛙騎乘向前，跟著想像力穿梭在種種滯礙間，通過各種視角，層層遞進，所到之處，舞蝶展翅、百花盛開，置身桃源般的芬芳祕境吧？
The Sense and Sensibility of an Adventurer
"Expecting the unexpected" is arguably the one consistent creative principle throughout Stoten's career. In the interview, he doesn't explicitly articulate his philosophy. However, he repeatedly emphasises the importance of bold experimentation and venturing into the unknown. He cites the Beatles' albums Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as examples. Both were groundbreaking in their time, creating a new era in music. More importantly, the latter didn't merely follow the success of the former; it subverted existing perceptions of the band.
Another significant transformation involved his approach to mental health. Having battled depression for years, Stoten sought medical help and began taking prescribed medication. He once worried that medication might affect his perception or sap his creative drive. Yet, its effect turned out to be akin to fixing a poorly-tuned TV programme; the static simply vanished halfway through. Previously, various distractions clouded his judgement, preventing him from making the best decisions. Although he doesn't advocate the use of psychedelic substances, he encourages young artists to challenge themselves continually, breaking free from the cycle of predictable creations. Conversely, restraining oneself by laboriously churning out the same work, he believes, not only detaches the creator from the genuine, immediate excitement of the creative process but also erodes their intellectual and emotional vigour.
Upon closer examination of A Totally Alien Level of Control, the central focus is the protagonist dressed in a green shirt and a blue suit, seemingly in parallel with a door that materialised out of thin air. Right in front of him, a vibrant red mushroom catches the eye; a striking red wall, resembling a face with hollow features, stands before him. This red wall constitutes the most substantial and dependable element in the scene. Almost miraculously, a seed carried by the wind has been caught by the wall and grown into a full blossom. Someone rolls out colourful but uniformly shaped balls from behind the wall, akin to formulaic mass production. They continue to roll, tempting the observer to pick them up. In contrast, mid-air, there are cupcake-shaped objects, irregular and elusive, symbolising the unknown opportunities and challenges in his creative journey. Floating stars and geometric shapes in the sky could very well be the building blocks of inspiration forming in his mind.
Stoten openly admits that he isn't proficient in self-analysis or verbally conveying the context of his creations. However, his artwork appears to preserve fragments of memories: "Whenever I look at or listen to something I’ve made, I can remember what I was thinking about while I made it and what was happening in my life at that time." He prefers art that isn't overly explicit because it allows enough space for the audience to add their own imagination and creative thinking. He questions the validity of an artist directly sharing the context of their work with the viewer. He humorously speculates that perhaps a kindred spirit will come along and contextualise his work for him. Or perhaps the best way to understand Stoten's creativity is to embark on the high-octane journey alongside the frog in the Vanmoof commercial animation, transcending obstacles, shifting perspectives, and progressing through a series of stops into an imaginary utopia where butterflies dance, flowers bloom, and colours are fragrant, yellow and blue.
▲〈Man's Relationship with AI〉
▲〈People, People Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink〉