The human imagination is a wonderful thing. With it, one can picture any number of scenes and stories to be played out in their mind. For those who want to give physical form to these imaginings, however, the task can be nigh on impossible without time and skill. This is where Jim comes in.
With a name that, as he puts it, “was just a hugely inappropriate joke when I thought that just my friends and maybe like 40 or 50 people on Tumblr would see it”, Jim’ll Paint It captures the spirit of the TV programme, and thankfully not that of the namesake. Put simply, Jim takes requests for pictures dreamed up by the dark, twisted hive mind of the Internet, and draws them in Paint, be they Ant and Dec’s inevitable wedding or Lionel Richie being pursued through a dark forest by Mr Peanut.
I’ve just been using it every day for like 3 years. You get good at it. You work out how to get the most out of the software.
Over the last couple of years, his archive has grown to literally hundreds of images, and in October he published an anthology, Electric Dreams. The name has caused some upset with his rise to fame: “By the time it had got picked up and went viral it was too late to change it. It’s cost me a lot of paid work because not many businesses want that sort of association. But I still like the name. I’m proud to have reclaimed the format of just doing things for people for no other reason than they asked while at the same time not being a horrible sex pest.”
Jim is now at the point where “my day job is Jim’ll Paint It. I’ve got myself into a pretty strange situation where I’m able to eke out a living by selling my doodles in the form of T-shirts and prints.” He still reads and considers every suggestion, but as time passes and the numbers increase that takes up more and more time. Combine this with the painting itself, which takes about seven hours per piece, and running the shop, and Jim is actually rather busier than the website would suggest. Still, he considers, “there’s definitely worse jobs I suppose.”
While the name hasn’t changed, Jim’s taste and skill has. Fundamentally, the pictures look more polished: “I’ve got ‘better’ at using Paint which means my pictures are, for better or worse, a lot less loose. You can’t force that looseness – I’ve always tried to make the pictures as realistic as possible – so if people prefer my earlier stuff that’s too bad. There’s no going back.”
I’m proud to have reclaimed the format of just doing things for people for no other reason than they asked while at the same time not being a horrible sex pest.
The sheer number of suggestions also brings problems. Not just because they take so long to read (although that is an issue, and he gets “literally hundreds overnight” after a popular image has been posted), but because all that time spent reading strange suggestions “makes it even harder to choose because I become desensitised to the silliness and can’t work out what’s funny any more. I try to just pick ones that aren’t necessarily hilarious straight off but which have the potential for those funny little details to be added.” Now, he tends to stick to simpler requests, as they tend to be funnier than “stupidly long random ones” which crop up from time to time.
The air of simplicity runs through much of Jim’ll Paint It’s origin story and method. “It started off as a way to kill time on my lunch break. A sort of ‘I’m bored – tell me something to draw’ type thing but on Microsoft Paint. It all started off pretty simple… a frog eating a ham sandwich, a rubber chicken doing the charleston etc. I posted my favourite ones on Tumblr and it just went a bit crazy.”
Although proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator, he continues to use Paint for all of his work. “I liked the safety net that using Paint provided. Like you could blame any crapness on the fact it’s Paint and the crapness is a big part of it. I have no idea how much of Jim’ll Paint It’s popularity is down to the fact I draw pictures for free or that I use Paint but I’ll never change.” Many, in fact, don’t believe that he continues to use Paint, but Jim is
In the taxi home after what was genuinely the meal of a lifetime me and my wife looked at this picture and just fell about laughing at how rubbish it is.
adamant: “I do. There are videos. I’ve just been using it every day for like 3 years. You get good at it. You work out how to get the most out of the software. Like now I pretty much only use the curved line tool and the fill tool. With the curved line tool and a mouse you can get more accuracy than drawing freehand on a tablet.”
However, Jim’s favourite image remains one from the early days, where few would accuse him of using high-powered or expensive software. In fact, that’s part of the point. “The struggle with using Paint and a mouse has resulted in a caricature of Heston [Blumenthal] that I just couldn’t replicate now.” The chef in question can be seen playing Connect 4 with a T-Rex on a lake of fire, “whilst a Care Bear watches them lustfully.” The scary part is that it’s far from the most surreal of his images. However, it was responsible for an invitation to the Fat Duck after Blumenthal saw the image. “In the taxi home after what was genuinely the meal of a lifetime me and my wife looked at this picture and just fell about laughing at how rubbish it is.”
Despite the ever-increasing success, Jim continues to branch out. “I’m constantly trying my hand at new stuff too. Recently I’ve been getting into more traditional pixel art and also video editing. Who knows. I’ll just keep doing stuff and maybe, if I’m lucky, something I do will kick off even a 10th as much as Jim’ll Paint It has.” He assures me that those of us who want to see Kim Jong-Il as every member of the Spice Girls or Daft Punk nude morris dancing at the apocalypse have little to fear. “I plan to keep going as long as people keep sending me suggestions and I enjoy painting them.”
All of Jim’s work can be found on tumblr at http://jimllpaintit.tumblr.com. His book, Electric Dreams, is available from Faber & Faber.