Jo Robinson is an extremely talented lady. Based in London, she studied art at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. She is a print maker and creates limited edition silk screen prints employing a process that brings together mixed media collage, monochrome photogram, and digital finishing. Her work has been exhibited at Liberty London, The Other Art Fair, the London Design Festival and Modern Art Oxford and can been seen on her personal art website.
Jo in her studio
In addition to her fine art prints, Jo has had extraordinary success with her whimsical collection of homewares, stationary and prints characterized by monochrome silhouettes of a pig, a rabbit and a horse engaged in a multitude of unexpected activities. The collection was launched in 2011, under the brand name HAM. The entire collection is made in the UK and Jo hand-pulls all of the screen prints in her East London studio.
Since launching HAM, Jo has gone from strength to strength and her quirky, minimalist designs are now available throughout Britain and in select design-led boutiques around the world. Despite her busy schedule, we’re grateful that she took the time to sit down with us to answer a few questions.
What is the first thing you remember creating?
I have a very strong memory of making a ‘landscape’ painting at my primary school. I must have been about six and was so obsessed with getting it right I kept drawing and painting, then drawing and painting, so much so I made a hole right in the middle of the picture which I reluctantly had to patch with tissue paper. It was at that point I learned that sometimes less is more!
I understand that you were brought up on a farm. Has that inspired your art and if so, how?
I loved growing up in the British countryside – surrounded by inspiration and adventure. Drawings of rural life and its characters filled the pages of my sketchbook with my parents farm, a menagerie of dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, cows, donkeys and sheep being my points of reference. I also developed an interest in documenting the everyday and was constantly seeking to capture on paper the people around me going about their regular rituals. This fascination with British quirkiness and the mundane stuck and has underpinned much of my creative practice to date.
Lined A5 HAM notebooks
The name HAM and HAMmade works on so many levels vis a vis your imagery. Where did the name came from?
HAM is my maiden name!
You went to art school in Oxford. What did you take away from art school and how did you make the transition to design?
I knew in the last year of my degree at The Ruskin that I wasn’t yet ready to become an artist. There was still so much of the world that I needed to learn about before I could confidently provide visual comment. Subsequently I gained a place on a creative management-training scheme and spent the next two years at a number of design agencies in London and the US. At the end of the programme I joined a brand consultancy as a strategist. During this time I continued to draw and paint whenever I could and in 2010, with a set of silhouette sketches and an idea, took the plunge and left my job. A year later HAM’s first collection was launched.
Bouncing rabbit tea towel
Any mentors? Any important lessons that you learned along the way?
My family is a very important support system. Running your own business is a massive balancing act and getting everything done in itself is a huge challenge but one that is incredibly rewarding and couldn’t be achieved without the help of the brilliant people around me. My mum constantly reminds me –‘if it was easy everyone would do it!’
Why a pig, rabbits and a horse?
The brand’s protagonists were constructed in my head but loosely based on the farmyard characters that surrounded me growing up: a pig called Primrose, a rabbit called Humphrey and a donkey called Snowflake (as close as I could get to a horse!) As a child I often imagined them interacting like us but decided very early on to keep Pig, Horse and Rabbit named as such as I didn’t want them to be defined by any predetermined stereotypes, thus leaving the viewer free to build their own story.
Partying pig screen print
You have been said to have a “deft flair for the witty” and your work, which is charming, unexpected and amusing, has been described as reflecting a fascination for the banal in terms of the everyday subject matter that you depict. Is that a description you would use, and can you expand on that a little?
Absolutely. The aim was to create a piece of serious design that was understated and simple but full of personality, to bring to life scenarios far away from twee that were unexpected but somehow completely believable. It’s really important to me that HAM is upbeat and centred around stories that we can all relate to. Humour plays a key part and successfully weaving this into each silhouette is a tough challenge but one that’s more than worth it when you see people connect with the designs.
How has your business evolved since creating HAM? How has the journey been for you?
It has been quite a journey. It’s happened so quick! Although it is demanding I am really enjoying the roller coaster.
What’s the biggest challenge (if one exists) associated with HAM’s commitment to supporting British industry? What are the rewards?
I don’t feel there are any specific challenges – I see it as a huge positive. You can have face-to-face meetings, the lead times are often shorter, the carbon footprint is lower and you are supporting livelihoods as well as the traditional skills and processes that are such an important part of the UK’s historical and cultural make-up.
Button lift rabbit and ski jumping rabbit cards
What’s next for HAM?
Four more Rabbits are about to launch and I’m aiming to introduce a brand new animal to the HAM clan later this year – there’s huge debate about what it should be… suggestions welcome!
We want to help Jo pick the new animal for HAM. Head over to our Facebook page and give us your opinion.
You could win a tea towel printed with one of HAM’s first-ever prints: the bouncing rabbit.
All images are courtesy of Jo Robinson.