I met Jo, the brains behind HAM at Pulse last year, where I immediately fell in love with her screen prints. Often, in fact pretty much always, described as “the nicest person I’ve ever met,” Jo is awesome. She very kindly took part in the confessions of a design geek bursary as a mentor, and was on hand to support the shortlisted designers as they exhibited in their very first trade show. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to interview her, but here it is…
What’s your background – how did you get into screen printing?
After finishing my fine art degree at the Ruskin School I began a career in commercial design and took up a role as a strategist at a creative consultancy in London. During the six valuable years I spent at the agency I continued to make work in my spare time, predominately sketching and experimenting in the darkroom. I’d been longing to develop a series of animal motifs I’d first started at university, so I took a break from my job to give me the focus I needed and a year later HAM was born.
When it came to articulating the designs, screen printing was the natural choice. The density of colour achieved, the crisp lines it delivers and the immediacy of the technique were all big advantages over other methods. It also allowed me to make an edition without loosing the hand-crafted element. I joined a great print studio in East London and have been bringing HAM to life there since.
Tell me about the characters that appear in your prints – what inspired them?
As a farmer’s daughter, named Jo Ham (and yes we did keep pigs!), agriculture and animals have always been important themes within my work. This combined with my interest in the banal and everyday, and a love for British nostalgia, in particular its quirks and rituals, gave me a clear starting point for HAM. The brand’s protagonists were constructed in my head but loosely based on the farmyard characters that surrounded me growing up. As a child I often imagined them interacting like we did – slightly Animal Farm but much more innocent. I 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.
I love the contrast between the charm of the content of your prints and the quite sombre colour palate – what made you stick to black and white printing?
I’m a huge fan of mid century design and a minimal aesthetic – I wanted to feed this into my work and was initially nervous that it wouldn’t sit with HAM’s playful and quirky subject matter. The aim was to create a piece of serious design with personality, to bring to life scenarios far away from twee that were unexpected but somehow completely believable. So I opted for a refined colour palette, embraced simplicity as HAM’s mantra, kept the humour subtle and made sure the animals were always completely engrossed in their everyday activities.
Describe a really good day in the life of HAM, and a really bad day…
A great day is making work, starting with a blank piece of paper and ending with something that tells a story and sits well visually. A bad day is when it doesn’t click; I reject half the designs I produce as they don’t tick all the boxes. It’s frustrating spending hours trying to make something happen but I’ve learnt to put things aside and revisit them later. A year on the twist needed may pop into my head, if not the design is filed until hopefully a spark flies.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I love working with British manufacturers, particularly when I discover a new technique that opens up many more possibilities. I also really enjoy taking part in consumer shows as I get to hear from customers, particularly about their pets. I am amazed how many house rabbits there are in London!
You are one of the mentors for the confessions of a design geek bursary (thank you!) – what made you want to be involved?
You’re welcome! I’m thrilled to be a part of it. As to the why – I launched HAM 18 months ago and so this time last year I was in the same position as Jess (COADG bursary winner 2013); just about embark on my first trade only fair. I wasn’t sure what to expect and what would be expected of me. I’d sought advice from those I could and threw HAM in at the deep end. Although this is often the best way to learn I think it would have been a lot less stressful if I’d had the ear of someone who’d been there and knew the drill.
If you could give a new designer one piece of advice, what would it be?
There are always ups and downs so share concerns with those around you, gauge feedback wherever possible and strive to keep thinking: “How can I make this better?” And don’t forget to celebrate the good times!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
From my mum: “If it was easy everyone would do it.”
What are you most proud of?
Six months ago, it was getting HAM off the ground, but now I think that’s been superseded by keeping HAM going. The economic climate is tough, particularly for retail and I’m proud to say the business is now in its second year.
What’s your favourite colour?!
Not surprisingly… black. But if I need to make it pop, coral normally does the trick.
Further reading for the especially geeky: