Fionn Jordan is an illustrator who draws on his travels throughout East Asia to build intricate worlds in an equally meticulous style, largely inspired by the Japanese shin-hanga and Chinese guó huà art movements.
Hailing from the Lake District, a mountainous region in northwest England known for its breathtaking rural scenery, Fionn Jordan left the U.K. countryside for Japan in 2014 — propelled by a penchant for Japanese media. Without a plan, or much money, he has since ventured across East Asia — from Korea and China to Taiwan — picking up freelance illustration and design gigs or otherwise working odd jobs for food and board along the way. As Jordan attests, his love of nature and passion for exploration have led him to some unlikely places and circumstances: an abandoned lumber camp deep in the Japanese forests of Shikoku, sleepy islands off the South Korean coast and stranded on an upturned sailboat in the Taiwan Strait, to name a few. He now lives between the U.K. and Taiwan, creating hand-drawn art that captures his sense of adventure.
“There’s a saying that all art is derivative, which I suppose is true — but I believe the best art is derived from the world around, not from other art. My creative process begins with getting far away from my drawing board, going to new places and seeing what I can find.”Fionn Jordan, Creator of “Escape From Egret Bridge”
From The Longclaw Teahouse to Egret Bridge
More influenced by the world around him than he is other art, the avid outdoorsman’s work often depicts imaginative animal characters and wildlife scenery illustrated in painstaking detail. In fact, he has built an entire universe with his art, inhabited by impressions of the people, animals and places Jordan encountered in his travels — which began to take shape with the artist’s first full collection of pieces, dubbed “The Longclaw Teahouse.”
Displayed in the summer of 2021 at The Beach Hut Gallery in Grange-over-Sands, an English town just a few miles south of the Lake District National Park, the exhibition included a centerpiece portraying a busy scene at the fictional teahouse teeming with patrons as well as several supporting “side pieces” of individual characters from the macrocosm. Jordan laid the foundation for his world much earlier, however, with a comic he created while studying illustration at university — titled “Vinyara” after its protagonist — about a decade prior.
The illustrator continues to draw his flagship heroine, and she is even featured in his latest body of work: Jordan’s debut NFT collection. Following a similar format to “The Longclaw Teahouse,” the drop consists of a detailed scene centered on the bustling town of Egret Bridge — with a cast of townspeople and an accompanying narrative — as well as 10 individual character side pieces and even a few animated profile pictures (PFPs) up for auction, including one of Vinyara. With “Escape From Egret Bridge” exclusively available on the platform as of Sept. 26, Crypto.com NFT caught up with the adventurous artist to discuss his travels and their influence on his creative journey.
“For a long time, digitizing my artwork was just a way to keep a record and facilitate printing. With the upsurge in NFTs, I realized that it could be much more than that. I began to have ideas of how I could world-build and reveal sections of story through the NFT structure. The way NFTs can be distributed and the artist-collector relationships they encourage are unique. It will allow me to present narratives in ways I haven’t been able to previously.”Fionn Jordan, Creator of “Escape From Egret Bridge”
Read the Q&A with Fionn Jordan below and visit the “Escape From Egret Bridge” drop page for more information.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an illustrator from the U.K., currently based in Taiwan. I spend half my time outside, climbing, kitesurfing and exploring the local environment — be that back alleys in the city or old lumber paths in the forest. The other half is spent turning those sights into characters and scenes in my illustrations.
While I live between Taiwan and the U.K., I frequently travel to new places to find new ideas for my work. Though predominantly inspired by my travels in East Asia, I incorporate ideas from pretty much everywhere I go.
What was your upbringing in the Lake District like and how has it affected your work?
Anyone who has been to the Lake District will tell you that the weather is terrible. While it’s true that it’s highly unpredictable, when it’s good, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Towns are small and are scattered between the lakes and mountains; there is little urbanization, but lots of history.
I think this [is why] I developed an appreciation for nature and history from a young age, and a desire to get out and explore. When the weather was bad, I would sketch and make models — which later turned into my two creative endeavors of illustration and miniature sculpting.
How would you describe your art and the inspiration behind it?
At first glance, [it includes] highly detailed characters and scenes that, I think, fit the title of Wimmelbilder — a german term meaning “teeming picture.” At a second glance, I hope people will notice the recurring characters, objects and activities. I’m building a world that gets a little bigger with every illustration I create and many of the characters have their own stories that can be found throughout.
In terms of content and atmosphere, I’m inspired by the places I travel to — but stylistically, I take inspiration from the Japanese shin-hanga movement and Chinese guó huà.
Were you always inspired by the shin-hanga and guó huà movements, or did you pick that inspiration up through your travels? What were some of your earliest influences?
I think I was probably inspired, from a young age, by the illustrations in books like “The Little Grey Men.” Actually, I am [now] realizing that there are some quite clear parallels with my current work: themes of travel, “animalian” characters. Then, as a teenager, the influx of Japanese media to the U.K. left a big impression on me and would later lead to me spending time in Japan.
For a time, before choosing to develop the style I work in now, I worked mostly with watercolor and ink. I really admire illustrators like John Bauer and Arthur Rackham for the atmosphere they create, as well as the skillful execution, and hope I one day have the chance to return to that style — to try to follow in their footsteps as best I can.
Shin-hanga and guó huà are newer inspirations for me. While I was always vaguely aware of their presence, it was traveling and seeing the places they portray that really brought them to life.
How have you supported yourself over the years, throughout your travels?
I would work for food and board — shoveling snow, building, cleaning, gardening, sometimes designing graphics [and] once, to everyone’s regret, cooking. When I could find illustration work, I would. I have a number of murals scattered across Japan and Taiwan. One big job I picked up was painting the inside of a secret bar in Shanghai. In recent years, I’ve sold original artwork and prints as well as worked on some freelance projects.
Can you please describe your evolution as an artist and how your style has developed over the years?
I’ve always been drawn to detail. I remember, when I was about 7, drawing a rocket made of cardboard boxes and metal bins — trash cans — bound together with rope and nails. I can see some parallels in the unstable looking buildings I draw now.
Over the last 10 years of drawing in this style, I’ve worked on finding ways to add more detail while keeping readability: balance between heavily drawn areas and white space, using some tonality to create depth [and] sometimes color.
Tell us more about your creative process.
There’s a saying that all art is derivative, which I suppose is true — but I believe the best art is derived from the world around, not from other art. My creative process begins with getting far away from my drawing board, going to new places and seeing what I can find.
I create everything by hand using pencil, pen and sometimes watercolor and gouache. [I do] almost no thumbnailing; I prefer to start penciling the final picture immediately. The detail at this stage varies, but I generally pencil characters accurately and scenes loosely. Then comes the inking, by far the largest part. My pens range between 0.05 millimeters and 0.8 millimeters, so as you can imagine, there are a lot of lines. In my more recent work, I’ve heavily incorporated gray ink pens to create depth and allow me to increase detail while maintaining legibility.
I understand a comic you created about 10 years ago served as the foundation for your work since; what can you tell us about it?
It was a 30-page comic called “Vinyara,” who is a character I still draw frequently. It was a loose, difficult to follow story about a traveling swordswoman who had slain her master — what she believed to be the culmination of her training. After that bloody deed, she found herself lost in a world she had never really lived in — being raised by her late master in isolation. He had told her stories of his old travels and bitter enemies, and Vinyara saw only one path ahead of her: to seek them out and challenge them to single combat.
I don’t see this comic as canon in the world I’m currently building, the character of Vinyara having changed greatly as I began to develop this style, but creating it was a pivotal moment in time for how I worked. Stylistically, it was a new path for me — but perhaps more importantly, it made me start thinking about building a world through my illustrations.
Did you receive any training or are you completely self-taught?
I studied illustration at college and university, though I would consider myself to be mostly self-taught. Studying afforded me time to develop a style and ultimately led to the creation of the [“Vinyara”] comic.
Speaking of storytelling and world-building, what can you tell us about “The Longclaw Teahouse?”
“The Longclaw Teahouse” is my first collection of illustrations from this world. It was displayed in The Beach Hut Gallery [in Cumbria, U.K.] in summer 2021. The Beach Hut is a small but passionately run gallery who have always supported my work and it felt like the right place to host the collection.
Similar to my new collection “Escape From Egret Bridge,” it consisted of a highly detailed centerpiece — a busy triptych of travelers, merchants, freelancers and aristocrats visiting the famous Longclaw Teahouse, a secluded, erratic old building that is home to special teas, ghosts and vagabonds.
Supporting it were a number of “side pieces” — character illustrations that give a bit more life to the individuals found in the centerpiece. A very simple narrative runs through a few of the pictures: tasked by a civet farmer to deliver the last of a late-harvested batch of wild highland tea to The Longclaw Teahouse, Vinyara sets off up the rocky, switchback path.
And how about the new drop?
“Escape From Egret Bridge” begins the story of two thieves, a larcenous duo who have just stolen a set of plates needed to serve the peaches of immortality they intend to illicitly pluck from a sage’s mountaintop garden.
There is one centerpiece — the titular “Egret Bridge,” a busy scene filled with characters both old and new — then there are 10 side pieces: detailed illustrations of the characters found at Egret Bridge.
Can you speak more to the mythology or lore of “Escape From Egret Bridge,” how you came up with the concept and its inspiration? How do you see this project evolving, from a narrative perspective?
For a long time, I’ve had the idea of two thieves who want to attain near-immortality by stealing magical peaches, an idea inspired by Chinese mythology. Anyone who has read “Journey to the West” will know the importance of mystical peaches! These two can be seen in the “Egret Bridge” and “Larcenous Duo” NFTs in this collection.
There are a couple of caveats to eating peaches of this nature: they must be served on specific plates of dragon-ivory and served with a certain rare tea. There is perhaps one more prerequisite that the thieves do not know of yet.
The appearance of Egret Bridge itself is inspired by the villages that sit in the mountains of Taiwan. While Egret Bridge is nestled in such a valley, I imagine those mountains quickly tumbling down to plains and then the coast — where trade vessels can begin their journey up the river.
I hope to continue this story, as the thieves seek out the tea and peaches, in future collections. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I would like to employ other narrative structures like comics or illustrated short stories.
Has Web3 impacted the way you create?
Excitingly, it’s just starting to impact me now! This collection is my debut in the world of Web3 and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to create a bridge between digital and traditional art — not just in the creative process, but in the final creations.
What attracted you to the NFT space for this project?
So far, I’ve worked quite traditionally. All my artwork is hand-drawn and usually displayed in brick-and-mortar galleries and exhibitions. For a long time, digitizing my artwork was just a way to keep a record and facilitate printing. With the upsurge in NFTs, I realized that it could be much more than that. I began to have ideas of how I could world-build and reveal sections of story through the NFT structure. The way NFTs can be distributed and the artist-collector relationships they encourage are unique. It will allow me to present narratives in ways I haven’t been able to previously. I’m very excited to have the chance to combine the digital and analog world in this way.
Do you have any goals or future plans for your art in the space?
Going forward, I want the relationship between traditional and digital artwork to underpin my NFT projects. I think there’s something important about there being an original, physical creation that was drawn by hand. Just knowing that it’s out there gives a certain richness to every reproduction, no matter how many are made.
Browse the “Escape From Egret Bridge” collection by Fionn Jordan.
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