Thursday, June 24, 2010

Interview with Trinbagonian Illustrator, James Hackett

If you have even the slightest interest in Caribbean illustrators, then James Hackett is a name you must have heard. I am absolutely taken aback by Hackett's work. He's a fellow-Trini and looking at the images in his portfolio I really do feel a sense of home, a satisfying sense of 'Caribbeanness'. I am perhaps most impressed by Mr. Hackett's versatility; his illustrations span a number of styles and working with both traditional and digital media, he is able to produce a wide range of effects. As a children's literature aficionado/scholar, I spend hours pouring over the talent in the international children's illustration market and I can easily compare Hackett's work to that of Ward Jenkins, Lou Simeone, Andrés Martínez Ricci, or Jeff Crowther. At the same time, I think Hackett's cartoonesque work, in combining vector art, urban aesthetics, batik designs and textures, magna comic elements and collage techniques, is quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. Check out these kid-friendly samples from his portfolio (click on images to enlarge):

I have been corresponding with Mr. Hackett and I recently had the chance to pick his brain about his work.


Thanks for agreeing to do this interview James, I really appreciate it.

No problem at all.

So tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes James Hackett interesting?

I like telling stories. I have always tried to do that in my pieces and my work. There is always a story to tell. People like stories especially if they are good and I think I have been lucky enough to have interesting viewpoints that capture people’s imaginations.

On the web and in several print publications, you go by the alias “daaknite.” What’s the story behind the name?

I am a huge fan of Batman. I like what the character stands for: this ever vigilant human being in a world full of crazy people. He exists in this dark world but helps people as broken as he is amazing. I like to think of myself as a Dark Knight, playing on as many puns as you can think of with those references from the romantic to the obvious.

Let’s talk about your art. How would you describe your artwork and your subject matter of choice? What tools or media do you use to create your illustrations?

I like experimenting. Every chance I get I play with things and tools and find stuff that works. With traditional media I tend to work with pastel, watercolours, pencil and ink but these days I prefer mostly to work on the computer. This is primarily because I do not have a lot of space to work as I would like to. The computer keeps it simple for me so I just sketch and scan my concepts and finish them on the computer or work with photographs.

What is your process for creating an illustration?

These days I typically start with a sketch. Because of my graphic design background I see compositions and ways to make them work effectively very quickly in my head. The sketch helps me nail down the vision and once this is scanned I finish the work in Adobe Illustrator ( I have a couple tutorials in my blog that shows this process.) On the computer it is faster for me to work my colours out and tighten up the composition and layer in the details etc.

Although your illustrations typically feature adult concepts and figures, when I look at some of your work, (like the illustrations above) I see the qualities of children’s illustration- bright colors, quirky perspectives, animals with human characteristics, humorous elements, and visuals that subtly but powerfully tell a story. Have you ever illustrated for children and if not, is this something that interests you?

I am quite interested in illustrating for children’s books but I have not had a good opportunity as yet. I would really love to go all out and enhance a well written tale.

What about graphic novels or comic books? Graphic novels are big right now in the young adult literature market. I think Caribbean youth would enjoy locally-flavored graphic novels. What say you?

The thing with graphic novels is they take a lot of time, I have been burned in the past by trying comics and what not. I was young, but now I would really need a lot of time to do one. My heart still would like to try but I will not be able to do it justice at the moment because my head just isn't there yet. It would be nice to visit it in the future however because so many possibilities for stories exist as you suggested.

One of my biggest contentions with Caribbean children’s literature is that too many Caribbean children’s writes are outsourcing illustrators from overseas when there is abundant talent right here in our region. Should you get into professional children’s illustration in the future, what do you think you can bring to the Caribbean children’s book aesthetic?

Well I have been trying to break into the illustration market for the last few years unsuccessfully. For me it has been an uphill battle of discovery. I become more and more professional after each disappointment. I think (I may be wrong) that generally it’s a matter of seeing Illustration as a high craft and approaching the whole matter with professionalism, something that is kind of glossed over here from my experience, so foreigners are leagues ahead of us after the talent factor goes out the window. It is has a lot to do with us here looking at the industry more seriously and being able to garner that respect.

You are in the process of designing Carnival costumes for a children’s band for Carnival 2011. Can you tell us a little bit about this project? The concept behind the band perhaps?

Carnival has given me so many wonderful experiences. I have been involved with it off and on for about 12 years or so. The children’s band will pretty much be like a story book that we expect to expand into costumes and play out into the streets. It is not a revolutionary concept but it is something that makes so much sense. The process starts with a story that features "kidcentric" ideas and themes and then we create designs based on those characters. We plan to release the story as part of the marketing for the children’s band in a few months.

Do you sell your work on stock illustration sites and if not, would you ever consider doing so?

I have thought about it before, just not recently. I may try again at a later date.

How can interested parties (Caribbean children’s writers perhaps?) contact you?

My website has all the contact information.

James, thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us. It’s been a pleasure conversing with you.

Thanks a lot for seeking me out, it’s encouraging to know that there are a few people looking at what I do.


James Hackett from Trinidad and Tobago is a writer, documentary film-maker, and up-and-coming fashion designer who is perhaps more well-known in Caribbean circles for his work as an illustrator and animator. With over a decade of experience working in print, media and advertising houses in Trinidad and the Caribbean, Hackett’s work has been exhibited in the region and in the United States. His digital/graphic art has been featured in Draconian Switch, Outish Magazine, The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, The Trinidad and Tobago Express and regularly in Caribbean Beat. Hackett’s illustrations bring together his interest in magna comics, batik prints and Caribbean folklore to create upbeat Caribbean images that reflect the pizzazz and vitality of the region. Hackett was a resident illustrator and writer for VoX, the groundbreaking youth-focused magazine that was published in the Sunday Express in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 90’s. At VoX, Hackett was one of the writers behind Tales from Daaknite, the “urban-fiction-meets-folklore/fantasy” serialized stories that became popular among young people in Trinidad and Tobago. James Hackett holds an Associates Degree in Design from John Donaldson Technical Institute (Trinidad) and is currently pursuing a degree in fashion design at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. James Hackett is a member of Zigwa, the Trinbago-based arts collective.

Related Links

Hackett's Print Shop on Facebook

Summer Edward is a Children's Literature and Publishing Consultant. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and is the recipient of a Highlights Foundation Scholarship for promising children's writers and the School of the Free Mind's inaugural Way of the Book Honor Award given to artist-authors demonstrating long and sincere commitment to changing the world through children's books. Learn more about her here .


Anouska Kock

Interesting stuff.

Patrice Q.

Well done Hackett! Nice piece
Keep on keeping on.


good work.. keep it up

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