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Jerms Lanningham

Drawing out the citizen drawer


Jeremy "Jerms" Lanningham is a straight-up nice dude. A graphic designer, illustrator, gallery curator, skateboarder, husband and father of two little girls, Lanningham leads a packed life. And for the last few years, he's illustrated every Citizen that has graced the pages of Boise Weekly. This week, we decided to pull a Charlie Kaufman and turn the spotlight on him. What's the story of the citizen behind the Citizen illustrations?

How long have you been illustrating for Citizen?

I think it started in 2006, I could be wrong. I've done so many of them; it's just been a whirlwind ... I started with spot illustrations and then moved into Citizen Boise.

Had you illustrated from photographs before drawing Citizen?

In high school we did it a little bit; our art teacher would make us draw National Geographic things. And then there was this group of us in the back ... some of us were drawing skulls and people with their heads cut off ... We were the kids who probably weren't going to succeed in life. But all those people I know that sat in that back area, they're still creative ... Some of them own huge, fancy design firms.

Describe your illustration style.

I don't think I'm all that terribly good at drawing people. I just draw them and then spin it enough until I think that they're cool and sketchy and fun ... I do them really fast, and if I don't like them, I'll do them really fast again ... Drawing people realistically really isn't my style, but it's kind of become that. You keep your licks, so to speak ... Garfield, back in the day, he was this really chubby cat, then he kinda got skinny and then his head stayed big. So, I looked back through all my drawings--there was like 80 of them--and the style has changed a little bit.

What's your process like, how do you tackle the photos?

I print it out on the printer and make them big or small. Then I put them on a light table and I blue line them out a little bit ... Back in the day, if someone had a bigger nose or bigger ears or you wanted to accentuate a feature, you could do that. You try to make them as cool-looking as possible--not too old--and if it's a gal, you wanna make her look pretty. You don't want to mess with people's teeth. It's a fine line because the very first one that I did was Margaret at Hollywood Market, and I drew her in my more caricature style. I guess some people got really torqued. She kind of has these little jowls, because she's older, that hang down--laugh lines and jowls. I just made her look kind of pissed and grumpy--she kind of is--so I added some character to her. [BW art director Leila Ramella-Rader] was like, "You can't draw ladies like that anymore."

What are some of the more difficult aspects of drawing people?

I think I have trouble doing people's eyes and their laugh lines and their crow's feet ... sometimes people have big foreheads and you wanna fix stuff when you're drawing because we want things to look pretty. There's some people that just aren't all that pretty, but you have to draw them how they are. Some people have big noses, some people have big ears. So when you finish with some of these pieces, you're just like, "That's just how they are."

That's a hard line to walk: making sure that you make people look their best while staying truthful to their actual attributes ...

A lot of it depends on the photo, also. If the lighting is horrible and they're wearing a hat, you can't really see their eyes, you have to put shadows in. Different ethnicities--if someone's African American or Hispanic or Native American--in a little black and white drawing, how do you do that? More hatch marks? But hatch marks make someone look old and then you have to accentuate the eyes a little bit more.

It seems like a lot of times you get to know just as much about the person by looking at your drawing as you do by reading the text.

Completely. It stops people and gets people's attention, the way it's placed on the page ... So many people who have been interviewed do some really cool and moving things for people or the world in general or the environment ... I'm just the guy that draws them.

How are you going to tackle your own Citizen drawing?

I might have my daughter Maya do it with a crayon. A big circle with ears ... That might set her up for a similar life.

Tell me about some of the other work that you do artistically.

I've always liked to draw, and deep down inside me, I knew that's what I wanted to be. For my whole existence, I've wanted to draw. I didn't even know what an illustrator was until college ...

Are there illustrators you're inspired by?

Jim Phillips, he did all the Santa Cruz skateboard stuff ... There's a bunch of old '80s skate graphics that I kind of like ...There's some newer-school guys, like Joe Sorren is really rad. Jeremy Fish out of San Francisco ... I used to be really into it and then stepped away from it because I thought it was influencing me way too much ... Now I'm just like, "All right, my style is my style." Whether you're going to go skateboarding down the street this way or skateboarding down the street that way, everybody has a little bit different style. Everybody's going to do something a little bit different with a piece of paper.

Do you feel like it's hard to draw people that you've never met, to capture their personality just by looking at a photograph?

Actually I think that it's easier, because it's just more of an assignment. My wife or my kids or some of my friends? Then it gets into this fine line where people would bitch about, "My nose isn't that big." Because you're interacting with these people all the time.

What's your day job?

I'm a graphic designer and art director and illustrator. I used to work at Wirestone, now I work at ... I do that 40 hours a week, and then I freelance. Some weeks it's five hours, but the last two or three months since I quit my job at Wirestone, I probably put in ... 40 hours a week on top of my day job ... Whether it's illustration or design or a little bit of photography here and there. I'm kind of a hybrid guy.

Then you curate at the Flying M?

Yeah, with John [Warfel]. John's been my saving grace the last few months. He's been involved in communicating with the artists a little bit more than I have ... We've had some really rad people show in the last little while.

There seems to be a thread of commonality that runs through the exhibits.

Yeah, just fun people that appreciate getting the nod to get up on the wall. It doesn't really take much to get up on the wall, just if someone's mature enough or they have a great body of work and they're easy to work with, then it works out.

So when do you find time to hang out with your family?

On the weekends, I hang out with my wife probably not as much as I should. She just knows that I'm a busy person and she's busy, too, taking care of the girls... There's only a short window of time when your kids are really young. They're going to be hooing and hawing, and then talking, and all the sudden talking becomes talking back, and then they're teenagers, and then they're 20 years old and you're like, "Holy crap, that went by fast." I appreciate the fact that she's had this time with the girls. I wish I had a little bit more time with them, too, but I know that I can take that freelance money and save.