Top draw

Words eMily payne
Photography Karolina Wiśniowska

Circus meets barista-come-illustrator Jack Stead to talk doodling, tattoos and skulls



Jack Stead’s pet cactus is called Mr Prickles. The 24-year-old manager of Society Café is very fond of plants. And cats. Oh, and skulls. While not busy whipping up macchiatos, Jack scribbles away in a sketchbook – and his talent has not gone unnoticed. “Most of my ideas come when I’m at work,” he says. “I quickly jot them down, and when I get a chance to draw properly I look to that for inspiration.”

Jack graduated from Bath Spa University in 2015 with a music technology degree, and recently completed his first paid art commission, a mural downstairs at the café. It depicts a happy cat sitting in a coffee cup full of plants. 

“Whatever else is going on in my life, drawing has always been there in the background,” he explains. “As a kid I was drawing constantly. It’s something that, no matter how I feel, I can sit down and enjoy. Art is a great way to be honest. You’re allowed to be sad and say how you feel. I have struggled with depression and anxiety a lot over the last five years, and drawing is one way of working though it. It’s an occupier. It’s calming.” 


Despite the skulls, hearts and phrases such as: ‘Still here’, ‘Numb to it all’ and ‘Bad day’ that punctuate his portfolio, there’s an overriding sense of satire and dark humour to Jack’s work. “A lot of my emo pieces aren’t entirely serious. They’re tongue-in-cheek really,” he says. “I don’t  take myself too seriously and I don’t think anyone else does either. It’s best to accept that and embrace it.”

Jack is not averse to the ease of working digitally, but happily sticks to old fashioned pen and paper; appreciating that part of his enjoyment comes from the process of mark-making and what he can learn from it. 

“I love seeing something permanent happening quickly. With digital, you can make a mistake and undo it, and that’s great, but there’s something satisfying about very carefully laying down the lines. 

“A large part of my process is about making mistakes and working from them. If a line goes out of place it’s not so much of an undo, it’s about figuring out how I can make it work. How it can become part of the piece in general. 

“I sometimes set out to try and convey something and it ends up quite differently. But I like that every piece is a little journey.”

Like a meandering pencil line, Jack’s career path is as yet unknown. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I will pursue anything that comes my way, because I love drawing, and any opportunity I have to do more of it is a win-win.” 

I’m inspired by... 

Tattoo art : I have around 20 of my own, including a piece of lavender on my arm, designed by Bath illustrator Holly Grace. I designed the ones on my hands and fingers. The others are by friends and people I know.

Movies : The Place Beyond the Pines and anything by Quentin Tarantino.

Sad books : My girlfriend is a fanatic book collector. She often suggests sad stuff like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, or anything by Haruki Murakami or Chuck Palahniuk, and that’s an inspiration for a while.

PeopleKate Monument