James Lloyd draws castles and woodsy creatures for a living.
The 32-year-old illustrator moved to Boise from Eastern Idaho in 2011. Hungry for work, he put an ad on Craigslist. Pretty soon after, somebody reached out to him asking if he could make some posters for a small weekend music festival planned for the spring of 2012. Lloyd said yes -- and quickly found himself working on posters, t-shirts, a website and print ads for a festival that had grown to almost 140 bands. Treefort Music Fest was born.
Lloyd says part of his mission as the festival’s art director that first year was to create a story that people could get excited about. A story they would want to share and experience for themselves.
“Yeah so I think the first year was a lot of world-building stuff," says Lloyd. "And I think now it’s shifted more towards a mood.”
The most obvious illustrations came quickly for him. Yes, tree forts were prevalent, and a kind of boyscout/girlscout aesthetic formed. But other characters and themes soon entered into the world of Treefort, and each year Lloyd has changed the festival’s overall look a little, honing in on a new idea each year. He says that’s necessary with a festival whose focus is the discovery of new and emerging bands.
“You kind of want to be new and emerging along with the artists," he says. "You don’t want to feel dated. Five years is a long time ago I think you change and hopefully get better.”
This year, Lloyd updated the Treefort website with animated designs. In the foreground is a couple looking at a map; the woman is holding a guitar and the man has a drum strapped to his back. There are some bright green trees or shrubs that are waving back and forth, and some goofy yet creepy eyes in the background that flash every other second.
Lloyd says he’s inspired by low-brow art and comic books. His home office has classic Star Wars action figures above his desk. The illustrator’s sense of humor is always near the surface as he talks about his work -- and he jokes about the limited color palette he uses for Treefort.
“This green and light blue are new to Treefort this year, so be prepared for that at the festival. The new green and blue," he laughs. “Yeah I think it’s going to change everything.”
But the artist is serious when it comes to his humility about his work with the festival. Each year Lloyd inspires other elements of Treefort. Festival volunteers make physical representations of the illustrator’s work at different venues around town. But he quickly shares the credit for these pieces.
“I mean Treefort is a lot of my art work, but it wouldn’t work if it was just James Lloyd. So I’m really humbled people embraced it and like to look towards it. Yeah, that feels good.”
One of the people Lloyd works closely with during the months leading up to the festival is Treefort marketing director Megan Stoll.
“What he’s created is just so cool, it’s this beautiful wondrous world of Treefort," she says. "And then you get to see it come to life during the festival.”
Stoll says after working with Lloyd for the past five years, they’ve created a kind of special language between them for envisioning the designs. Stoll says she’s impressed by his ability to take outlandish sounding elements and put them together in a way that makes sense, or at least makes sense in the land of Treefort.
"'I want to see a unicorn, I want to see a skateboard, and a turret, maybe there’s a muscle on this turret’s arm, wearing a wristband,'" Stoll recalls asking Lloyd. "'And sure let’s put an anchor tattoo on his arm.' And he can make this happen."
Stoll says one of the things she respects the most about the artist is his openness to go out on a limb with design.
“He’s willing to learn, and I’m willing to learn, and we’re both willing to take chances on things and so is the festival in general, and I think that’s what makes it so special.”
For his part, Lloyd is done with the heavy-lifting and months of late night illustrating. Now, he gets to enjoy the world he helped create. One of the bands he's excited to see this year is Thee Oh Sees.
“A lot of the other people who are making Treefort happen have to work through the festival," says the illustrator. "But I kind of stop and just enjoy it, catch some shows and hang out with friends. It’s not bad at all.”
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