Designer Spotlight: Jonathan F

Photo: David Cabrera

Jonathan F (otherwise known as ‘Suede Jury’) makes ‘cinematic-graphic folk music’ when he isn’t working his day job at Complex Media.

Jonathan F
Jonathan F ▱ Photo by David Cabrera

I’ve been a musical fan of Jonathan F’s (musically known as Suede Jury) before the tips of his dreads touched the middle of his back. In fact, he might have started his dreads back then. I discovered him on Myspace and at the time, and a track called “Real Thang” was in bloom. It was a rework of an Erykah Badu record. I remember hearing his deep voice for the first time. At the time, it was synonymous to Prodigy’s voice from the legendary group Mobb Deep. However, his lyrical content was different.

As a writer and someone who loves words, diction, and vocabulary, his music stuck out. When we crossed paths, I might have been a college student in Design school. Needless to go into full detail, I totally ‘get’ him as a multitalented individual. We share the same love for words, typography, music, and design. I could have a 30-minute conversation with Suede about ligatures and a new song that hit the radio today. When you’re like us, you tend to see the world differently. Mundane objects speak to you, unlike others.

For me, I didn’t go the route he did. I used my Design skill to build my website and help past clients with brand identity. Today, he’s working at Complex Media as a Staff Graphic Designer.

State of the Rap Union
‘State of the Rap Union’ ▱ All illustrations appear as a courtesy of Jonathan F ▱ Original artwork are property of Complex Magazine & Pigeons And Planes

How long have you been an Illustrator-Graphic Designer?

I’ve been a Graphic Designer for the better part of the past decade. I’ve always toyed with sketches here and there, but only recently started creating pieces regularly.

Professional training?

I majored in Graphic Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Before that, I would play with Paint Shop Pro and the whole Creative Suite in my free time. Oil pastels were a favorite of mine too.

Is it therapeutic?

Illustration can be therapeutic, depending on the time constraints and my state of mind at the time. It can have a very freeing feeling attached to it, especially in the more “controlled mess” style I use; Instead of one precise line, it’s a series of strokes that suggest the general path a line might make. It’s very expressive & in the moment. Other times it’s a time crunch; a mad dash to reconcile the gap between speed & precision. I love it though.

Tell me a little about the pieces you’ve shared. What inspired them? About how long did it take to create each one?

Most of my pieces are either portraiture or a creative way to express a real or imagined scenario. My favorite pieces always discuss a social issue, such as cultural appropriation in pop culture or an artist’s responsibility to speak out in humanity’s darkest moments.

Cultural Appropriation by Jonathan F for Complex Magazine
‘Cultural Appropriation’ ▱ Jonathan F for Complex Magazine
Jonathan F for Pigeons & Planes
‘808s’ ▱ Jonathan F for Pigeons & Planes

Illustrating in the editorial world is a unique challenge because the subject is given to you and you kind of just have to think on your feet to find a fresh way to visualize it. The turn-around times vary; I can have 5 days to think about it, or it can be a news story that just broke 5 minutes ago and needs to go out while the subject is relevant. It’s a good exercise.

Were you always this talented? Did it start out as a hobby? Were your parents (or guardians) supportive of your hobby/work/skill?

I’ve cultivated my talents over the years. It was a gravitational love that grew into a profession. My mother schooled me and my sister at home, and would always draw on any blank paper she could find. In our high school years, she enrolled us in special Design programs at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. That was a turning point for me. I knew then that working with words & images was what I wanted to do.

Is illustration your ‘bread and butter’?

Illustration goes hand in hand with design, so yes.

Which visual artists are you most inspired by?

Milton Glaser is one of my all-time favorites. His sense of restraint makes some of the boldest pieces I’ve ever seen.

Jonathan F for Pigeons & Planes
‘The Artist’s Burden’ ▱ Jonathan F for Pigeons & Planes

Have you had the chance to meet any of them?


If not, have you had the privilege of seeing their artwork up close?

I have not.

Does digital age harm or help you as a visual artist?

For me, the digital age shortens the distance between concept & execution. All my work is a hybrid of digital and organic; there are certain things that a computer still cannot replace.

Jonathan F for Complex Magazine
‘It Was Written’ ▱ Jonathan F for Complex Magazine

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment to date?

It was a great feeling when I was able to publish my first article on Complex and illustrate it as well.

What is the average price for an original piece by you?

Price varies based on a number of factors, including volume of the project, level of detail, and size of client.

Do you have any live shows or exhibits coming up?

Not at the moment.

Where can people find you/your work?

Jonathan F for Complex Magazine
‘Ricky Williams’ ▱ Jonathan F for Complex Magazine

One of the things I enjoy about Suede is his ability to be humble. I remember reading the Nicki Minaj digital cover story on Complex. I had no idea that my friend worked on the layout. You’re such a sneaky success!


Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is the North American Press Agent and US Business Manager for Oxlade; Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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