Have you ever formed a sentence with a sequence of words so random that you had to ask yourself if you were the first person in human history to say that particular thing? If so, and if you want to see a visual representation of that idea, you might want to send it to Jim’ll Paint It. That’s what Jim will do, if you’re lucky: Paint your random idea in MS Paint, and with such skill that you’d never guess that’s the program used.
Starting about three years ago, Jim Murray, a 28-year-old from the U.K., got so many requests that he quit his day job as a graphic designer just to use MS Paint to draw things like Voldemort finally finding the Coke with his name on it, Jeff Goldblum getting a back rub from Barney the dinosaur, and Columbo playing a Sega Game Gear while a drunken Magnum, P.I. cuddles his knees. There is no request too weird for Jim to paint.
In fact, the weirder the request, the more likely Jim will bring it to life.
The A.V. Club: How did you get started doing this?
Jim Murray: I was doing design work, typography for a small publishing company. On my lunch breaks—it was a bit of a break from doing standard design and constrictive things like that—I decided to do some doodling. Originally it was just doing it with a pen and that sort of progressed to using MS Paint, because it’s always been there and everyone’s got it. It’s something I’ve been using since I was a kid. So I asked people on Facebook if they wanted anything drawn and a few people asked, “Can I have a frog eating a ham sandwich?” or, “A rubber chicken doing the Charleston?” And they were quite simple. It might take me only about an hour.
And when I had about eight pictures done I decided to put it on Tumblr because there were people saying it was kind of making their day to see these pictures come to life. It was really nice getting that feedback, and after a few days of being on Tumblr it just sort of kicked off and there was loads of people I didn’t know at all, and I was getting like a hundred requests every night. At first I thought I was going to keep up and I could do all of them but I was like, no, I’ll have to be quite selective.
AVC: How long does it take you on average now?
JM: Now it takes between six and eight hours of solid work, pretty much, because it’s MS Paint. I could use Photoshop but I think part of the reason it’s taken off is because it’s got that element of being done on Paint. It’s a challenge. You’ve not got layers and different tools you’ve got on Photoshop. You can only “undo” three times; if you make a mistake you’re sort of up a creek without a paddle.
AVC: Does it seem a bit insane to you that you’re now spending a full work day drawing something ridiculous like the Alien Queen coming back from maternity leave and getting upset that Dropbox wasn’t used properly?
JM: Yeah, I guess. But then, it’s become my job now since I’m able to sell prints and T-shirts. At first it was just a bit of fun and that’s when I was doing it as quick as I could. But now I’ve got more time to do it so I want to put more and more detail into them. When people get them their mind is blown that someone has done all that. And it really does make their day. It’s a nice feeling. It’s kind of a job—you spend eight hours at the office or whatever. It’s not crazy to me.
AVC: Is there something that draws you to a request more so than others?
JM: Anything that’s original, basically. Anything different than what I’ve done before. But it also has to be funny and it’s also like—you sort of draw a picture in your head of what it’s going to look like and it has to have some impact. Early on it was just a cake because I didn’t know I’d be picking and choosing so heavily from such a wide range. I was a bit less picky and a lot of the early ones—they don’t really work as visual pieces. There’s a lot of characters in them; there’s too much going on to grab the eye. So I now pick ones that will be really punchy, that will jump out at people.
AVC: Is there a particular request that still makes you laugh the most?
JM: Yeah. It was the way it was written, just as though they were sort of making it up as they went along.
Can you please paint me Davina McCall with dreadlocks, cooking a full English breakfast on the beach, and all of the seagulls at the beach are in Karate Kid and/or Nazi uniforms and are attacking her and her breakfast is on fire and there’s a dog poo on the beach (it’s not a very nice beach) and she’s smiling a lot staring right at you smiling in a really creepy way with big gold hoop earrings in and can Davina please be dressed in pajamas and have spiders coming out of her eyes a little bit.
This painting would make me very happy, thank you.
AVC: A lot of the requests can be quite dark, morbid, or sexual, and often involving politicians or major figures in pop culture or history. Do you ever run into any issues when you post those?
JM: I have to be careful what I post on Facebook for reasons of not getting kicked off the site permanently. I’ve had several warnings now, and it’s only going to take one or two more. Any more and I’ll be off for good, and that’s obviously my livelihood. I have to be kind of careful. But in terms of actual content, I’m not too fussed about offending people too much. I’ve got a set of principles that sort of say, “Just be a nice person to other people.” But I’m not afraid to rip on people a little bit. I hope people see it as good humored; it’s not really malicious.
The recent one of David Cameron—that was definitely done in anger.
There’s a lot of people over here exasperated by the decision to vote him in. And the only way you can sort of express yourself is through drawing and you’ve got a platform to express your anger so it’s worth doing. But that did tick off a lot of people, especially because half the people in this country are pro-David Cameron and half are not. So half were really offended by it and saying it was really inappropriate. But I’m not too fussed about it.
AVC: Do you ever get any threats or nasty emails?
JM: Yeah, sometimes. I’ve had hate mail. I guess most of it is just trolling or people trying to get a rise out of me. The only real “threat” I’ve had of any kind was from the Ultimate Warrior from when he was still alive. His “legal team”—which I suspect was just his friend—saying that you need to immediately take down the picture you’ve done of him “or else.” Very much posturing and threatening legal things and you just say, “Okay, fair enough,” and go along with it. It didn’t amount to anything but it’s quite amusing to be threatened by the Ultimate Warrior.
AVC: Are the laws on this issue in the U.K. are similar to the ones in the U.S. correct? You seem protected.
JM: Yeah, there’s a parody law. This only just changed last year. So for example, if I wanted to put a picture in my book that had a celebrity doing something—it’s mainly brands you need to be worried about. Not even brands but characters in films, for example—anything that’s copyrighted. You’re in trouble if you’re using that and profiting it in any sort of way. But the law changed only last year and there’s this new parody law which says that as long as it’s clearly not posturing as official merchandise, you can do whatever you want.
AVC: Who do you get requested the most?
JM: Weirdly enough, there seems to be a real obsession with TV chefs, from like the early days. I think I’ve drawn most of the U.K. TV chefs. There’s definitely a theme of early British washed-up TV personalities. Anyone from the ’80s that’s just been completely forgotten about. There’s some sort of cult obsession with resurrecting these people and putting them in these bizarre scenarios. I’m not sure why.
AVC: What are some of the major differences between U.S. and U.K. in terms of their pop culture requests?
JM: I think with the U.K. ones there’s definitely more of a cynicism in terms of the requests I get. The requests I get from the U.S. tend to be a lot more positive, and they want something that looks awesome with people they like. Whereas the U.K. requests are more like, “We want washed-up celebrities doing depressing things.” That’s the British way, I guess. Everyone’s a bit more depressed whereas everything is much more “awesome” in America.
I’ve never done a picture that was particularly American or had American people. I’m based in the U.K., most of the people that like my page are based in the U.K., so I try to pander to that a little bit. If there are U.S. references in the picture, it’s usually a bit of a coincidence.
AVC: What is your bestselling print?
JM: Probably Brian Blessed punching a polar bear in the face. I don’t know if you know who he is, but he was in Flash Gordon. Kind of obscure. He’s a much-beloved theater and film actor in this country. Just a huge giant of a man. Every time he talks he sort of bellows and shouts and is a hero to a lot of people. And apparently he did punch a polar bear in the face one day, according to himself.
AVC: Is there a difference between what sells well and what’s popular?
JM: Yeah, the pictures that get like 25,000 likes or whatever often don’t sell that well because they’re of the moment. During the Sochi Olympics I did a picture of Vladimir Putin as all of the Village People as a protest against the Russian attitude toward gay rights. Even Madonna shared it on her page. But I haven’t sold nearly as many of those prints as I have other things just because it’s very of the time and there’s certain things people like to have on their wall versus things they appreciate and want to show support for.
AVC: The drawings are so good that it seems impossible they were done in MS Paint. Is there some sort of underground contingent of people who do this sort of thing?
JM: It’s weird. There is definitely a sort of small underground Microsoft Paint “scene.” But for me I was using Photoshop or Illustrator so much that I just wanted something sort of “trashy” and quick that I could use on my lunch breaks. So it was never a conscious thing to join this movement of people doing crazy stuff with basic software. The first ones I did really did look like they were done in Paint. It was literally just hours every single day that you learned to really wrangle it a bit and make the most out of it.
There’s so much you can do with Paint that people don’t realize. You can do pretty much anything Photoshop can do except for layers and fixing your mistakes. It’s just that what you see is what you get.
AVC: Do you ever have any concerns that this might not be as worthwhile in five years?
JM: I’ve been doing this for three years now and I was amazed that it even lasted one year. I know how fickle the internet is. One thing that’s big today is yesterday’s news. It’s really weird to me that it’s carried on but I’m hugely thankful. But yeah, I’m constantly thinking of what’s next. I don’t really want to be doing this forever. At the same time, as long as I’m still enjoying it and people want me painting things, I won’t stop.