Exclusive Interview With Booooooom's Jeff Hamada
09 Feb 2024
If you've had even the vaguest interest in visual arts over the last 15+ years, you'll no doubt have lurked through the hallowed pages of Booooooom.com seeking inspiration from one of the internet's best curated (and most visited) art sites. We recently had a chat with Booooooom's founder/editor/curator, Jeff Hamada, who shares the site's origin story, what he looks for in a featured artist, and just how you can get your work published in their upcoming book, Tomorrow's Talent Vol. 4.
Booooooom has been the thinking art-lovers homepage since forever ago. How did the website come to be?
I started Booooooom in 2008 as a way to share art that was inspiring me that I felt deserved more recognition. I was freelancing as a graphic designer during the day and began blogging at night for fun. Around this time I was selected to be one of 100 artists to design a shoe for Converse for their 100th year anniversary. The thing was, the shoes were only supposed to be part of a traveling art show and not something anyone could actually buy. So when they sent me the samples of my finished shoe, I remember holding them and feeling like I had to make something more happen. Long story short, I leaked photos of the shoes and was able to generate enough buzz that Converse decided to make them a worldwide release. This was essentially my first big break and it made me realise the power of blogging.
Boooooooom back in December 2008 featuring Job Wouters whose work is still incredible 16 years later.
You have a very discerning eye for emerging visual art talent. What do you look for when selecting illustrators and artists to feature on Booooooom?
Distinct aesthetic, consistency, breadth of work.
Case in point – TGTS user Max Loeffler as featured on Booooooom
Is there anything that you generally avoid posting? Any trends you've seen pop-up that you simply loathe?
I try not to approach curation this way. I don’t want to avoid something simply because it is trendy or popular. I try to judge each thing on its own. Having said that, I have little interest in AI art generated by people who either don’t know or don’t care that the results aren’t quite there. I’m not against using AI to make work, I’m against using AI to make lazy, unfinished, uninspired work.
Boooooooom spotlight artist and TGTS user Muhammad Fatchurofi aka @rooovie
Do you think there’s an overarching Jeff Hamada/Booooooom aesthetic?
I think so, but it’s hard for me to articulate exactly what it is. If you scroll through the art or illustration categories of our site maybe you can get a sense for it but when I’m looking at work I start by asking myself: Does it have punctum? Is there something in the image which pierces or hooks me?
I WANT BOOOOOOOM TO BE A PLACE WHERE VISITORS CAN DISCOVER WORK THEY’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE—ART THAT SURPRISES THEM.
OG Booooooom member and TGTS user Luis Mendo.
When you started Booooooom the internet was a very different place. How has the art scene changed since you clicked publish on your first blog post?
It feels like the complete opposite now, not specifically the art scene, but our relationship to the internet. I used to spend a lot of time exploring random websites—actively hunting around to find things, and feeling excited whenever I’d come across an area of the internet I’d never seen before. It felt like going deep into the woods to find a few mushrooms. It was quieter. Nowadays, algorithms run the show. Most of what you see is based on things you already like or engage with the most. Content is continuously flung at your face from every angle, so finding “new” things is a different kind of work. It can feel more like filtering—playing defense rather than offense. Holding your hands up in front of your face and squinting your eyes and trying to only look at the few things worth looking at. You can still hunt around for interesting websites but there are just way less of them because everyone is trapped on social.
I want Booooooom to be a place where visitors can discover work they’ve never seen before—art that surprises them.
I THINK MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT BOOOOOOOM IS THE EXCUSE AND OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHOSE WORK I LOVE. IT GIVES ME A REASON TO EMAIL SOMEONE AND JUST SAY I THINK WHAT YOU’RE MAKING IS REALLY COOL.
What have been some of the unexpected joys that have resulted from running Booooooom?
When I interviewed The Daniels and Kirsten Lepore last year at a festival in Hawai’i, they were all so thankful for the support of their earliest projects. That’s the cool thing about championing people’s work when they are super early in their career—they remember it later on.
Dan Scheinert said when they put together the initial visual reference for Everything Everywhere All At Once they pulled a lot of the images from Booooooom. I loved hearing that. I think my favourite thing about Booooooom is the excuse and opportunity to connect with people whose work I love. It gives me a reason to email someone and just say I think what you’re making is really cool.The unexpected joy for me is having become friends with many of them over the years.
TGTS user and Booooooom feature artist Karlotta Freier.
WHEN THEY PUT TOGETHER THE INITIAL VISUAL REFERENCE FOR EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE THEY PULLED A LOT OF THE IMAGES FROM BOOOOOOOM. I LOVED HEARING THAT.
Do you have any advice for young artists finding their creative voice and looking to grow their profile?
For finding your voice: When you’re learning, emulating other people’s styles is a big part of figuring out your own style. It’s tempting to always be trying new methods or looking at new artists for inspiration. If you’re struggling to find your style, I would challenge you to look less and make more. Make a whole series of work in one style. Ask others for feedback, and ask specifically about what’s working and what isn’t. Try to make a few more pieces with the feedback in mind. Ideally, you get more feedback and repeat this process again. If someone tells you something specific isn’t working this should excite you (rather than deter you) because they are giving you a clear next step on your path to improving.
IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING TO FIND YOUR STYLE, I WOULD CHALLENGE YOU TO LOOK LESS AND MAKE MORE... WHATEVER YOUR GOALS ARE I CAN PROMISE YOU THE STRONGER YOUR WORK IS, THE LESS WORK IT WILL TAKE TO GROW YOUR PROFILE.
For growing your profile: I would think less about trying to get random followers and more about what will actually help you achieve your goals. Do you want to have a solo show one day? Are you trying to get bigger illustration clients? You do not need more followers for either of those things. Maybe beefing up your CV could be more fruitful. Perhaps being published in a book, winning a respected award, or participating in a group show are things you want to be able to add to your resume. Maybe you don’t want 100 new followers, you just want a NYT art director to follow you back. Whatever your goals are I can promise you the stronger your work is, the less work it will take to grow your profile. I wouldn’t focus on the growth until after you’ve found your voice.
One of our members, Jim Chen-Hsiang Hu, submitted his work to Tomorrow’s Talent Vol 3 and we put him on the cover. His work is incredible and he currently has 390 followers. Take that for what it’s worth.
It’s always great to see you investing in print publishing projects. Tell us about Tomorrow’s Talent Vol 4.
If you’re a fine artist or illustrator this may interest you! We have an open call to submit to Tomorrow’s Talent Vol 4 on right now (closing very soon). Our acclaimed book series has become our most popular release. Each volume showcases a selection of artists and illustrators that we featured on our site over the course of the previous year, alongside all of our favourite submissions to the open call. The result is an exciting mix of work we spent a year thinking about and work we’d never seen before.
Volume 3 was our biggest yet, over 200 pages, and featured more than 70 artists and illustrators. You can take a peek at it here.
HAVING AN ARCHIVE OF MORE THAN 15 YEARS WORTH OF WORK HAS RESULTED IN A LOT OF AGENCIES, GALLERIES, AND BRANDS AROUND THE WORLD REACHING OUT TO US TO FIND TALENT.
What's the deal with Booooooom memberships?
Joining our membership allows artists and illustrators to publish their work directly to our website via our submission platform. These submissions are automatically public and we go through them regularly to select work to turn into articles, as well as features on our Instagram and weekly newsletters. Members also get unlimited submissions to all of our open calls, like our Tomorrow’s Talent books I mentioned above.
Independent publishing is not easy but the membership has allowed us to keep Booooooom running, and we’ll do it for as long as we can. Having an archive of more than 15 years worth of work has resulted in a lot of agencies, galleries, and brands around the world reaching out to us to find talent.
We love recommending our members for jobs and have introduced many to galleries like Thinkspace in Los Angeles. Hanna Lee Joshi is someone who comes to mind, she was in a group show we curated for Thinkspace and was invited to have a solo show there shortly after.
My favourite success story is a woman from Istanbul named, Eylül Aslan. After we featured her, she wrote to say that a guy in Berlin reached out to her about a competition sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. She entered and ended up winning the competition. Then a year later she happened to visit Berlin and contacted the guy to have a drink. They started dating and eventually got married! It was the best email I ever got. I wish I could promise this same result to everyone.
Whose illustration work are you really enjoying right now?
I love Hoi Chan’s work.
Booooooom spotlight artist Hoi Chan
7 o’s. Why not 5 or 9?
I was honestly just trying to come up with something ridiculous so it would be memorable. Then the idea for the logo just popped into my mind. It had to be 7 o’s so that Booooooom could be written as a 3x3 square. I tried to give it more meaning after the fact, too. In the early days, each o was a different colour and represented a separate category on the site.
I had many people tell me it was a bad name because no one would ever type it into their web browser properly. I think it worked out.
TGTS user Nicole Rifkin as featured on Boooooooom.
Jeff Hamada is a Japanese Canadian artist and curator living and working in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.
Become a Booooooom member here.