Photography by Katie O'Neill & Beth Wilson
Justin Eagleton is a Manchester based artist, illustrator and designer. Born in Crumpsall and raised in Middleton, Justin's creative inspiration comes from his passion for his home city.
He is famous for his incredibly detailed pencil portraits of cultural icons and elaborate digital artwork. Justin is best known for his highly acclaimed giant Manchester mural which is on permanent public display outside the Printworks. The epic collage features Manchester’s famous faces, inspirational icons and cultural landmarks as well as many of Justin's own Manchester Memories.
Justin with his giant Manchester mural outside the Printworks
As a born and bred Mancunian I put all the traits that define us here in the north into my work such as honesty, humour and a love of people and that is why I think people connect with my art on many levels. From murals to portraits to fine art illustrations my attention to detail ensures that every viewer will see something differently and maybe find a connection within their own lives.
In 2018, Justin was commissioned to create a bee for the ‘Bee in the City campaign’. His Hac-BEE-enda bee installation took pride of place in the Printworks and was later auctioned off raising over £20,000 for the We Love MCR Charity.
More recently Justin produced a collection of artwork supporting cancer charity ‘Maggie’s Manchester’… artwork featuring Mancunian icons Alan Turing and Emmeline Pankhurst, he is currently working on ten more canvases for the charity.
THE SHOOT: The Printworks, Manchester
Dantzic Street - the site of Justin's giant Manchester mural
Q & A with Justin Eagleton
Q: Where were you born and raised?
A: I was born in Crumpsall in 1971 and brought up in Alkrington, a suburb of Middleton, where I still live today.
Q: Have you been passionate about art from a young age?
A: My main passions as a kid were drawing and playing football. Growing up in the 70s, I was out with a football till it went dark or drawing pictures. I wanted to play for United or become an artist. My brother Gavin was an amazing artist, I used to sit with him and watch him draw some of his portraits and thought how incredible the likenesses were… ironically he doesn’t draw anymore.
Q: How old were you when you started to take your drawing seriously?
A: I think when I got to about 13 or 14 I was drawing animals and portraits. My dad got me to do pet portraits for people in the pub and I got a bit of a name for that as well as designing posters for the pub.
Q: What was your first job?
A: When I left school I just wanted to work and earn money. I used to walk past a prop makers on my way to the chippy and see these amazing big colourful sets outside... I managed to get a job there. Shortly after that I got a job at a prop making company in Manchester called Art Attack Exhibitions. They did all the big party conferences and stuff for Granada TV. I ended up doing jobs for Corrie and Stars in Their Eyes. It was great, it was like being borderline famous, but nobody knew it was my work. I was there for a couple of years and I learned how to paint, sign write and communicate with people, but the work dried up and I lost my job.
Justin the young prop maker with Count Duckula
Q: What was the next step in your creative journey?
A: I was desperate to carry on creating. My dad had a friend who owned a games company in Cheetham Hill called ‘Software Creations’ working out of a small unit, they were one of the biggest games developers in the world… which was bizarre. I was there for 12 years and worked on Electronic Arts (EA) Spiderman and Fifa. At that time there were loads of game developers in Manchester. I developed my skills and got better and better and became the lead artist on Fifa World Cup 2002, working directly with Nintendo. The pay was good and we had a great team. Then one day completely out of the blue, all the staff were called into a meeting in the room downstairs to be told that the company was going into administration. We were told we had 20 minutes to get our belongings and leave because we were in the middle of developing new games, the IP’s for these games were sitting on our computers, so we were escorted by security out of the building. Half an hour later I was sat on my sofa at home in tears. I was asked back for 6 months just to complete the game, working directly for EA.
A: I assume at this point you’d had enough of the games industry?
Q: So by 2004 I was tired of the instability, I’d had the rug pulled from underneath me too many times. I wanted a new challenge, my friend was a deputy head teacher at Whalley Range High School in Manchester, the post of graphic designer became available and I was asked if I wanted to come in and do some posters for an open evening… I ended up being there for 18 years. I started out as the school graphic designer and became the Trust Media Manager and also a governor. I took the media and marketing of the school to another level and it taught me loads of graphic design stuff. I particularly enjoyed mentoring and inspiring students.
Q: What was your first big project?
A: That would have been the ‘Bee in the City campaign’. I replied to an advert and proposed a MattBuzz Bee and a Hac-BEE-enda bee, the Hac-BEE-enda bee was chosen, I painted it in my mum’s friends’ garage. The bee was located in the Printworks and it was this bee that gave me the confidence to put my artwork in public spaces where people can enjoy and appreciate it. It was this association with the Printworks that led me to being asked by the late Printworks boss Fred Booth to do a piece of artwork for the conference room, this ended up as the giant Manchester mural. I took it in, Fred said it was amazing and insisted it should be out in the street for everyone to enjoy.
The Hac-BEE-enda bee
The Printworks Manchester Mural
Q: When did you become a full-time artist?
A: In the last few years at the school I was doing a lot of artwork, design and portraits at home, but it was at the time my dad died and around the same time the pandemic hit that I decided ‘I think I can do this’. I began to have more influence and was earning more money from some big projects. So for the last three years it’s been full on.
Q: Who do you do portraits for?
A: I do portraits for unknowns and for celebrities. What’s important to me is that I get to the person so they can see the portrait. I drew Cantona about 5 years ago and managed to present it to him at one of his Q&A’s at the Lowry. He put his arm around me and said, 'this is incredible'. I have presented a portrait of George Best to his son Callum, worked with Sir Bobby Charlton, presented a portrait to Vincent Kompany on his testimonial evening. and passed on a portrait to Noel Gallagher.
Q: How did your Alan Turing artwork come about?
A: This started off as a small thing, I created a piece of artwork back in 2018, I left it in a folder for 4 years and then one day I decided to go back and tweak it, I put it out and everything went crazy. Off the back of that, the Turing family saw it and I got an email from Dermott Turing his only surviving nephew. I had a great Zoom call with him and he asked if he could use the artwork in a book about his uncle and its now become the image on the front cover of this best selling book and soon to be made in to a documentary.
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
A: I'm currently working on a project with ‘Maggies’ the cancer charity, they've got sites all over the country and there’s one opposite The Christie in Manchester. They’re a charity close to my heart after my dad died of cancer a few years ago. I built up a relationship there and wanted to raise some money for them with my artwork. So I’m painting 10 individual canvases all about Manchester. The idea is that there will be a TV one, a United one, a City one, a music one etc depicting the city's cultural heritage
Alan Turing artwork
of Manchester and they will be auctioned at The Whitworth Art Gallery and will fingers crossed raise lots of money to go back into Maggies so they can continue what they do.
The Boat of Hope
So in the last 2 years I have raised around £100,000 for charities in the Manchester area and hopefully for this event we can get that up to 150K… ultimately I’d like to get to a million.
Another exciting project I am currently involved with is the 'Boat of Hope'. Adventurer and fundraiser Bernie Hollywood is rowing solo across the Atlantic later this year and I have designed the artwork for his boat. The aim is to raise a million pounds for mental health awareness and the suicide prevention program for young adults in the UK.
I love Manchester and knowing I can make a difference with what I do drives me on and ensures an exciting future ahead exploring, educating and creating new art for people here and beyond to enjoy.
Student reflection: Beth Wilson
We met Justin by his amazing Manchester mural on the outside of the Printworks. It was a bright sunny morning with the mural mostly in shade. When Justin arrived we had to get the first shots of him pretty quick before the direct sunlight engulfed the whole mural. We chatted and he told us about how the mural project came about and talked about growing up in Middleton and some of his current projects.
We moved directly across Dantzic Street to a very Manchester backdrop of narrow red brick Victorian streets and graffitied shutters. Justin did a quick shirt change and we continued with the shoot. This was my third Greater Mancunians shoot and I was able to direct and shoot with confidence. Justin was a great subject, very patient and happy to be directed.
I converted some of the street images to black and white to give a more gritty Manchester vibe… these images work particularly well. The Mancunian location choices and Justin’s clothes changes give great variety to the final images and reflect Justin’s lively personality and his passion for Manchester.