“There is nothing more valuable than to have the self drive to get up every morning and see the world as a creative playground”
Give us an insight into your journey from being a student of art to being a successful illustrator today.
The most significant age I was at was 13. Many things changed my life at 13. In hindsight, and with my teaching of lateral thinking, I realise that all things are connected. So, at age of 13 I saw a film that began my quest to be a creative soul: that film was Star Wars. The day after I saw it I knew I wanted to do something like that. Even though my path took a different turn, the passion for the creative drive never hindered.
I have had many knock back and walls to climb to get to where I am today. These included discouraging art teachers, financial set backs and many other things, but something made me continue. Art college was at Leicester to begin with, and later my degree in Media Production took me to Newcastle. This was an interesting path, that although was teaching me film making and animation, also gave me the insights into the necessary skills that illustration required. So although I ended up out of my field of study I don’t feel I have actually left the true road of passion.
Where did you undertake formal training for the same and how important do you feel is international exposure in the design industry?
My formal training, as I stated was through my degree and Masters course. I put a great deal of extra time in to get good at the things I wanted to do. Much of my early drawing was self prescribed. Daily exercises and media exploration was a good aspect to getting to know the processes required. Luckily there was no internet there or even computers. So the thoughts of being distracted were less. Dedication is a key aspect to this whole art field career process.
Since I left college I was on working projects, which in my mind are the best training grounds. Live projects give you the edge to understand deadlines, clients and the constraints of your abilities. Many things that are not taught to you in colleges as part of a degree. I have learnt more via dealing with real life projects than anything at college.
International exposure is always welcome, but I was discussing the other day, there is nothing more valuable to a productive artist/illustrator than to have the self drive to get up every morning and see the world as a creative playground. Too many young people are falling into the trap of seeing global trends and trying to emulate and follow them in art/illustration and failing badly. Best to follow you heart. Van Gogh has been a key inspiration to me in that field.
How would you define your personal style? Where do you draw inspiration from?
It’s a hard question. Personal styles tend to evolve, and therefore hard to pinpoint their origins. I tend to think, and not sure if it’s obvious, that a lot of my style has a soft cartoony feel to it, and this could have arose from my days at animation training school. Although I reference a lot of images for colour, shape and form, I tend to add a little bit of me in there, which softens them and makes them glow in colour and personality.
I draw inspiration from nature. Mother Nature is the best designer ever. If you cannot find anything in nature to inspire you, you must be looking with your eyes closed.
Which has been your most memorable piece of work that you have created? Can you give us a brief description about it?
I have started to loose count of the amount I have done, but one of the more memorable ones is my first ever Animal Behaviour image; “The Sneaker”. The image is of a snail with a Nike trainer as a shell. This being a twist on the Americanism for trainer, which is “Sneaker”. The lateral thinking kicked in and I saw the snail as a creature that also was a ‘sneaker’. Why it’s so memorable is that I rememberer very clearly that we had just gotten Honey, my rescue dog, and she was still a puppy. I returned home from a bike ride and threw down my trainers on the floor. At that moment I visualised the snail coming out of the shoe and moving along.
I guess at that point my dog inspired me and is now reason for me doing so many Animal Behaviour images.
What are the challenges that you face while working on such projects?
The only real challenge I find is the client. The drawing, painting and creating is second nature. I simply get lost in that aspect. However, trying to convince a client that you re the trained, skilled part of the design team is near impossible most times. They have their strong opinions. And this many a time can ruin a art piece. Not sure they realise this effect.
Technically speaking, the challenge is finding a good reference image. This is because many are exotic animals or models in poses I can’t afford to photograph. So, I find the best resources and then build with my drawing skills. These projects take the longest.
What is your usual workflow pattern for any assignment?
Well, I have totally stopped speculative work. I will not start a project until the deal is signed and they agree to deposits. After that, I will work out a series of roughs, based on their budget and discuss the options on thees designs. Once that has been OK’ed, I can work to finding the necessary referencing for colour and light. Depending on what the subject is, I can either take some random shots myself, or search the internet for liable images. The rough is scanned into the computer and then digitally painted at very high resolution.
The whole process can take between 3 days to 3 weeks, depending if pencil rendering is required. Straight digital painting can be quicker.
What are the tools/software that you use regularly as a part of your work?
Pencil, brain, photoshop!
I do have one specific brush in photoshop that I have acquired which I love, and I use it on almost everything I do now. So, I am learning to become good with it. Pencil work is a combination of HB, 2B and 3B pencils on cartridge Bristol paper.
Which technical skills or otherwise does the industry look for the most in a fresher?
Well, if I can count myself as the industry in general to answer this question, then I would say if a set of people walked through my door looking for advise, critique or work, I would look for two things – ideas and drawing skill.
Too many people these days are relying on technical skills, and this unfortunately won’t save you. Great idea and an ability to translate them into the real work are key. People will notice that instead of a “oh, another shiny photoshop render!”
Something unique, clever can keep the viewer glued to looking at even the most simple of drawing. Look at the sketches of Glenn Keane for example…mindblowing!
Any message for the aspiring designers?
Practice, practice and more practice! There are only so many hours in the day, so you need to find a way to create more!
One great thing I was tutored in at college, was the way to build, what I call, a rhino skin. This is a way to defend yourself against critique. Good critique, even though valuable, can be hash. You need to see the truth of what is being said and act on it. Create a strong impenetrable skin (like a rhino) and keep the emotions of your art in a place that can drive your passion to create.