What’s your background and how did you get into illustration?
Straight out of Uni I was mostly producing graphic design, record sleeves, promotional material for events, with a visual bent. It become common for me to make visual elements within the design I was producing and, eventually, the image-making side of things took over and became my main occupation. I always made pictures, had exhibitions alongside the more commercial work. Growing up I never knew illustration was an occupation, so it was something I came to quite late. I hope to retain this lack of having a particular discipline throughout my life.
What drives you to create and how do you stay motivated?
Mainly to carry on doing a job I love, staying active is a way of sustaining this. I’m now in a place where it’s second nature to carry on producing things, to keep sharing work and to keep investigating new things. It helps having more formal arrangements like producing commercial work for a particular date, it adds structure to my life. And provides a place for me to escape from. I’m constantly thinking of things I want to do that push my personal boundaries in image-making in contrast to the restrictions on brief based work for clients who tend to be quite scared of isolating their existing audience or clientele. And as a consequence are quite conservative. In these situations I’m generally simulating work that I’ve already produced, because there’s security in that from the clients perspective, it’s been out in the world tried and tested. I’m always keen to be producing new things, communicating with different audiences, more challenging work that feels more satisfying to produce. There’s also more of a thrill putting something out without knowing how people are going to respond to it, it creates more conversation. I want my work to be a conversation, not simply a replication. Aside from that, having two chaps I work with and admire around me daily, in my personal and work life is helpful. We are constantly involved in a friendly competition to out-do one another, alfa male bullshit.
Why is doing what you do important to you?
It connects me with people. Makes spaces for interaction and new encounters. Producing things opens up lots of doors for conversations with other interesting people who want to collaborate. It takes you places you never knew you would go and that’s exciting – I like not knowing things and being surprised. I’m also very keen on the idea of your work being very closely connected with pleasure and joy, if I wasn’t doing this as a job I’d be a mega hobbyist picture maker. We spend most of our lives in work and I want my labour experience to be comfortable and meaningful to me.
Walk us through your creating process.
For most projects I focus on a specific idea. Either a particular visual language, material or process I want to try or a conceptual idea I want to explore. I spend a lot of time testing to find an appropriate way to communicate this. This is in contrast to the guys I work with, who both have more of a studio practice, as in; specific lines of visual inquiry, that they feel comfortable with and enjoy a practice they build upon and take in different directions. Although I have quite particular ideas that are structured to some extent there’s always aspects of my personality in my work and I try to stay quite loose with what I’m putting into an image. I allow my intuition guide me and don’t edit too much out or edit as part of the process to get the most effective solution. This approach is more interesting, you get lots of things in pictures and ways of making pictures that are curious – that don’t fully make sense and most of the time I don’t know why I’ve decided on some things. In practical terms one of the latest things I produced, whilst on an artist residency in California is a book called ‘Nature Calls’, images based on idioms that relate to nature ‘Down to earth’ & ‘Over the moon’ for example. For this I wanted to create a contrast between the way we use idioms as metaphors and their literal meaning, it was an idea I had whilst walking sometime. After which I came back and thought about idioms, asked friends to contribute or think of some – then sketched them out very loosely until I had a books worth. I produced a set of illustrations, which literally illustrated the statement. ‘Over the moon’ is a picture of a goose flying above the moon. It tied a few of my interests together, language / literature, Nature and Humor. The actual image-making process was a combination of things I’d tried before, collage, drawing and print-making. I produced several iterations of one image before I settled on a technique that I felt had the right ‘vibe’ the right visual language – then I continued to make the rest of the images in this fashion.
How do you keep a good life/work balance?
Another good thing about working with your best friends is that there’s occasions where work doesn’t really feel like work. And it provides more structure to the way I work, we all don’t like working more than we should and are quite strict amongst ourselves about the hours we keep in the studio, roughly a 9-5 but more like 9-7 usually. I take weekends off mostly and hang out with friends, go on adventures, spend time with my girlfriend. I love socialising, it’s a big and important part of my life, it informs what I do quite a lot. So simply make time and arrangements to do things, go and see interesting things. I used to work a lot more than I do now, and it was unhealthy and my work wasn’t as good. I started to notice I improved and had a better time when I spent an appropriate amount of time resting, relaxing my mind- so have made it more a part of my life. Take it easy. I do also have hobbies that aren’t too far removed from my working practice, but I’m able to separate them physiologically. I’ve just started oil painting.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Socialising. Ha. I love walking and visiting the countryside. Walking generally, even if just to a shop, sometimes I intentionally go to shops further away or take a longer route to the studio for the walk, just to be outside. I like to cook and listen to music. I used to read a lot, but haven’t as much recently, but love literature. I go to art exhibitions and dance when I get the chance.
What are your influences and how does it affect your work?
50’s era graphic design is a big influence, post war, pre ’80’s mega-capitalist’ graphic design was a lot more friendly and seemed to me more for the common good and less about finding ways of lining peoples pockets. People like Bruno Munari, Alan Fletcher – people who contributed to conversation of the discipline as well as producing amazing work. I’m a big art fan, of all varieties but have a soft spot for Alexander Calder, Matisse, James Turrell, Bob Law, Anni & Joseph Albers. I have a keen interest in folk art, textiles particularly. Most crafts and the idea of designer makers. Lots of folk and country music, Michael Hurley, Karen Dalton, Shirely Collins, Pete Seeger, Jonathan Richman. Literature & film. I like Comedy. Good natured community activity, festivals and hanging out in fields. In terms of how it effects my work, I guess I see myself as a melting pot for all this stuff and it’s hard for me where it directly influences me, I guess I subconsciously pick aspects of everything, aesthetic sensibility, conceptual approach, purpose and place and mash it all together. These influences pop out more prominently from project to project. My publication ‘Flat’ looks quite ’50’s’ with colour, clean lines and sense of visual economy, but thematically directly references my interest in designer makers. The tone of it is quite subtle and quiet and open ended like a lot books I read or movies I watch – perhaps a bit like a studio Ghibli movie – there’s good and bad, sadness and joy in equal measure. I tend to draw on different thematic or visual qualities for different projects and try not to stick to a particular set of influences.
Is it hard to find harmony between art projects and client work?
Very difficult at times. One always effects the other – it seems to me that both pursuits tend to pull each other down and it’s difficult to make sure both have integrity and find a balance where you can do both without one overshadowing the other. The trouble is, I like doing both. A curator who runs a reputable gallery and program finds it difficult to reconcile the idea that a commercial illustrator could have interesting conceptual ideas and an interesting art practice. An Art Director finds it difficult to see through the more conceptual work you produce and take you seriously, place faith in the idea that you could do an effective job communicating with their audience without doing something too ‘wild’. If anything the experience of doing both benefits the other as far as I’m concerned and I don’t have any misconceptions about the function of either. Now I try not to care too much about who’s seeing my work and attempt to ignore the pressure context places on practice, and just see where doing what I do ends up.
Describe yourselves in 3 words.
Serious and silly.
What are the pros and cons of living in London?
Pros: Lots of interesting opportunities. Free museums. Parks. Opportunities to meet interesting people. Amazing buildings and independent activities happening everywhere.
Cons: Expensive. Pace of life is way too fast. Difficult to get out of. Lack of wild countryside and mountains. Lack of ocean.
Do you have any heroes?
I don’t know where to begin with this. Yes tons. Musicians, Poets, Writers, Artists, Designers, Illustrators, Activists. People often ask me this and I always find it an overwhelming thing to even start picking a few out, names just start bobbing about in my head and it feels a bit meaningless to pick the ones out which are currently most prominent. I admire a lot of people and consider them heroes, mainly people who use their practice for the common good or have a very wide practice studying and are good at lots of different things that touch peoples lives in one way or another. So I will refrain from answering if that’s ok?
Tell us something important you have learned.
Doing something for work that you enjoy is closely related to being good at it. I still worry about what people think about my work, I wouldn’t put anything out if I didn’t care about communicating, but am slowly coming around to the idea that it’s ok to make even more mistakes and take even more chances with things. There’s potential to do something truly exciting here, like the way some artists produce work exploring something they didn’t do before and everyone considers it either a massive success or a massive flop. It’s always been super important to me to allow yourself to make mistakes, especially in places where people can make a judgement on it / you. Some people are crippled by the notion of how people would respond to them when they feel vulnerable, I find people are generally very kind and supportive – and that I don’t give a shit about the ones who’re mean or cynical.
If you had to choose a different profession, what would it be?
I’d make furniture out of wood for sure. Working with wood is the most joyous thing. It places healthy restrictions on the way you work with it and what you can do with it, this opens up a playground of possibilities in your mind, having these restrictions gives you a framework to work within without having to think too much about limitless possibilities – it’s simple. Wood smells nice, feels nice and there’s a nice connection with nature and science. Furniture is functional, but can also be decorative and beautiful through it’s form. I like the idea of what I do being useful in some way, which is hard to reconcile occasionally when making pictures.
What are your future plans?
I’m going to be producing a lot more books and am in the process of setting up Nous Vous as a publisher as well as doing what we already do. Hoping to become less reliant on client based work and create content for and design publications. There’s also conversations happening at the moment about setting up some summer school activities with friends, which might not come to fruition for another couple of years.