Interview for amateurillustrator.com 2008
Published in 2008 on amateurillustrator.com
Firstly, tell us a little about yourself and how you came about to do art?
I studied graphic design and illustration in the National College of Art in Dublin, Ireland. While i was there I was always trying to get work in magazines and other bits and pieces here and there. After that I wanted to take a break and get out of Ireland for a bit so moved to Hong Kong with two friends, we started off with teaching English but after only a few months we managed to find freelance design and illustration. I ended up traveling around and about in Asia for two years before moving to the UK in 2004 to work for the London based animation Studioaka. I left there to work again on smaller more creative freelance projects. I illustrate for several magazines and newspapers I have just recently started making hand-made prints and designs for clothing and stationery with the fair trade company People Tree. I always loved drawing I don’t know how it started really. In Dublin I had been doing a few very small jobs for terrible money and I never really thought it was possible to make a living out of it but when I got to Hong Kong the first job I got there was this International advertising campaign. I couldn’t believe the money they wanted to pay me. So I threw in the English teaching job and that was pretty much it.
Tell us about your original and strongest sources of inspiration and what you do these days when you’re in need of a little creative spark?
I love Japanese prints and Indian painting and in fact most Asian art has something ornate and very beautiful about it, which is part of the reason I wanted to travel in Asia. I used to be crazy about Rousseau’s work until I saw a book on Bengali painting which just blew me away. The patterning and colours are just awe-inspiring. I’m living in London at the moment and I visit museums pretty regularly at least once a week. I live quite close to the British Museum and I’d go in there quite often, its an amazing place anyway, I love work with a naivety to it. I’ve kind of used this for the work I have been doing for People Tree.
The standard of design and illustration I think is really very high in London so its very inspiring just walking around the high streets over here. I spend hours in bookshops too… I had to do my Christmas shopping last month and I think I bought more books for myself than I did presents for other people. Having said all that drawing from life and observing people doing everyday things is pretty good too. I used to always listen to a Walkman on the bus until I discovered that listening to other peoples conversations is much better.
How do you go about approaching any given piece of art, i.e. what do you do first/ how do you set the mood?
I usually have an image in my head that i scribble down very quickly. If i don’t do it quickly it loses something, its weird but i think its really true, there’s a good book called ‘Zen mind, Beginners mind’ which i think kind of describes that kind of unconscious process really well. I always start out on paper, never on the computer because the first images are quite important to get down right and I’m quicker on paper than I am on the computer. I always do lots of drawings first and usually i scan them all in and attack them in Photoshop. Usually the image looks really cluttered initially so i start whittling it down… it ends up quite stark by the end of all that. I end up not using most of the work that I do in the end which is a shame… but less is usually more in a lot of ways. Thats the great thing about digital images, its so easy to change and have complete control. When I started out doing illustration I was doing original pieces and sending them off to be scanned in. But I was never really totally happy with the images i was producing, there was always some part of them that i wanted to change. On the computer the images are so much closer to what I want.
ell us more about your distinctive visual signature and how important you think a distinct style is for upcoming artists?
Its funny a lot of friends always ask why i have such a distinctive style and why do i always draw in the same style, but the truth is half the time i approach a drawing I want to do something completely different and it always ends up looking exactly the same as all my other drawings. It does in some way make my portfolio look stronger when its put together rather than if they images were very different to each other. If your portfolio is a bit of a random mix I’m sure the art director might be a little concerned about what they’re going to get. I think its much more important to produce work that you are happy with, if you are continually trying to push yourself a style will naturally follow i think. I used to love to kind of slavishly copy other illustrators work when i was in secondary school (high school), some of them I’d love their line drawing, others for their humor etc and eventually I think all of that just ended up merged into one style. I don’t really know…! I never really thought about it before.
What is it about your work that you like best?
I like it when its very subtle but gets the point across. If its too literal or obvious its a little bit cheap, and likewise if its too abstruse nobody can figure out what you’re getting at. I don’t like punchlines very much. I usually prefer drawings that say something more than they seem to on first glance. But they’re the hardest to do. I tear photos out of the newspaper that I like, that are usually just of people with weird expressions on their faces. I got a good one a few weeks ago from the TV section of moses standing there with a staff ready to part the sea but he has this look on his face that makes him look like he’s not sure whats going to happen next. If I manage to convey that sort of feeling in an image I’m pretty proud of myself. I did one lately for the Guardian that I quite like.
I’m very proud of the recent work I have been doing with the fair trade clothes company People Tree, the work they are doing in developing countries is fantastic so it’s great to think I’m helping them out.
I remember I saw Tomato (London based design group ) give a talk about design and they said that as a designer ‘you get the work that you do’, which i think is a really good piece of advice.
If you start out doing fashion illustrations and have nothing more than fashion illustrations in your portfolio or on your site you’ll find it hard to get hired to do editorial pieces.
Art directors are naturally unwilling to take a risk so you&
rsquo;ll find that the only way to get out of that side of the industry is to take a bit of time off and create the work yourself.
The best thing to do is to work in your spare time and find a way of working that you like and enjoy and then take that to the art directors.
A friend of mine had an agent for Children’s book illustration. She advised him to produce work in particular styles that she thought would sell, so he followed her advice but he still found it hard to get work and he didn’t enjoy doing work in a forced style. It wasn’t until he produced a body of his own work that he felt comfortable with did he start getting serious work.
If your work is unique you definitely will get better and more interesting work.
Having said all that probably the most important thing to do is get your work out there, I went to college with a guy who does really really great work but he is quite shy about showing his work off and as a result hasn’t got half as much work as he should be getting. Illustrators are pretty good at this I think, compared to photographers. Every fairly successful photographer I meet is a born extrovert who has no problem at all with selling himself and his work but most of the illustrators I’ve met are all really very shy and modest.