What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?
It is pretty difficult to identify one key motivation. I became an illustrator because it was the path that opened up before me as I muddled my way through school and college, knowing that I wasn’t going to apply myself to much else but drawing. It soon became clear to me that Illustration was a profession and it was something I could do if I worked really fucking hard. My heroes were Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman, their technical skills and imagination seemed like an impossible target to try and reach for but I made a decision a long time ago to be the best that I could. I was never the top of the class, the best at drawing or painting but I have a determination to succeed and I believe if you apply yourself enough you can meet your goals and go beyond them.
Another constant motivation is being able to work on projects that really mean something to you or make you feel like you may have made a difference to someone’s life. Be it is working with charities or creating work that deals with challenging subject matters. It all makes you realise why you worked so hard to be able to do this for a job. So many of us take this profession for granted and it’s crazy. I am paid to do the only thing I have ever really truly wanted; I don’t need much more motivation than that.
The Great British Bake Off, Frances’ ‘Chelsea Flour Show’ Bun Bouquet – Love Productions, BBC2
How do you maintain an ongoing stream of work?
I certainly have not always had an ongoing stream of continuous work, but in the last couple of years I have been lucky enough to be really busy. I try to maintain it by utilising quiet periods with creating personal projects in styles or directions that I want to take my work. I have always maintained the mantra that you have to make hay while the sun is shining, which is not always conducive to an even work-life balance, but when you have spent several years struggling to get constant work you find it difficult to say no to any job even if you are already busy.
Another very important rule I have always lived by is to never become static working in one way, or one field, now more than ever you can’t be a one-trick pony. I have always looked for work in different places and turned my hand to new things without getting overwhelmed just believing in my ability to overcome the brief. I have certainly enjoyed an incredibly varied career to date based on my openness to apply my creative approach to whatever someone may need.
I am self-taught on all the digital programs I use, just like I am self-taught in every analog technique I use. I see learning new skills as a part of my working life; there is always something I want to know how to do and a million ways you can learn for free. I have most recently taught myself Adobe After Effects and suddenly I’m getting animation jobs coming in without me advertising the fact that I can animate. It’s weird how it works but if you aint got the skills how you gonna pay those bills?
King of Paint – Bristol, Asylum Harbour
You initially began your freelance illustration work in 2006 completing exhibitions and live projects. How important do you feel exhibiting your work as an illustrator is and how did it help you in your profession?
When I graduated in 2006 there weren’t many places online to show off your work apart from Myspace and Deviant Art, which were both pretty crude, so exhibiting in shows seemed like a worthy pursuit. I got invited to join a collective called the Daydream Network through them seeing my work on Myspace, they promoted new illustrators and graffiti artists. The two guys that ran Daydream published magazines bi-annually and put on big group shows in London to launch each issue. The first I was invited to was In M&C Saatchi’s HQ in Soho, London. We drew and painted all over the walls of their massive foyer. It blew my mind, the level of work was really high, but also the power of the collective and the camaraderie amongst us all was really inspiring. We continued to do lots of group shows and the Daydream guys really pushed me to draw and paint live in some big shows alongside a lot of fantastic artists.
The increased pressure was good for me and really increased my confidence as an image maker, getting instant feedback when you’re drawing a mural is very different to doing an editorial illustration and just sending it out into the world.
Now we have things like Tumblr where getting love can be more down to how many pop-culture references you include than actual skill or innovation. So putting your work up in a room for people to see can be a real gauge for how people react to your work because they aren’t afraid to offend you.
I have continued to do live drawing events and large murals however I realised it was only ever going to be something I did for fun. There is not much demand to buy a 10 foot by 6 foot wooden board with a painting of a sexy rabbit on it, mainly because people don’t have flats that big.
Learning to work in a new way can only help your development as a creative. How you develop and use your new skill- set to your advantage is up to you. You can get confused and not know which direction to push yourself and your work or you can just have a broad set of skills that you apply evenly to jobs as they arrive. This does not apply to everyone of course but some people can really benefit form not being constrained to just working one way.
Dylan Hartey – Movember, Gallery of Mo
People may well know you for your animated illustrations that you were used for The Great British Bake Off, how did the commission come about and what were your first three steps to producing the illustrations?
It was a serendipitous moment really, I had moved to London a couple of weeks earlier with no job to go to, a friend managed to get me a job working in the edit for a new amateur baking show for the BBC. I was working in the edit suite with the Series Director and Editor when they mentioned they were thinking of including some illustrations into the show, I said I could do it, pitched a few ideas and got the gig.
I have developed the look and feel of the illustrations over the past four years, the various series and spin off shows. I introduced colour to the graphics in the second series and had a much stronger photograph to drop the images onto which really helped the overall look. The concept behind the illustrations being displayed in the open sketchbook on the kitchen worktop was that they were the ideas that the bakers would sketch out in their recipe books before baking. It’s this that I take through each illustration as I work from the photos of their completed cakes I am not trying to perfectly replicate the finished product but create what they imagined could create ( as sometimes it does not work out, how they had hoped).
I still draw each bake by hand with a trusty old Posca pen I think this really helps to maintain the homely aesthetic. I colour and compose the finished graphics digitally but I think keeping the most important part of the process, the drawings, analog is crucial to the look and feel that most people love about the show and thats maintained it’s success.
Tea for Two – Personal Work
What importance do you put on your own personal body of work and how does this influence your commissioned work?
I place a lot of importance on it, in that I will always be working 2 or 3 pieces at any one time. Generally they get put aside when I have commissioned work on but sometimes having a few days away from a piece can really help you figure out where you want to go with it. I have been working on producing animations for the past year in my spare time and teaching myself programs like After Effects and that has lead to some great commissioned animation jobs off the back of my personal work.
I will always be creating work in my spare time and making things that I could never imagine someone would commission me to do, until they see it on your site and ask for it. It is the way I know many illustrators to work and it makes a lot of sense. Make great work that you are passionate about, clients will see it, ask you to make more of it for them and in turn you keep making work you are passionate about whilst being paid for it.
Pepper the Sausage Dog
Who and what keeps you inspired within your illustration?
Just being able to be an illustrator as a job is inspiration enough for me. I have worked really hard to get to where I am now. I certainly don’t feel comfortable or secure, but what I do feel is that I am a creative, and people pay me to be creative, what other reason do I need to get up early and ride to the studio in the rain with a smile on my face?
I do of course have lots of other inspirations like my amazing fiancé – Candy, my surrogate sausage dog Pepper, my old vinyl records, neon unicorns, big wobbly americans and all the food I am yet to draw… and cook… and eat… but that would ruin my profound statement about inspiration so I won’t talk about any of that.