The AOI Illustration Professional Editorial Catergory Winner 2013.
Talk us through your experience of entering and winning the Professional Editorial illustration category in the AOI Awards 2013 with your editorial piece for Red Pepper magazine.
I entered the two previous AOI awards without any sort of success and really assumed that it would be much the same for the 2013 awards. However, I always find the process of identifying what works is useful, so entered again. It’s a good way of focussing attention on which of my illustrations I felt really stood out over the past year.
I was very surprised that two pieces were shortlisted and even more shocked when one of them won! Winning has been great as it gives a really amazing level of external validation to the work that I’m creating. It’s also, of course, gained some wider attention for the work I create and I’m sure will mean I’ll be able to reach people I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to.
Summer of Action illustration for Red Pepper Magazine showing different protests planned in the UK for the Summer of 2013
What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator/comic artist?
I was that clichéd kid who was always drawing in the margins of text books at school. I was fairly obsessive about Calvin and Hobbes, Asterix, Tintin, The Simpsons and the Far Side before moving on to 2000AD etc as a teenager. But I didn’t really have any framework to fit that within, no one in my family or network of friends, was from any kind of creative background and so it never really seemed like a possibility to make images as an adult.
The key motivation though to actually creating illustrations was when I was around 17. I started a punk zine and started putting on gigs, both of which needed illustrations. These developed as I became more involved with protests, and anarchist organising, whilst I was doing my History BA – I started in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq – and I started making illustrations and comics for those protests. I was really inspired by the likes of Eric Drooker, Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman from the US; though I’m not sure I’ve ever come close to creating the quality of imagery they have.
From there I somehow got accepted to do an MA on the Central St Martins Communication Design course, which is where I decided I might be able to work as an illustrator full-time.
Sometime’s It’s Possibe to Feel Trapped
What are the first three things that you will do when a commissioner approaches you for a project?
Read the brief and any supporting documents the commissioner has sent. Mostly I work in the editorial field so there’s usually only a short brief and then the outline for the article (or the article itself if it’s been written). Whilst reading the brief/ supporting documents I try and work out if there’s a more concise, or more interesting way, to convey what the client wants beyond their initial brief. Quite often the brief asks for a fairly hackneyed idea and I feel a large part of my role as an illustrator is to suggest that we could maybe consider a more interesting way of presenting the information.
Check I have time to do the project. In the past clients have asked for the impossible in terms of the quantity of material they want and the amount of time before the deadline. The worst was pulling several all-nighters to get a one-month project finished in a week. Even though I got paid as though it were a longer project the illustrations, ideas and finishing really suffered for those types of projects. I now try and make sure that the amount of time the client wants to give me is realistic against the style of work I produce.
Send a series of questions/ thumbnails/ mood-board back to the commissioner I want to make sure that the commissioner and I are on exactly the same page before going forward with the project. I also like to make sure that the project is as collaborative as I think the best ideas tend to arrive when both the commissioner and illustrator bounce ideas back and forth. Depending on how long the project is this could range from some very loose thumbnail sketches through to a presentation of mood-boards, initial sketches and possible directions the project could take.
What importance do you put on your own personal body of work and how does this influence your commissioned work?
Personal work is vital for experimenting and trying new ideas. It’s rare that in the space of a brief that it’ll be possible to try a different way of creating an image, or a different process. It’s also a way of showing commissioners another side of your work; I’ve had quite a few briefs through over the years based on self-initiated work that clicked with a commissioner for one reason or another.
There’s also the more egotistical side to personal work, beyond the desire to find new work, that I don’t want to be summed up solely by the work created for commissions. Commissions, especially those within the editorial field, tend to be framed by the subject of the article, which is something I have little, or no, control over. Commissioned work is more often than not fascinating because it forces me to think about topics that I wouldn’t otherwise, and try and put puzzle pieces together that I would never otherwise come across. But I enjoy the challenge of creating my own work, with its own ideas, own language and own identity.
In many ways I feel much more attached to my personal body of work than my commissioned work. My commissioned work for me is the equivalent of websites I’ve coded, or magazines I’ve designed. I feel professionally satisfied that I’ve done a good job, but I don’t feel an emotional attachment once I’ve finished the work.
‘Dance like no-one’s watching’ Screenprint. Created celebrating punk-rock shows
How did the artist name Hey Monkey Riot come about?
At university, doing my MA, I started a daily autobiographical comic with a monkey character representing me. The name is a bastardisation of “Haymarket Riot”, which happened in 1886, and was the precursor to international May Day (a day celebrating/ defending workers’ rights). It felt like it fitted the tone of the comic. I’ve kept using the name as I like the fact that it can be seen both as a exhortation or a question.
Time to Pretend
Who and what keeps you motivated?
I think I’m motivated mostly by the usual, not terribly helpful, emotions of jealousy and envy!! I’m continually amazed by the extraordinary work other creative people – illustrators, comic artists, film makers etc – are producing and a desire to keep up really keeps me going.
Interesting client work, which comes along more often than not, always keeps me on my toes too. For example, I’m currently trying to work out how to create some icons for a mobile phone game coming out early 2014. It’s an interesting challenge that’s driving me slightly mad, but definitely keeping me engaged!
On a personal level, after quite a few years of really struggling with questions about how I create illustrations or ‘style’, I feel like I’m starting to make progress. I’ve finally, in 2013, started reaching a point where I feel comfortable with the work I’m creating, and understand why and how I’m creating it. In the short-term I’m currently working on a personal comic and screen-printing project for 2014 that’s keeping me motivated. There’s also talk of there being a London Zine Symposium in 2014 (an event I helped start and organise from 2005 – 2011), which I’m also very excited by. Beyond that, the original reasons I wanted to become an illustrator – that I felt images were a way to communicate complex ideas and contribute towards a more egalitarian society – still stand. I wanted to work as an illustrator because of the inspiration I took from radical illustrators of the 70s and 80s. I mentioned a few above, but there’s also Clifford Harper, Emory Douglas, Gee Vaucher, Art Spiegelman and innumerable others. They helped to convey and strengthen movements working for more equal, egalitarian communities and against the authoritarianism and exploitation inherent to post-industrial capitalism. When I write that down it sounds ridiculous but trying to work out how to communicate these ideas in 2013, within the framework of the politics after the 2008 economic crash, keeps me motivated. So far it’s been failure after failure but for whatever reason working in that direction is something that I feel is important.
Then of course there’s the obvious stuff like music, friends and family that keeps me going too. I have an amazing support network that I’m incredibly grateful for, and without which I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far.