Let’s get started with your background, how did you get into illustration?
Like most illustrators I loved drawing as a kid. Doodling in the back of school exercise books and making my own comics. However, I grew up in a pretty small town called Bordon in Hampshire (which is just as exciting a place as it sounds). Whilst it was a fairly pleasant place to grow up it’s not exactly a hub of creativity.
The idea of being an illustrator seemed so far fetched and out of reach I all but gave up on the idea. Instead I pursued the far more ‘achievable’ career of a professional golfer. I worked for 4 years as a pro shop assistant with the idea that after I finished my A levels I’d try and get my PGA teaching license. Turns out, golf is super hard, and working in a pro shop is very dull. Fortunately JUST before I was about the leave college I found out they did an Art Foundation course at my college.
Faced with the choice of full time employment at the golf course or an extra year of higher education solely concentrating on art I figured I’d give it a go as I had nothing to lose. That turned out to be the best decision I ever made. It’s the first time I realised you could go on to study illustration at university and it finally opened my eyes to the possibility I could make a living as a freelance illustrator.
What is your process? How do you get started on a brief?
Ah getting a new brief is always so exciting I just dive straight into sketching. Different projects require slightly different approaches but essentially the sooner I just get pen on paper the better. Jotting down anything and everything that comes into my head.
For single character jobs I start with a circle for the head and then make a very crude stick figure to work out the body position. I’ll then trace my initial sketch a couple of times, each time building up the details, expressions, clothing etc. Once I’m happy with the sketch I’ll trace it for the last time with a clean black outline, then it’s just like paint by numbers for the colour.
For crowd scenes I plan the setting first, plotting the positions of buildings and scenery, then I work out where the important characters, jokes and set pieces go, and finally I just build up the ‘filler’ around them, which is essentially just generic background characters to flesh out the scene.
‘it wasn’t until after my first year freelancing that I really started to find my groove.’
Your work is instantly recognisable, how did you find your ‘style’?
Ah that’s very kind! It sort of evolved honestly, and is still slowly evolving. I’ve always drawn characters with googly eyes but when I left university I still wasn’t REALLY sure what my style was, during my first few client jobs I sort of made it up as I went along and it wasn’t until after my first year freelancing that I really started to find my groove. Since then I’ve become more confident with my lines and colour and feel like I now have something really own-able.
‘Good dialogue leads to a better working environment and ultimately a better outcome.’
From Google to GQ, McDonalds to The New York Times, you’ve worked on some great projects, do you have any advice for other creatives when it comes to working with established brands?
I guess my advice would be to confident and cooperative. If you have an exciting company come to you for work then they obviously like what you do. So pitch your ideas and creative suggestions with confidence. But also try to think of the project as a joint effort. When I have the opportunity to work with somebody like McDonalds or Apple I like to think of the work as a combined effort. Working together to achieve the best possible outcome.
In my email or phone correspondence with the client I make sure to talk about the work in the collective ‘I think we’re getting there now’. ‘What do we think of this character here?’. That’s not to say, roll over and let the client ask for whatever they want even if it looks awful, but good dialogue leads to a better working environment and ultimately a better outcome. I think the most successful projects I’ve had are when there’s strong collaboration between myself and the art director/client.
‘Designing emojis, it’s quite an art because you have to create something recognisable at a size smaller than your pinky fingernail. Each pixel is important.’
Your emoji and icon designs are some of our favourite works, how do you create a visual language with such a limited amount of pixels?
That LINE emoji project was INTENSE! It was a real crash course in emoji and character design. I had 10 weeks to create 1000 emojis so I had to learn the ropes quickly. Designing emojis, it’s quite an art because you have to create something recognisable at a size smaller than your pinky fingernail. Each pixel is important.
I think in this case the pressure of such a tight deadline yearned the best results, I had no time to overthink it. ‘Does this collection of pixels look like a guy being sick? Yep. Ok move on to the next one’. I think the trick was the use of space and taking a ‘less is more’ approach. Creating a sizeable gap between details and allowing the important information to stand out was the key. Trying to cram too much detail never works, the design becomes too difficult to understand at a small size.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 17 year old self knowing what you know now?
Oh god I don’t know! Buy Bitcoin? I try not to look back too often, freelancing to so full of ‘what if’ moments I’d go insane if I didn’t make sure I just kept looking forward. I’d like to say something like ‘worry less’ but if a 30 year old me turned up in 2006 and just said ‘worry less’ and then disappeared I’d be extremely worried. Am I taking this question too literally?
If you could collaborate with any artist (living or dead) who would it be, and why?
Maybe Jim Henson. A Muppet/Woodger mash up could be so much fun. I didn’t really grow up with the Muppets, it was never really on my radar as a kid but I stumbled across the 2011 Muppets Movie a couple of years ago whilst channel hopping and just thought it was incredible. I’ve since acquired a latent appreciation for Jim Henson’s work. The balance of wholesome humour crossed with the smart sensitive bridging of adult and child audiences is so expertly done. It’s the kind of thing I strive for.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
A few things I can’t really talk about which is useful for an interview! I’m also working with a couple of writers and a production team on an animated show we’re trying to get picked up which is pretty exciting but a very slow process. And I’m heading to New York next month to speak at Pictoplasma which I’m really looking forward to!
Give us three underrated accounts we should be following on instagram?
I’m pretty obsessed with @dean.schneider he an ex-investment banker who now hangs out with a pride of lions, it’s absolutely insane, he wrestles with them and shit. Although with 2.3m followers I guess you can’t really call him underrated…
I love @simpsons.palettes but they haven’t posted much for a little while
And @aurelienjeanney is a fun colourful follow.
And finally…which creative should we focus on next?
I think my studio mate Radim Malinic (Brand Nu Studio) would be a good shout. He makes fantastic work and has a really healthy outlook on the design industry. He also has a new book on branding coming out next month that I’ve had a sneaky peek of and it looks incredible.
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