What pens and equipment do you use?
For my commercial work, I work digitally, using a Microsoft Surface Pro. Working digitally for commercial illustration makes it much easier to make edits to the illustration as the project evolves (which it inevitably does!).
As for sketchbooks and drawing on paper, I use a bit of everything – pencil, dip pen and ink, watercolour, acrylic, wax crayons, charcoal. A discovery in recent years has been FX Acrylic Ink – the colours are fantastic.
As much as I like the speed of finishing work on the computer, I always start on paper for roughs and ideas – it feels much quicker to get ideas out of my brain and onto paper and to plan layout and composition.
What influences you?
I’m very wary of just being influenced by illustration books and a small circle of people on the internet, so I try and get out and see unexpected things and find other things inspiring. I read a lot of fiction and I try to be interested in lots of subjects (some of them slightly obsessively). I own quite a few old books about space equipment and train travel and that sort of thing.
My friend Sarah Blick had the excellent idea of starting what we loosely call “Drawing Club” but is actually the two of us visiting bizarre museums and doing a bit of drawing, bookended by a robust lunch and at least one beer, and that’s hugely inspiring. On months where we’ve got a lot of work on (which ends up being a lot of working onscreen) it’s great to get out there and experiment on paper at least once.
One thing about the internet I do really like is that there is always someone out there even more nerdy and single-minded, so you can find a website where someone has documented every satellite dish ever made or false teeth throughout the ages. That sort of in-depth specialist aspect of the internet is fantastic.
How did you become an illustrator?
I began as a fine artist and then retrained as a graphic designer, so it does feel like I’ve met in the middle to become an illustrator! After I graduated in graphic design I worked in print production and project management for a couple of years, which was all really useful to learn and has definitely made me a better illustrator.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in illustration?
Firstly, if you can possibly stretch to it, join the AOI, especially if you’re in the UK. Their advice was incredibly valuable to me at the start, and I still use their pricing and legal advice even a decade later.
Secondly, it’s worth learning as much about the business side as you can if you don’t plan to have an agent to handle that side of things (possibly even if you do). It is like running a small business and a lot of time is spent wrangling the business stuff, so knowing that is essential.
Otherwise, draw a lot, experiment a lot, put together a coherent portfolio, then promote your work in a way that suits you and target people you’re interested in working with. It will almost inevitably feel like a huge slog at the start, possibly for a couple of years or more. When you do get jobs, being easy to work with (but not a pushover) and being reliable, friendly and professional is really important. Anthony Burrill’s excellent “Work Hard And Be Nice To People” poster is good overall advice (I have it on my studio wall).