How would you describe yourself as a person and artist in one sentence?
I live, eat, sleep and breathe as well as dress like, my art.
How would you describe your style?
My work is a colourful calamity that combines strict order with total chaos!
When did you realise that you wanted to be an illustrator?
When I was 8 I had three ambitions: to be a professional tennis player and win Wimbledon (until I realized I wasn’t too good at tennis), to be a rockstar (I even made my first failed attempt at learning guitar), or to illustrate children's books like Quentin Blake. I got close to the third one.
Do you have any formal design training?
Yes, I studied Illustration at Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall for 3 years. It was an incredible experience, being in a beautiful seaside town with a great creative gang of student talent from around the globe and lecturers who are also practitioners within the field.
Your work is full of balance between line weight, texture, and punches of colour. How did you develop your signature style?
Whilst I was at art school in Falmouth, UK, I was initially using a number of techniques to create work, none of which I was really in love with. During life drawing classes, we were taught the blind contour drawing technique, in which you place your pen/pencil on the paper and look at the subject, drawing ‘blindly’ without taking your eyes from the subject. This technique can be totally haphazard with moments of clarity; a mess of abstract lines with a perfect hand or eye within it. I decided to combine this technique with the bunch of other materials / styles I liked to work with, and hence my style was born.
What have been some of your primary influences and where do you find them coming out in your works?
I would say film is the greatest continual influence on my work. Particularly the films of John Waters have had a profound affect on my aesthetic, in that they have really encouraged me to find my own artistic voice and not be constrained or afraid to censor myself in any way. The 1993 classic True Romance has been very influential on me — I even named my Camden Market clothing label ‘Clarence & Alabama’ after the lead characters, back in 2003. It is the candy colored, sun-drenched, palm trees and cheap motels combined with Elvis, rockabilly and ‘white trash’ culture that has saturated my work the most. I try to take in two movies a day, and can often spend a day in the city cinema hopping and taking in five or six films. In terms of other artists, over the years I have enjoyed the work of Antoni Gaudi, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Julie Verhoeven, David Downton, Antonio Lopez, Jamie Hewlett and many, many more.
Can you talk us through your process behind one of your works?
I begin by creating a background, working on paper, wood, photographic prints or fabric, often using spray paint, tissue paper and collage to form a background. I will then create the line work using Pilot G Tec C pens. The rest is a combination of an inexhaustive list of materials which I am constantly adding to, but often includes acryl-gouache, markers, gel pens, crayon, stickers, vintage magazine clippings, beads, sequins, letraset…. and more.
Why fashion illustration?
Fashion has always provided a huge inspiration to me, particularly in my youth as I was beginning to find my own personal style. I wondered why people in the street did not dress as the models did in fashion shoots; often bizarrely themed with many layers of clothing, eccentric styling and heaps of colour, so I started to do that myself. People often tell me I look like my work, and it became a natural progression that I would draw the things I loved to wear myself.
How has living in London influenced your work?
In so many ways, from the people I lived and worked with and the city itself, to the general poverty I lived in when I first moved there. I do think the London streets have the most daring fashion statements of any city in the world. When I first arrived I was forever accosting brilliantly dressed people into letting me draw them. I have lived in other cities (Prior to NYC, Melbourne in Australia was possibly my favourite, it has an alternative arty feeling very like Portland in the US), but I think what sets London apart, and keeps me returning, is the self deprecating character of The British. We can look at things like art and fashion with irony and humour and not take ourselves too seriously.
What inspired your passion for art in your early years and who has been there supporting you from the beginning?
As I child, my brother and I spent much time in my grandmother’s pub, entertaining ourselves with colouring books and felt tips (he is now a trained graphic designer!) I remember winning a My Little Pony Comic colouring competition at age 5, and a CCC competition at 8, and a lady offering to buy one of my drawings on holiday in Portugal when I was 11. My mum particularly always encouraged us. And my dad told me recently that he still has a framed realistic pencil drawing of a Coca Cola Can in his office that I did as a child, dated 1989! I’m sure that the colourful cartoons and TV of the 1980s, like The Care Bears, Wuzzles, Popples, The Racoons, Teddy Ruxpin, Punky Brewster, Jem and The Holograms and The Garbage Pail Kids were a big influence on my later colour palette. My mum always made sure we had plenty of Disney classics in the VHS cabinet – I think the earlier ones like Snow White and Fantasia were big favourites. I also loved early Tom and Jerry. Growing up in the 80s and early 90s definitely influenced my colour palette, saturated with rainbow, pastel and neon tones.
Were you ever interested in moving into the fine art world of oils and canvas?
In recent years, as a diversion from commissioned illustration, I have widely exhibited my personal work via galleries, showing in solo and group exhibitions in London, Paris, New York, Portland, Ottawa, Melbourne and The Gold Coast, Australia. I was never tempted by oils, though I often work on raw canvas or linen. Almost all of the materials I use are water-based, with the exception of spray-paint, and my favourite painting medium is Acryl-Gouache.
How did it feel to get your first big client?
I was ecstatic when I was commissioned by Tank Magazine whilst I was still finishing my Illustration Degree. They asked me to produce 12 illustrations centred around food for the OXO book. A couple of those pieces are still in my portfolio today. My next big job was a teen fashion editorial for Fashion 18 Magazine in Toronto. It was a graffiti inspired piece about the Barbie girl in school who the girls dislike and the boys want to get with.
With an incredibly rich variety of clients under your belt, what have been some of the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on? Which were the most challenging?
Among these have been working with Stella McCartney in the early days of her label, working with Mary Portas at Yellowdoor, illustrating for major newspapers including The Globe and Mail (Toronto), The Times and The Telegraph (UK) and The Miami Herald, winning the Creative Review (UK) Best in Book prize for illustration in 2011, being shortlisted for the 2012 Metro Award (a $50,000 Australian Art Gallery Prize), exhibiting at Somerset House, London, as part of Pick Me Up 2012, and being invited to exhibit “Rainbowspective” in Paris in 2012, showing the best of the previous 5 years of my work. In terms of a challenge, I think each illustration job I am commissioned to do brings with it a new set of challenges unique to anything I have worked on before. So my biggest challenge is the piece I am working on at the time.
What’s something you haven’t achieved yet in your career?
I would really like to create an illustrated spread for a high end fashion magazine. I had always wanted to work with Anna Piaggi, or perhaps John Galliano. In some ways, the turning point in my career was not working for John Galliano at Dior. I'd been offered a placement there in couture embroidery. When I first arrived in London I posted CVs and prints of my work to all the major fashion houses, including Paris and New York, I got call backs from Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney, who I interned for 7 months, and had an invaluable learning experience. Just as I was finishing there I got the call from Dior. It actually proved impossible for me to go due to not being able to get insurance. At the time it seemed tragic that I wasn't able to go, but I was advised at the time by the designer I worked with at Stella, to start to focus on my own work, and that was very important advice! I might have taken a totally different direction if I'd gone to Paris, focussing away from illustration, and I don't think I would’ve reached the point I have in my work now, nor achieved the career I've had. Everything happens for a reason I guess - but one day I'd love to work with Mr Galliano!
Do you have a favourite artist (illustrator or otherwise)?
There are so many I don’t know if I could pick one favourite, but here are some: Keith Haring, Antonio Gaudi, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Julie Verhoeven, Cary Kwok, Henry Darger, Grayson Perry, Martin Parr, Yoshitomo Nara, Aubrey Beardsley, Robert Crumb, Alan Moore, Antonio Lopez, Vaughan Bode…. and many more.
Do you have a favourite piece amongst your work?
I think often my favourite piece is the one I have just finished creating. But I would say that the piece I always think is one I created back in 2002, which is the profile image on my Facebook Fan Page, and is called “Miss Sherbet Dip”. It was from a drag queen-inspired photo shoot from the Falmouth days, and features my first muse and good friend, Knud Kleppe in full drag. Knud is now a successful animator working for a major Oslo TV network, and is also in the rockerbilly band “The Lucky Bullets” who were finalists to represent Norway at Eurovision 2011!
Do you collect anything?
I have a nice collection of vintage badges, including an original Michael Jackson Thriller badge complete with zombies, tons of rock and pop badges spanning through the years, as well as tourist badges from places I have and haven't been. I'm a non-smoker, but one of my favourite badges reads: "Let's have a cigarette and piss everyone off!". I have a penchant for military hats, particularly Soviet. I have a Russian one with ‘No War’ spelt out across it in Fridge magnets, which I like to wear with my ‘Jewish Day’ t-shirt. I have amassed a huge collection of vintage t-shirts, particularly rock tour shirts, including Billy Idol Rebel Yell, Madonna Like A Virgin, Prince Purple Rain, Live Aid London 1985 and Pink Floyd The Wall. I also collect Letraset for my work - I have a huge box of mainly 1970s-80s fonts, my all time favourite being Pump. I collect lots of other things for my art, which live in haphazard locations around my studio, including stamps from all over the world, vintage postcards and sugar packets.
Often people who have spent extensive lengths of time overseas never feel quite at home again in one place. Does this affect you, or your work, in any way?
I definitely feel more and more displaced and alien as I continue to travel and live abroad. I created two self portraits in 2012 entitled "Australitish" and "Britalien" (the latter of which was shortlisted for the 2012 Metro Award). The portraits explore my ever more confused national identity which seems to be constantly evolving.
What is it that you like most about working in your industry?
I do love working from home in my own studio on the farm where I live in Queensland, Australia. It is a huge space, which enables me to create large-scale paintings, and unlike in a shared space, my pet chickens get to come in and hang out. I also love the excitement that comes with the anticipation of an enquiry or the arrival of a brief; a few days prior to Christmas, 2012, I was poised to potentially fly to New York for an illustration project during fashion week which didn’t come off, as projects often don’t, but that kind of spontaneity is something I really love about being an illustrator. When an enquiry comes into one of my agents, the terms, deadline and brief are discussed, then we go ahead and I begin researching, gathering references, making sketches, and working with the client to create the realized illustration; all of this is rather exciting, challenging and fun!
Have you faced any major setbacks in your life that have impacted your art?
I think the hardest thing that affected my art in the early years was finance. Upon graduation from my Illustration degree in 2002, I found myself living in London, struggling to climb the rungs on the creative ladder. The term ‘impoverished artist’ is an understatement – I was living below the poverty line, existing on £130 per week cobbled from numerous bar jobs whilst interning in the fashion industry full time AND paying £112 per week in rent – £18 for food, travel, bills etc. is not much! I relied on tips to cover bus fare to work and I fed myself eating whatever was offered free at my job (cheese toasties, sausage rolls, tea and alcohol!) I literally ate one decent meal a day. I hung in there finding time to create art wherever I could in between jobs in my tiny shared flat, often working on my bed due to lack of space. By early 2004, my debt and overdraft had reached crisis point and I faced leaving London – when suddenly I was thrown a lifeline. Bartending friends from The Electric Ballroom (where I also worked and sold my Clarence & Alabama hand painted clothing from a free market stall) were living in squats – utilizing London’s abandoned empty buildings for free living and studio space. I met some amazing creative people in those squats who are now successful actors, burlesque stars, artists, fashion designers and TV tarot sensations! I am so proud to call those people my friends. In my year or so squatting, I saved enough money to rent another room in a shared flat. I was able to take on a job that began as a one-day-a-week portfolio assistant and bloomed into the international role I now have as a talent scout for Illustration Ltd (I couldn’t have given up my bar jobs to accommodate that role had I still had that £112 per week rental noose around my neck). I developed my portfolio in those squats, and in doing so there followed illustration commissions. I got an illustration agent in Canada and one in London. It took three years, but I got back on my feet. It was so hard at the time, but I’m glad I went through it as it makes me so thankful for where I am today. It was worth it for the career I was able to develop.
Tell us about your ‘Coney Island Dream’?
In summer 2014, I spent 3 months in Coney Island, USA, in a self-initiated artist residency. I stayed in an artists’ loft in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and travelled out to Coney daily on the subway, photographing and drawing all that I saw and immersing myself in this most inspiring place. Since I first discovered it in 2002, I have made five short one-day pilgrimages to Coney Island, on the shores of Brooklyn, New York City. Coney is a decaying wonderland of dilapidated amusements and some of the most edible typography one might endeavour to feast their eyes upon. I have kept scrapbooks of photographs from each trip, which I use to inform illustration work and paintings. Yet, each time I return via the Subway to Stilwell Ave, I am heartbroken to find a little bit more of Coney has disappeared since my last visit. It was a dream of mine since I discovered Coney 12 years ago, to return to Coney for a decent period of time (not just a day trip) and paint all that I saw there, and was wonderful to be able to finally realise this dream. The sabbatical allowed me to fully immerse myself in Coney Island for months on end; to experience a summer season, and finally see The Mermaid Parade. Putting on hold all other work, I was able to create without restraint, and experience being a full-time artist for the first time. I am continuing to develop a body of work that reflects Coney Island’s present, as well as examining its history; and paints a portrait of an ever-changing environment that will serve as an interesting visual account of a moment in Coney Island’s history in the future. As I develop this body of work, I'll be creating some large-scale paintings based upon my experience, as well as developing a large ledger book account of my residency and an on-site sketchbook. In summer 2015, I'll return to Coney Island for a few weeks again to provide further inspiration for this ongoing body of work.
Many have said that illustration is a dying art form; what is your view on the subject?
I would strongly argue quite the opposite. I think for almost ten years now, illustration has been having a major resurgence, and is currently in its heyday this century. I am a talent scout for my UK rep, Illustration Ltd, and I think there are more fantastic artists out there right now than there have been for a long time. Illustration is widely used across advertising, publishing, TV, web and digital media, employing a very diverse range of styles and artists. When I first left art school 10 years ago, there was nowhere near as much illustration usage clearly visible at all levels of media as there is today. I feel like in some part the financial crisis helped illustrators, as clients potentially had to cut their photography budgets back, but saved on using illustration in its place. Photographers need to hire models, locations, etc, whereas illustrators require a small setup and are often far more cost-effective to commission.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Get your work out there, approach clients and agents, and expect knockbacks. Keep contacting the right folk, and keep developing your style and portfolio. Even if you aren’t getting work, you need to keep creating and moving forward, don’t stagnate. Aim to create a style and voice of your own; innovate, don’t imitate. Seek advice from the industry and respond to it when you receive it. It can take years to build a career and gain industry recognition. Make sure you have a great website with a simple, user-friendly design that lets the work speak clearly. Tumblr, Blogspot and Wordpress can be great vehicles; you don’t need to spend lots of money on flashy web development. Utilize social media. Enter competitions. Email the clients you want to work for and send them your samples. Don’t give up!