Drawing inspiration

Illustration embraces a wide range of styles and techniques. Amanda Lake meets three very different illustrators and finds out how they achieved their positions in today’s competitive marketplace

Daniel Mackie

Daniel Mackie talks a lot about accidents, though not the tragic variety. He got involved in both computer illustration and developed his style through “happy” accidents.

Studying for a two-year BA in computer illustration/ animation at Portsmouth, Mackie first had a chance to develop his distinctive style. Previously, Mackie had completed an HND in illustration and had “thrown watercolours and acrylics around”. It wasn’t until right at the end of the course that “a mate of mine suggested I scan one of my paintings in”, he says.

Mackie was impressed by the results and hasn’t looked back since. At first he took photographs, then painted the photographed image and scanned that in. After a while he realised it was ridiculous and started scanning the photo in. “I felt that because I was studying illustration I had to put pen to paper,” he says. “It felt like a cop out otherwise.”

In fact, Mackie seems to be in a constant battle between the definition of illustration instilled in him at college and what he produces himself. He says of his work that “anyone could do it”, and that illustration produced on the computer isn’t as “precious as that designed by traditional methods”. But he can’t say why.

After college Mackie moved back to his parents in London, until he had saved some money. He now has a studio at home. “Working from home gets lonely, but the positives outweigh the negatives. I like being my own boss. It’s much more appealing than getting on the train every morning to go to work,” he says.

It didn’t take him long to gain his first commission. “It was for Mac World,” Mackie remembers. “I was really chuffed because it was a big risk for an art director to take; someone fresh out of college, used to seven-week deadlines. They gave me one,” he laughs. “It was a big step. It wasn’t quite as laid back as I was used to.” Mackie now has an impressive client list considering he only graduated two years ago. He has worked for numerous magazines, including New Scientist, Wired, Marie Claire and men’s titles Loaded and GQ.

Mackie keeps up to date with his contemporaries by keeping an eye on various magazines. “It’s important to know what other people are doing. It can benefit you or inspire you,” he says. Mackie also keeps up to date with films and exhibitions. Cinema is a particular inspiration to him. “I can see a film and get very hot under the collar about it, there can be really powerful imagery in films,” he says.

When asked about the future, Mackie tells me he isn’t very good at looking past next week, never mind having any long-term plans. He just wants to keep going, although he says “I can get a lot of work and then it goes dry for six months and I think that’s the end of that, and then, out of the blue, I get a surprise telephone call.” Was it me or did you just hear a phone ring?

Andrew Foster

Andrew Foster is deeply involved in all aspects of illustration. He not only exhibits his own but produces commissioned work and teaches. “I wouldn’t just do one or the other,” Foster says. “It’s the variety which makes it interesting. I see each as a springboard for the other.”

“It is hard work,” he continues, “but I am hyperactive and get bored easily. I expect to give a million per cent all the time, every day of the week.” Foster is pure enthusiasm despite an unsmooth start to his illustration career.

After finishing a graphic design B-Tech, Foster found himself with a portfolio of typography-based work he didn’t like. He applied for illustration courses, but was rejected. So he spent the following year on the dole.

“It was the best year of my life so far,” he says. “It made me decide if I wanted to draw badly enough and if I had the bottle to follow it through.” He did, and ended up completing an illustration degree in Harrow, followed by an MA at Central St Martins in London.

Foster’s work is entrenched in British culture, and over the years has evolved from scenes of the seaside, pub and football into themes of unity. “Content is important to me,” he adds. “With my own stuff I don’t have to hold back on any specific thoughts or ideas I have.”

On the other hand, commissioning has been a varied experience for Foster. “It was a shock to see people’s reactions,” he says. Because of this it wasn’t easy for Foster to get jobs.

“People were playing safe, they loved my work but felt they couldn’t use it,” he says. This is no longer the case and commissions are coming in thick and fast. Foster has worked for the likes of The Independent and The Times, as well as for design consultancies Esterson and Lackersteen and Eureka.

This may be due to the existence of Monster, a studio he set up with several of his friends. Over the past two years Monster has grown from the original three members to nine.

“It was originally formed for advertising purposes,” explains Foster, “to get us into places we wouldn’t have been able to individually; to act like an agent and give us more clout as a team.” So does Monster have more clout? “Absolutely,” laughs Foster. “We are going to take over the world.”

Matthew Herring

Matthew Herring is calm. By his composure you wouldn’t know he is working flat out. “Everything’s gone haywire since January,” he tells me. “I had to turn down a couple of commissions last week as I’ve got so much on.” He’s not complaining though, this is what he’s been working up to over the past two years since graduating.

Herring studied on the graphic, art and design degree at Leeds Metropolitan University, transferring into the second year after an unhappy year on a fine art course at Coventry. “I realised that maybe I wasn’t a fine artist. I had no deep-seated angst about my life, like everyone else on the course seemed to,” he laughs.

Although Herring never considered illustration as his ultimate career, the idea crossed his mind while at Leeds. “I realised I wouldn’t be able to make a living from selling the prints I was producing,” he says.

After college Herring, like Mackie, moved back down to London. “I found Leeds a fantastic experience,” he says, “but I knew it was only temporary.” Back in London Herring knew that he had to get his head down and make as many contacts as he could.

He did this by buying editorial lists, so that he could approach people he thought would be interested in his work. The jobs started coming in with Formula One Promotions & Administration and the BBC language department. Now Herring has a well established client base, including Harper Collins Publishers, The Daily Telegraph, BBC Music Magazine, publisher Longman and Which Magazine?

Editorial work appeals to Herring because of its quick turnover, but his future plans are to break into the design and advertising fields, as well as developing further into the book market.

“I am thinking about getting an agent,” Herring says. “It seems like all the big advertising and design jobs goes through agents and they are passing me by. I want to keep my current client list, but push my work forward by exploring and developing in other areas.”

Herring has produced some design work already but admits that his success with editorial work has pushed his advancement in this area on to the back-burner. “I would love to work for the likes of Vaughan Oliver or CDT, they both produce excellent work,” he says.

Herring thinks that for illustrators to stay fresh they should work in different areas and have different approaches to their work. He doesn’t want his to be pigeon-holed or to be producing the same work in ten years’ time.

“I get such a buzz out of doing this sort of work. You can enjoy it and also earn a decent living. The only thing you need to do is to take a fresh look at everything,” says Herring. He seems determined enough to succeed.

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