Frequently Asked Questions

Tell us a little about your creative background?

To be honest it's pretty straightforward art and design education. I chose Art at A level before going to an art foundation at Ware college in Hertfordshire. From there I applied and got in to Brighton University to study a BA in Illustration. It was a particularly good course as it had tutors including Ian Wright, Lawrence Zeegen and Gary powell and also visiting lecturers who were at the top of the field and it was there that I became sure on what career I wanted. Although I got a first class honours I felt my work wasn't where I wanted it to be at the end of my degree so I spent a couple of years in no-mans land...sitting in my bedroom working on my portfolio and getting my work to a place I was happy with. Those years were quite frustrating and isolating as I had very little outlet to show my work and get encouragement. In hindsight it was a very important time for me as I made huge leaps with my work with very little outside influence which allowed me to develop my own style and ways of working. I began taking my portfolio round to numerous design agencies and magazines and slowly began getting the odd commission here and there. With a few commissions under my belt I then joined the now de-funct artist management agency Pearcestoner associates which is where I began getting regular work. I was there for 3 years but am now represented by Breed agency worldwide and LLreps in the US.

What is the inspiration behind your work?

I look at lots of things for inspiration. I use anything that is in some way unusual as an interesting start point to base work on. A few examples for me are: circus imagery, fairgrounds, tribal body art, psychedelia, indian art, fantasy art and 70's rock posters. I tend to look in charity shops and flea markets and try to find obscure and unwanted books on such subjects which I'll use as reference and inspiration...I try to source inspiration from places that hopefully not everyone is using.

What sort of design fields do you prefer to work in? e.g. editorial

Advertising for the money but it's the music projects I get the most satisfaction out of. The best feeling I get from seeing my work in print is to see it on an album sleeve....you know it's going to represent that album for the rest of time and is therefore the least throwaway of all the applications of Illustration.....music projects are usually pretty open and creative as well so often lead to my best work.

How do you promote your work?

I personally don't do anything other than the odd press release to a design mag (creative review, grafik or comp arts). I have an agent who does everything else...takes my portfolio around and generally promotes my work which suits me as it leaves me free to get on with what I enjoy doing.

What sort of work are you most requested to produce?

I try to keep my portfolio as varied as possible as that tends to mean I get asked to do a variety of work and types of jobs which is how I like it. Experimenting is the creative part for me...I can't understand how some illustrators seem happy to use the exact same style and way of working for every project....I don't see where the creativity is in doing so.

Applications and media: what do you use and how do you use them?

I use a mixture of handmade and computer to create my images. Hand crafted elements involve paint, spray paint, playdo, photocopiers(I often warp things using a photocopier or scanner) and I mainly use Illustrator to draw any computer generated drawings...generally the above is all combined and put together in photoshop to create my images.

Grafik - Viewpoint

What is your favourite view?

Mines 5 minutes away. Brighton has always attracted the weird and wonderful.... people looking for a few days debauchery and there's no better place to watch them than from an open-air cafe on the seafront. It's comparable to a carnival atmosphere and in some instances as close as you get to a modern freak show!

Most holidays in my youth were at traditional british resorts resulting in my fondness for tacky amusements, lights, and decorative excess of the carousel. These, combined with the naturally beautiful view of the sea make it a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

How do you create a piece of work? (Inception to execution)

I tend to approach my work the same way regardless if it's a commissioned piece or not. I'll obviously start by thinking about how best to approach it...what content it should have, the aesthetic I'd like it to have and I'll then jot down a couple of things in pencil....just rough notes as a reminder to myself of ay ideas I have come up with. I don't really draft any sort of rough I'll just start drawing the elements I want in my final image in either photoshop or Illustrator. I tend to use the computer as my sketchbook so once I've drawn the main elements I'll put all of them together on a document...again in photoshop or Illustrator. I'll then just start building the image. I'll allow it to grow organically normally with no real set idea of how I'd like it to end up other than the initial rough image I have thought up in my head. I like my work to have a flow through it so elements merge into one another and it has a natural unforced feel to it often with things obscured or semi-hidden within it. I'll keep working at it until I feel all of the elements I initially created are working together with each other and are combined well enough to sit naturally within the same image. Once I am happy with the content/composition, etc I will usually colour and add any textures to the image at the end.

What sort of clients do you tend to get work from??

A real range...some fashion based (Julien Macdonald, neiman Marcus), editorials and newspapers (Wallpaper, arena, the observer) music (the shapeshifters, MTV, dub pistols, defected records, the living things) and also advertising (Virgin, Coke, Leviís). I try to vary my work so it appeals to a variety of potential clients and to avoid getting asked to do the same things over and over.

What sort of advice do you have for a young artist about creating images using the techniques you use?

I suppose experiment as much as you can would be my main piece of advice. In hindsight the period before I began getting regular commissions was my most creative and some of the things I touched on then I'm still going back to and using now. I discovered so much by just messing around, sometimes it would be a mistake I'd make that would lead to a new aesthetic within my work or way of working.

I also think it's important to learn some handcrafted techniques before you dive in with the computer. Before i started relying on digital ways of working I had already spent quite a while working by in more traditional techniques (screenprinting, collage, etc). This helps you learn some of the principles behind what you are doing when working digitally. For example screenprinting helps you understand about layering work and offsetting and that sort of thing.

Where do you, personally, find your inspiration?

It can be from anything really, you never know when an idea for a new technique or an image may come to you. When I am purposefully looking for inspiration I'll usually buy a book. Charity shops are always good for finding books you wouldnít normally look for. If I want to be inspired by other artwork I usually go to a record shop and check out the sleeve artwork. There's usually a much wider variety of interesting work there than in a gallery.

I'll jump straight to one of the questions I wanted to ask you the most. I know record sleeves and album covers are your favourite mediums, due probably to their more permanent nature, as compared to other types of illustration work. Music downloads, however, have already exceed physical formats in terms of sales, and the future might not be very bright for artwork on albums - with services like Spotify and the Itunes Store making little use of anything other than the album cover (usually via a tiny thumbnail). Will the need to represent music with art gradually fade away? Will it evolve into something different?

I think the album sleeve will evolve into something different...what that will be I'm not entirely sure as the music industry comes to some conclusions as to where it's heading due to the types of services you mention. What I do know however is that bands need to have a visual identity as any product does...a branding if you like. I think what will happen is that there will be less emphasis on art being created primarily for an artists album sleeve but instead to create something that is used by the artist across all mediums and formats...their website, as visuals at gigs, merchandise, advertising, the album cover/thumbnail on the net,etc. Of course art that is created for a band is used across all of these mediums already but I'm just saying there will be more weight placed on the other aspects such as a bands website imagery. As for the future of the album sleeve itself another possibility is one that I hope will happen alongside the above and may actually be a positive thing for someone like myself who likes to produce artwork for things of a more permanent nature. What seems to be happening is that everyone is listening to a far broader range of music due to the likes of spotify...things that they might not necessarily go out and buy. However, the hardcore fans of any given artist or band still like to buy the actual physical product with the artwork, etc. So what may happen is albums are released digitally for the masses but the artist will release much more lavish and expensive limited edition physical formats of the album for the hardcore of their fans who want something they can keep.

Still on the subject of music, if you had to choose a select few, which would be your all-time-favourite album covers/sleeves/booklets, or which ones have influenced your own work the most?

Also, what process do you follow when you create art for this particular medium??I'm constantly looking at different things so it's hard to pick just a few....I'll list some of the better known ones that have been influences or inspired me......Forever changes - Love, Revolver - The Beatles, Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel and more recently I've been looking at some of the airbrushed sleeves from the late 70's/early 80's. In terms of the process I've always worked directly with the artist or band. The first stage would normally be to meet up with them or have a chat through some ideas on the phone. Sometimes they'll reference some things (for example, The Living Things sent lots of old propoganda posters). I'm not one for rough sketches but I'll usually make some notes and write down some ideas. I'll then get some reference images, usually from the web or from books I have collected. From that point I treat it much the same as any other job....I usually produce 3 or 4 different ideas and e-mail them off. From that point it's just a case of liasing and developing the artwork with the artist until we have something we're both happy with.

The work you did for NYCgo.com is one of the most refreshing I've seen recently. The thing that strikes me the most when I see your pieces is how distinctive they are. How did you develop your "voice" and this distinctiveness? And how do you nourish it??

I think it probably goes all the way back to my studies at Brighton uni. I was always really interested in different techniques and experimenting and the course there really encouraged that. I did everything by hand in those days or by using things like photocopiers and when I transferred to working mostly digitally I carried the principles I had discovered across with me. I think due to that I have certain styles and ways of working that you might not necessarily get if you just started straight off on a mac. How I continue to develop and encourage my work is just by looking at and taking in as much inspiration as possible and hoping that these influences filter down into my work naturally over time. I tend to hunt through flea markets for unusual books or objects that I can base my work on and of course I also look at other artists work that I admire. Also, I try not to settle for re-using the same style and/or technique. I can't understand why some illustrators are satisfied in repeating the same thing over and over again. The whole idea of being creative to me is trying things out and experimenting and I like my work to change as I change what I am looking at. I keep trying to do this to stay passionate about it and also to stop myself being pigeonholed. I'd hate for a client to ring up and ask for a 'steve wilson'. I want clients to keep coming back and see how my work may have developed.

Do you think there is a defining line between personal work and commercial work?

Yes in most cases, you do get those lucky jobs where an art director has a similar vision and will allow you to approach a job how you see fit, or even encourage the work to be pushed forwards. However, too often clients will look at your work and treat it as a gauge that you are a capable of producing the standard or style they want. This can be very frustrating and you wonder why they have asked you to do the work in the first place. I dislike being used as someone to realise someone elseís vision and don't think it produces the best results. Nine times out of ten what the commercial sector of design wants and what the designers them- selves want are totally at odds with one another. If I had my way I would produce work for clients that doesnít differentiate from my own personal work. I try and encourage this by keeping as much personal work in my portfolio and leaving out pieces where there is an obviously commercial brief behind them.