When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator?
Was there a pivotal moment? Actually, I was intent on becoming a fireman - my parents tell me I asked them to remind of that when I grew up - all gung ho and romantic and things. I didn't particularly pursue an artistic career as such, but always remember drawing. My grandad was an architect and I remember always having loads of nice paper to draw on - the smell of paper is incredibly inspiring... Kept it up through school where it seemed to impress the ladies, some of whom would ask me to draw the frogs and locusts we needed in our biology books, and so on and so on. Anyhow, I drew and drew and then one day, by a twist of fate my mom heard about an art high school in the Big City (Joburg). I went through the entrance exam and was surprised when I was accepted - I was into rugby and cricket and was a boy from a small town, you see. My first cartoon was published at age 15, and since then I considered myself a cartoonist - I managed to get into graphic design by a certain process of osmosis: a friend introduced me to his cousin, who needed a hand with some work, who then taught me the basics of Photoshop and Freehand, then I got involved with the design of Playstation point of sale, then into magazines... and the rest is history!
Who or what inspires you?
I wanted to be a cartoonist forever, and as such my primary inspiration came from every cartoonist I could find. The list is ever-growing and seemingly endless: Growing up it was all about Mad magazine, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Paul Coker. Then finding stuff in the library, like The Baron von Munchausen illustrated by Ronald Searle, old Punch magazines, with guys like Norman Thelwell, Russell Brockbank, Larry, W. Heath Robinson (I remember wanting to draw like H.M. Bateman), Gerald Scarfe, Honeysett, Steadman, man, I could keep going forever. I spent my time feverishly searching out any and every cartoonist I could find, spent hours trying to draw like they did: Victor Ambrus, Caran d'Ache, EH Shepard, Fougasse (naming himself after a landmine!?), John Tenniel (who, like me, had only one eye). Masters of the Craft, who all did incredible things without Photoshop. South African artists I always wanted to emulate were Dov Fedler, Richard Smith, Mark Wiggett, Rico, Dr Jack, Derek Bauer, T.O. Honiball, Fred Mouton, D.C Boonzaaier... crumbs, alot of names I'm sure are unfamiliar to everyone. I spent my time trying to meet each of them, and have a few of them as friends now. Going to art school was an eye opener - suddenly I could immerse myself in the work of Picasso (naturally), Klee, Grosz, Schiele, Lyonel Feininger (who drew cartoons for papers in NYC), Matisse, Modigliani, Rodin... I spent some time hunting Mies van der Rohe buildings in New York and Chicago, chasing down the Mona Lisa (ok, she's kind of sitting in one place, but you get the idea), museums and galleries all over the place.
Right now I can tell you I saturate myself daily, trawling the internet to find old and new treasures - there's an astounding level of talent, humbling and inspiring all at once.To a larger degree I'm inspired by this beautiful country, by people with a passion for design and illustration, painters, writers, rubbish collectors, carpenters. Everything around me is worth looking at, ingesting, making part of who I am. Old cars, buildings, objects - I think I have a romantic notion of what life was like a century ago. Cars of the 50s through to the 80s. Old telephones, where you stuck your finger in the holes and dialled, pencils, crowquill pens, watercolour brushes, well-made paper.
My fiance, the Lovely Miss P. Creative, generous, luscious, and an awesome cook!
Music - it's a big part of my life - I have thousands and thousands of songs on my laptop - and my taste is pretty all over the place - right now I'm writing to the sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Later I'll do a drawing while listening to Tom Waits, perhaps Radiohead. Tomorrow I'll ride my bike with the Defones or Rage Against the Machine playing on my iPod, finish the deadline tomorrow to Bruce Springsteen! Who knows, it's an aural adventure...!
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I spent 3 years at the National School of Arts, (a high school for art, ballet, drama, music), in Johannesburg, taking classes in printmaking, design, ceramics and drawing. At that stage, to my great regret, I was too busy getting into bars and rugby tackles to take anything seriously, but something I carried with me from those days is a love of all things printed or handmade. The feel of the paper, the smell of ink and paint. The tangible, things that can rub off onto your fingers - as opposed to the generally sterile world of pixels and kilobytes. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of fun with my Wacom tablet and laptop, but sometimes I need to smear some paint on a bit of board or get India ink under my nails. No tertiary education to speak of, pretty much the school of hard knocks...haha.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
I try to draw every day - which is my first philosophy: "You cannot be a designer if you don't know the basics of drawing." I urge everyone I know to carry a sketchbook with them at all times. I have around 6 sketchbooks floating around my house, car, and bathroom (!). Big and small, cheap and expensive, each filled with a lot of bad drawings, with something I like every now and then. People tend to be intimidated by a new, clean sketchbook. My advice is to start drawing in the middle of it. You'll quickly relax and let it take you where it will. Also, many people keep sketchbooks for OTHER people to look through - don't be daft! A sketchbook is a tool in your creative process, and if you draw in it for the benefit of an audience, you're losing out on some wild experiments and ideas that will come through by themselves if you let them. I find my interest in the history of design being piqued more and more lately. I find a new book or website every day, like seeing the way other people do things, enjoy going through the portfolios of guys like Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, Vince Frost, Saul Bass, Herbert Baker, Mies vd Rohe... you could learn something new every day just by looking at things a little closer.
What are some of your current projects?
I've just launched my design company, or rather changing focus - getting new clients, forming collaborations with people I've worked with in the past, being proactive. Passion is reciprocal, contagious, and I'm finding that when you surround yourself with like-minded folks everyone's the better for it. I want to get the 3rd issue of my zine, Back Issue, out by November. I want to draw comics a little better and am doing a single page story every now and then.
Then there's my blog, which I've updated daily (uploading glitches aside) for the past 88 days. It encourages me to draw every day.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
Being quite young and therefore facing new challenges on an almost weekly basis, I find doing good work 'by accident' most rewarding. In design and working towards impossible deadlines, it's a joy to see something take shape that I'm sure I couldn't do a week ago. In illustration it has to be a set of 20 cartoons illustrating the '50 worst jobs in the world' I did a few months ago for the local edition of FHM, which subsequently got picked up by FHM Spain and FHM Singapore. I really liked those drawings, I think because they involved alot of grossness!. Just recently I was excited by the old Peugeot I drew on Sunday, which also just came out by accident.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try? I'm trying to experiment as much as I can in as many media as I can get my hands on - stencils, watercolours, sculpture, pen and ink, acrylics, stickers, zines, t-shirts, graffiti, silkscreens, linocuts, etc. Generally, the results are appalling, but right now, it's the process of the thing that matters more than the actual result. I read somewhere recently that art is more the process than the product. Something to keep in mind. What I try do is make things I like looking at - in a way it's more craft then, isn't it? Like building birdhouses and knitting doilies. There's no highbrow motivation or 30-page thesis on anything, which sadly is something I notice more and more around me. A doodle becomes high art simply because it's accompanied by a 4000 word Artist's Statement.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
It's hard not to follow trends, or copy a style when you're just starting out, but I'd suggest trying to make images your own, infused with the way you see things, ie information filtered through you, your experiences and personal outlook. We all borrow from other artists, but I appreciate a piece of work, although influenced by a thousand other artists, has a certain personality entirely unique. I once asked an art student what he was working on and he told me he was "on sabbatical," without a hint of irony. Don't be a dork. People aren't interested in what I say I can do, they want to see what I have done.
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
When you can see the artist enjoyed the project - a single line can be more effective than 2 hours of cross-hatching when passion is involved. Also, it's such a pleasure seeing an artist/designer take ownership of a project - rolling it out, kneading it, leaving it to rise....
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
Well, I think growth is a process all us humans need to actively pursue. We're all gonna stagnate if we just sit there. This applies to everyone, I think: if you're a car mechanic or a rocket scientist - if you're not up to scratch on current events, new technology, techniques or tools, you'll be forgotten pretty quickly. One needs to create new challenges to keep the old brain juices flowing. Knowledge is a wonderful thing, empowering, and with the internet there's simply no excuse to believe we can't grow or experience new things - learn = growth = learn. Not exactly e=mc (2)....I've taken to doing some writing for magazines lately. I try and absorb as much as I can on a daily basis. And draw in my little books and write on the fridge in white board markers, ride my bike in a nearby forest
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I've lost interest in TV, if it's not yet another reality show (where people are humiliating themselves on a weekly basis to outwit, outplay and lose more weight than the next person to land a job at a real estate tycoon's new gold-plated casino, built on what was previously a lush wetland), it's a soap opera or game show or infomercial. I'll watch Discovery channel for hours.
My personal/illustration site:
My blog, updated on a daily basis (except today! Augh!): http://comixsouthafrica.blogspot.com/
My design company - lots more will be added soon! http://www.infiltratemedia.co.za/