I had quite an eclectic mix of cultural influences when I was a teenager, many of which are still with me now. Early on I read English comics like The Beano and The Dandy and I loved American comics like MAD Magazine and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. When I was a bit older I drank up horror novels like Stephen King and cult books like Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. I obsessively listened to Pink Floyd, Guns N’Roses, The Doors and The Sex Pistols and then moved into more electronic stuff. As far as its lasting effect on choosing a creative profession, I think the cultural stuff that’s absorbed in those formative years becomes a part of how you experience the world, so it all feeds into the ideas and styles that inform your creative output.
I was one of those kids that doodled on everything. I made comics, did oil paintings, made collages – I enjoyed making stuff. I wasn’t too focused academically and preferred losing myself in a sketch book or looking at art and reading comics. I was lucky enough to be of a generation when the government actually gave you free money to go to art school – can you imagine that?!
At the end of three years at Camberwell College of Art, my tutor, Ian Wright (the illustrator) sent me to see a friend of his who worked at Cartoon Network in Soho Square. I remember him telling me, “it probably won’t change your life, but you should probably give him a call”. That was one of those sliding doors moments; if I hadn’t been in college that day, perhaps things would’ve turned out differently. As it turned out, I got a job at Cartoon Network. It taught me that I wasn’t really a graphic designer; I was always trying to wedge my own illustration style onto all the briefs rather than sticking to the corporate guidelines. That’s when I realised I should try to strike out on my own, so I quit my job and teamed up with the illustration agent that I had met through doing a freelance gig, hounded them until they agreed to represent me and I’ve pretty much been freelance ever since.
The main advice I would give to anyone starting out is to develop your own style and make the work you want to make, enjoy the process. Don’t be a copycat and be influenced too much by other people’s work. I know there’s a fine line between copying and influence but clients want to see originality, not just the latest stylistic trend. In my experience, styles and techniques can come and go out of fashion, but the people that stick around are the ones who are true to themselves and whose work reflects their exploration of the thoughts and ideas inside their heads. And then just put it out there any way you can.
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