Who or what has been the biggest inspiration to your work?
To start with, it was Quentin Blake. I loved the way he was so playful with ink, and could bring out rich characterisation with just a few lines. Plus the Impressionists, Naive art, Lowry etc, and The Beano – especially Calamity James. And 90’s video games. Beyond that, I don’t remember the names, but there were books full of exploded drawings, the ‘How things work’ type of hardbacks and the Where’s Wally/Waldo series. They were something you could pore over for hours.
How did you begin to develop your personal style as an illustrator?
I always liked using complimentary colours, so that has played a big part in the general aesthetic. The way a limited colour palette has made me more bold in my choices, and it has helped me to come up with more elegant solutions to colouring drawings. I definitely think that limiting the tools available to you helps inspire creativity. My drawing style, especially my characters, came about quite accidentally – I still resist giving them too much individuality for fear of putting them in situations that don’t work with their character etc. They need to be a blank person for the situation to be projected on to them, if that makes any sense.
Which projects that you have worked on so far that stand out to you the most?
I have worked on some intense, giant images and projects with loads of content and exposure, but my favourite illustrations of my own are probably the ones that I’ve done for The International New York Times. It’s not the prestige; it’s that the subjects I illustrated were often controversial, or (if mishandled, had the potential to be) incendiary. I have found great satisfaction in making complex abstract ideas accessible.
What’s your creative process when responding to a brief?
Plenty of images jump to mind as soon as I read a brief, which I will scribble out to get me started. After I’ve finished re-reading the brief, twice, I’ll go for a walk or work on something else for a while. After that I’ll come back to check on those doodles; fresh eyes have better judgment. From then I always know which direction to take.
When you come to illustrate a children’s non-fiction book, do you factor in how children are going to interact with the illustrations?
Of course! I want kids to stare at all of the bits of the drawing and imagine what could be just off the edge of the page, behind a tree, or what might happen next. No-one can tell you what kids will come up with in their imagination, I’m just trying to feed it.
Is there a piece of work that you’re most proud of?
It’s hard to say, because if I sat back and was completely happy with a piece, I think I’d quit. There’s stuff about all of my work that I’m happy with, but if I had to pick one recent piece it’d be ‘Late Jurassic’. Even though it’s primarily decorative, rather than ideas based, I appreciate the time and effort I put into the craft of it. It’s a 4 colour screen print, and I used a lot of overlays to make more colours in the scene. As it was for a small company that gave me a good amount of freedom, I also had a decent amount of time to really think about the composition and craft of the piece.
You also make films – tell us about that.
I’m still a fledgling filmmaker – it’s a much harder field to learn and gain momentum in than illustration. Anyone can practice drawing, but not many people have a film crew, studio, sets and actors at their disposal to practice filmmaking. It was actually my first career choice, but having grown up completely separate from the industry, I never thought it was a possibility, so I pursued something that I could already do, which was drawing.
Do your two disciplines intersect and influence one another?
My approach to each form is very similar. I love to create ‘set pieces’ in illustration, that tell a self-contained story. Fortunately when it comes to making a film, this translates pretty well. Using the fourth dimension means that I’m able to show what happens before and after the set piece, which makes it infinitely more interesting. Strangely, perhaps, I rarely compose my illustrations as I would a frame of a film. Perhaps, as the message has to be conveyed in a still image without sound, certain conceits are necessary that would look heavy-handed in motion.
Is there something you want to say or convey through your work?
With commissioned illustration I always aim to convey precisely what the brief is asking me to depict. Beyond that, I wouldn’t say that I have a particular message that I’d like to communicate, only an interest in human nature that I want to explore. For example, I like to look at how different acts can be either hugely profound or infinitesimally banal, depending on the time, context, or person, often through a microcosm.
What’s your dream brief or project?
For illustration, it’d be to write and draw my own book of a narrative of my own choosing. As for film, to direct a feature would be a dream come true. This aim surpasses all.
See more work from Sam Brewster at www.sambrewster.com.