In this issue we point the ‘Q & A’ spotlight at Tim Hutchinson…
1. How long have you been a professional illustrator and when did you first realise that that was you wanted to be?
I have been doing this since 1998. When I started I suppose I didn’t really think of illustration as a career, I was busy studying Fine Art. I didn’t really understand what an opportunity it could be. I hadn’t thought things through and assumed that I could just be an artist. Later I started to understand that either one or the other had to give, it became very obvious I just couldn’t play at being an illustrator.
2. Are you self-taught or did you go to college/university to study?
I went to Goldsmiths College and Studied B.A Fine Art . I was in the Damien Hirst YBA Generation, it was a different time. Everything seemed to have a momentum all of its own. I just followed, exhibiting my work and putting exhibitions together.
Gradually though it became obvious that I needed to earn a living. I started working in the London galleries, I got a job as a gallery assistant and then moved on to become a gallery manager/director at a gallery in Hoxton, just as the boom in the East End art scene was beginning. I worked organizing exhibitions and putting on parties and events, that looking back upon, sometimes I can’t believe happened. I went on to study Curating at the Royal College of Art. Somehow, as I found myself managing artists and organizing exhibitions, I realized that I wasn’t making my art anymore. I really missed it. I suppose by then I had seen rather too much of the art world and in a way it had lost some of its mystery. It was then I realized that actually, I quite missed drawing things. I remembered that first commission for Dorling Kindersley, The World Explorer Atlas. I began a long process of thinking about what drawing actually meant to me and how it could fit in.
3. What was your first commission and for whom?
It was a full colour atlas for Dorling Kindersley. That set the benchmark incredibly high and introduced me to what it actually meant to be an illustrator. I was very lucky they gave me that job when I barely had a portfolio of work!
4. Do you work traditionally, on the computer or a combination of both?
When I started I worked in watercolour. Back then, being an illustrator meant sitting in libraries and book shops finding source material. It was a slow process. In a way I was lucky to develop my work in a time when everything was slower. Without the internet I suppose, I had time to think. I remember buying a fax machine to fax my roughs over to clients and even that seemed like an innovation. Unbelievable to think of a world without emails, mobile phones and web sites. I came from a time when you knew how things worked, because everything was simple. Working on computers was just unthinkable. I had one, but it just about coped with writing letters. I think it had 256 MB of memory, a game on my phone is more powerful than that now. Things have changed a bit to say the least.
I think I started leaning towards computers as they became able to cope with the demands I wanted to put on them. Also, I always found, that when my work ended up in print I hated how it looked. The colours never worked. I hated having to hand over work and have someone else decide how to scan it or set the colours. So I started to think about computers. It was obvious though that I had no computer skills whatsoever. I sat down and drew and experimented and gradually learnt what was possible. I taught myself Photoshop, then Illustrator and eventually found a way of making my hand drawn work slowly merge with the computer, so that on the one hand it retained its character, it wasn’t lost, and on the other was it enhanced by a fresher approach to colour. It was all about getting the line right and the colour simple. I still think it is important to hand draw, but I colour in photoshop in layers now. I was conscious that there are people out there that are fantastically talented in computer imagery, and that I wasn’t one of them, but I really felt it was important not to be seduced by what computers can do, not to be sucked in by gimics, but to remain firmly planted in my hand drawn work. I became very interesested in the cross over area where drawing stops and the computer begins. I work hard at keeping things simple.
Both can be quite limiting when seperate, computers can be quite soleless and hand painted work can only go so far. Put them together and you can achieve a lot. Particularly on a pratical level when working with clients. I find that I am working on pop up books now, making changes would be impossible without the computer. Also they make for a very efficient way of despatching work, they allow me to build up a real dialogue with the client and they make sure that the finished product is exactly what is needed.
5. Do you prefer to work on your own or in the company of others?
I spent so long working with artists and groups of artists that I prefer to work alone now. Illustrating is mine, I made it out of nothing. It’s the one thing I have that is really me now.
6. You obviously love what you do. How long does it take to produce one of your busy scenes form concept sketch to final artwork?
As long as, either I am given – if its for a job, or if it’s just me experimenting, as long as I want. I have been working on some drawings for years!
7. If you hadn’t been an illustrator, what other career might you have chosen?
I have always drawn things since I was about three years old I think. I can’t do anything else.
8. What would be the ‘perfect’ commission for you?
I think I am starting to get an inkling of what that job might be now. I think my work is getting good enough to take it on. Honestly though, the perfect job is having enough time to do it and enough money in the bank to eat and enough belief that I can do it.
9. Do you prefer clients to give you a detailed brief or a ‘blank’ sheet?
I think that I enjoy clients that are sure about what they want, sometimes it is easy to get complacent and stuck in a particular way of working. When a client leads, whole new ways of working can be opened up. Also I have learnt that when work gets thrown back at me, that it is important and a necessary, natural process. I have learnt to think of mistakes as tools rather than disasters. I am always prepared to throw what I have done away and start all over again. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong and that’s that. Do it again until it’s right. As soon as I realised that work is not precious, things became a lot simpler.
10. What are your interests outside illustration?
My main interest is my narrow boat. I have been restoring an old 1911 Fellows Morton and Clayton Butty for the last twenty years with my dad, who also has a 1928 Fellows Morton motor boat. A butty, by the way, was towed originally by a horse and carried coal and suchlike on the canals of England. Later on, they were paired up with boats that had engines and the two boats would be worked together, perhaps by a family.
I lived on it for four years. I worked on the canals too, mostly on the trip boats in Little Venice. I did coal runs sometimes, bringing coal into London. It was a hidden way of living. It feels incredible to have rescued a piece of history from oblivion. When we started in the late 80’s the canals were sufforcating and dying off. Now they are totally transformed and a real part of the country again, not so much in terms of transport of goods; but more as a leisure industry. It has been fascinating watching them come alive again.
As well as that I love to ski, I can’t do without that, it is a real passion. I cycle too. On the other side of the coin, I grow vegetables, because when things are hard, I can always eat. I love to cook. I also work at the Tate gallery now, I work as an art handler and work on the installation of the major exhibitions. That is a fascinating job that combines my practical side with my passion of history and art.
11. Are there any other illustrators you admire and why?
I Always loved David McKee and Mr Benn, also I really remember the cutaway drawings from the old Eagle comics. The books I loved the most though were Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs and Where the Wild things are by Maurice Sendak .I love Satoshi Kitamura, and Stephen Biesty and Richard Scarey for their complexity behind the page and the simplicity of their line on it.
12. The Desert Island Discs question! You’re stuck on a desert island. There’s a plentiful supply of food and water, but what other three items couldn’t you live without? (no wives or pets included I’m afraid)
When you say a plentiful supply of food and water, do you mean a full buffet laid out every morning with coffee and croissants?If so that confuses what is an essential item and what is a luxury item.
Anyway I would choose, a machette, so that I could cook and build with, a metal container with copper tubing, so that I could have hot showers, and distill alcohol with, and a plentiful supply of pens and paper to draw with (obviously).
Categories: General illustration news