Rod Hunt is a London based Illustrator and artist who has built a reputation for retro tinged illustrations and detailed character filled landscapes for UK and international clients spanning publishing, design, advertising and new media, for everything from book covers to advertising campaigns, theme park maps and even the odd large scale installation.
Rod is also the illustrator behind the book "Where's Stig?", for the BBC's hit TV show Top Gear. "Where's Stig?" was the UK's 4th bestselling hardback non fiction book of 2009 and 35th in books over all, selling in excess of a quarter of a million copies. The sequel "Where’s Stig? The World Tour", was released on September 30th, 2010.
Rod is also Chairman of the Association of Illustrators. The AOI was established in 1973 to advance and protect illustrator’s rights and encourage professional standards
Tell us about yourself. How did you get into illustration and design?
I was always a prolific drawer as a kid, but I never considered pursuing art as a potential career until I was 17, even though I was already making some money from my art by painting rock designs on peoples leather jackets. I was focused on a science route at the time, leading towards a career in biochemistry and horticulture. During my A-levels eventually the realization dawned on me I wasn’t enjoying science as a much as I should have and was spending most of my time drawing and in the school art department. My real passion was for art and after some soul searching I decided to change direction and apply to Art College. I did a one year foundation at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, followed by an Illustration Degree at the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University.
Once I graduated I spent a couple of years working on my portfolio and trying to gain commissions, mostly from magazines and newspapers. I finally became a full time illustrator in 1996 after moving to London. This was pre-internet portfolio days, so being in London meant I could spend a lot of time having portfolio meetings with potential clients. My work was very different back then as I painted everything in acrylic paints with hogs hair brushes. In 2001 I completely abandoned mess and paint, and reinvented my work by taking the digital plunge and switching over to working in Adobe Illustrator.
Your illustrations are fairly complex. Can you walk us through your process? How do you begin? Do you work everything out on paper first or does it all evolve within the computer? We would love to see your tight pencil drawings for some of these intricate pieces.
I always start by doodling ideas and compositions in an A5 sketchbook with a pencil or biro. These are very quick and throwaway. I don’t get stuck into the detail as this stage so as to keep the ideas flowing. Compositionally it’s essential to have flow through the piece, leading the eye on a journey. The piece has to work as a whole and not look like the sum of its parts or be disjointed. I work out the total composition and design before even thinking about the finer details. It’s important not to be seduced into the detail too soon and lose sight of the overall goal. I also need to give myself enough thinking and doodling time at the beginning of a project before producing a finished rough drawing. That’s where the real hard work is done and is the foundation of a great piece of work.
Once I worked out the rough idea and composition and gathered any visual reference I might need, I work on a larger finished pencil drawing that’s usually around A3 in size. I work on heavy weight cartridge paper drawing with a 2B pencil. Most of the real detail is thought up at this stage.
The pencil roughs are then used as a guide in a background layer in Adobe Illustrator to produce the final artwork. After using a normal Wacom tablet for quite a long time, this year I decided to invest in a Wacom Cintiq to help with the work flow and speed things up. It was a pretty wise investment as drawing directly onto the screen made things much more natural and intuitive. I tend to use Illustrator as a straight drawing tool and use effects sparingly, aiming to keep the hands on feel with my work, despite producing the final artwork on the computer. At the end of the day, the computer should be considered to be just another way of making a mark on a page. Everything is broken down into many layers so I can keep track of all the detail and make things easily editable for myself.
You recently released Where’s Stig? The World Tour. How did you get involved in this project with Top Gear?
I’ve had an on going relationship with Top Gear that started with commissions for Top Gear Magazine in the mid 2000’s. In 2008 they asked me to create an “unrealistic cartoon simulation” of the Top Gear studio for the Big Book of Top Gear 2009, which is like an annual for grown ups. They were really pleased with the artwork and it got them thinking that we could expand the style into a whole book. So the idea of Where’s Stig? was born, which is essentially a Where’s Wally/Waldo? spoof involving The Stig, Top Gear’s tame racing driver. You have to find him in various scenes based on and inspired by episodes from the show, like the Vietnam and Botswana specials. I was immediately interested in the concept and the challenge of creating such a book as there’s such a wealth of visual material from the show. It was great getting in all the geeky things and stunts they’ve undertaken, giving fans of the show, all the "in" jokes. It’s a huge commitment working on a book of this size. With the extensive research and the amount of detail I need to draw they take a solid six to seven months work to complete.
Where’s Stig? has been hugely successful, selling around 350,000 copies to date and was the 4th bestselling hardback non fiction book of 2009. We started talking about a sequel last October as Where’s Stig? was already exceeding sales expectations. Where’s Stig? The World Tour is the result.
In July you spoke at ICON6, did you find that to be a rewarding experience as an illustrator? How did that come about?
Attending ICON The Illustration Conference was a very rewarding experience. Someone I was talking with at ICON6 this year jokingly called it “Illustrators Summer Camp”, which actually is kind of apt, seeing as over 500 people attend from all over the world. There was an inspiring line up of speakers this year including Peter Arkle, Yuko Shimizu, Arem Duplessis (The New York Times Magazine), Gary Taxali and Christoph Niemann. The opening keynote was also on the hot topic of the moment, “The Future of Publishing” with Jeremy Clark, Senior Experience Design Manager at Adobe and Scott Dadich, Creative Director of Wired speaking about their recent collaboration on the first iPad issue of Wired magazine and how they see the iPad changing publishing.
I spoke about the UK and European Illustration industry in my lecture "Euro Smash - Illustration Across the Pond". This came about after Illustrator, Fernanda Coen - who was a lecture producer for ICON6 - and I started talking after ICON5 in New York in 2008 (which I also attended) about me doing a lecture for ICON6 because of my industry knowledge, experience with the Association of Illustrators and as an established UK illustrator.
Of course the lecture sessions are only part of the ICON experience. You make many new friends amongst the assembled illustrators and industry figures from across the globe, share experiences, and of course a couple of expensive beers in the bar.
I’m eagerly looking forward to ICON7 in 2012.
Who are some of the artists that have influenced you?
The American painter Edward Hopper has been a big influence, especially with how he lights a scene.
Comics and comic artists have also been a big influence on me. I’ve religiously read the UK comic, 2000AD, since 1977 and it directly inspired me to draw as a kid and then pursue illustration as a career.
There are many contemporary illustrators and artists I admire, but a lot of my influences look back to old illustration from 50’s, 60’s and 70‘s advertising, Pulp Fiction covers, album sleeves, old posters, etc. Having a sense of history and what’s gone before is very important, as you can’t learn from just what everyone is doing today. I think it’s important to indulge your personal interests in your work and create your own unique voice, as that is what will set you apart from everyone else.
What haven’t you worked on yet that you would love to do as an illustrator or designer?
A few years ago I worked on a huge interactive installation for the Lightbox Museum and Gallery in Woking, UK and I’d love to work on further projects at that scale as I enjoy the challenge of working at a large size.
My work being vector based also lends itself to interactive and motion graphics. I already worked on several new media projects and there’s an iPhone app based on my work, which should be out in the next couple of months. Film and animation is also on agenda when I find the time. But really, anything that challenges me and enables my work to be seen in new mediums.
How do you promote yourself? Has there been one avenue that has been particularly successful for you as far as advertising?
You may be the best designer/illustrator in the world, but if no one sees your work, you won’t get commissioned. So I do a huge amount of marketing and my work comes to me from a mixture of sources, including word of mouth. It’s very important to get out there and get your work seen by as many people as possible and you should never be afraid to show people your work or get disheartened at being rejected. I have a draw full of rejection letters and not everyone will be able to use you. I spend in the region of 10 - 20% of my turnover on promotion every year. This would include things like direct mailers, internet portfolio sites, entering competitions, etc.
I also utilize the power of the internet, blogging, twitter, design networking sites, flickr, email and interviews for online blogs/magazines, which leads to enquiries from all around the world. But even in the digital age, I still rate direct printed mailers to clients as one of my most effective promotional tools. I send out 1000 promo packs every six months - if the client likes something, they’ll keep it, put on a pin board or file it away for future reference. But above all, the best advert is doing great work.
What industry books have you read and found to be helpful to your career?
Illustrators Guide to Law and Business Practice (published by The AOI) is probably the most important book I own and an essential buy for all working illustrators. The book covers all aspects of the law likely to affect illustrators, including recommended terms and conditions, advice on calculating fees, negotiating, copyright, how to write a license agreement and protect yourself against exploitative practices.
We’ve all made mistakes at some point in our career. Does one stand out in your mind that you really learned something valuable from?
Everything is part of the learning process, but I don’t tend to dwell on my failures.
How do you recharge your batteries, stay focused and motivated?
Having a studio helps with keeping separation from work and home life. It’s good to be able to shut the door at night and leave things until the next day. I’ve worked from a studio for around 11 years now and wouldn’t go back to working at home again. My current studio is with Second Floor Studios and Arts in South East London by the Thames Barrier. There are over 100 artists working there and it’s still expanding, so there are always people around to chat to over a cup of tea - social interaction can be severely lacking if you work at home.
I also try to work regularly on self-initiated and collaborative projects. Working on other projects outside of commissions keeps me fresh, whether that’s self initiated projects, exhibitions, or just for fun. Doing shows and projects gives me interesting briefs to work on with complete creative freedom and the opportunity to experiment with new ideas and techniques. You just can’t sit still as an artist, you have to be evolving, progressing and staying fresh with your work.
With self-initiated work, I tend to indulge my interests and also I like to juxtapose unrelated themes, as hopefully I’ll come up with something unexpected and witty. When it comes to my commercial work, I’m always promoting and looking to get my work seen by new people. Getting to work on interesting, exciting and challenging commissions keeps me motivated too.
Apart from that, I usually disappear to Morocco for around 2 or 3 weeks every year to give myself a complete break and totally switch off from art, especially after an intense and all consuming project like Where’s Stig? Holidays are important, and when you’re busy it’s easy to put off having a proper break, but it eventually catches up with you, degrading your enthusiasm and productivity.
And finally, if you could give only one piece of advice to someone starting out as an illustrator what do you feel would be the most important thing you could pass along?
I’d recommend joining the Association of Illustrators. If you need advice on pricing commissions, copyright, contracts, promotion, etc, it really pays to get help from the experts. They’re also constantly campaigning to protect all illustrators’ rights, and as the only body to represent illustrators and campaign for their rights in the UK, the AOI has successfully increased the standing of illustration as a profession.
I know first hand the value of being a member and the confidence it gives you in your career. I wouldn’t be the successful professional I am today without their training, help and guidance over the years.
Illustration Pages would like to thank Rod Hunt for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions. Please be sure to investigate more of Rod's work by visiting his sites below.
Rod Hunt's Illustration Website
Rod Hunt's Blog
Rod Hunt on Twitter
Rod Hunt on Flickr
Rod Hunt Illustration on Facebook
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