Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This interview and feature of my work appeared in November 2006 issue of DPI Magazine - it is a LUSH magazine, with loads of features and interviews and is highly appreciative of illustrators all over the globe. Many thanks to the lovely Lulu Tzeng, who has now moved on to pastures new - Hello Lulu!
I have also included some of the pages from the magazine when it was printed.
Interview with Jill Calder, Illustrator. DPI Magazine, Taiwan.
1. Could you introduce yourself, including birthday, birthplace, and your educational background or other you think it’s important to you?
Answer: My name is Jill Calder and I was born in Dundee, Scotland (UK) and I am 36 years old! I attended school in Dundee and then at age 17 went to England to do a general Art course in Cumbria. I then was accepted into Edinburgh College of Art to do a Honours Degree in Design, where I specialized in Illustration and Animation. I quickly followed my Degree by going to Glasgow School of Art in 1992 to do a Post Graduate Diploma in Illustration. I officially became an illustrator in October 1993 when I received my first commission!
2. How did you get started in the illustration field? Who influenced you ?
Answer: All I knew from my time at college was that I had to go and see as many people who commissioned illustration as possible. I had a huge A1 folio that I would take on the train down to London (about 5 hours away on the train) and I would carry this heavy folio around to magazines such as Vogue and Esquire – I sold a piece of work to the Art Director of Esquire, but didn’t get any commissions! I think my folio of work was too violent then – it was all about cosmetic surgery and Martin Amis books. Too “fine art” as many would say. I quickly realized that I had to develop a more lighthearted approach if I was to get work. Looking back now, I think that my college work was perhaps a little pretentious and that my work now is much more honest and reflects my personality more.
I have many influences and heroes! They change all the time too, but the following people or styles have been pretty constant: Picasso for his drawing and ceramics, Howard Hodgkin for his colour and paint, the writer Annie Proulx, Ronald Searle, Javier Mariscal, Sarah Fanelli, Romaire Bearden, Geoff Grandfield, Velazquez, Alexander Calder for his whimsical wire sculptures, Japanese woodblock prints, the art of Huang Yongyu whose work I discovered when I visited Hong Kong, the city of Las Vegas, Jacobean and Elizabethan portraits from 16th Century England, Alan Kitching for his typography, Marshall Arisman, Auguste Rodin, David Hockney…the list goes on!
My first commission was for The Scotsman newspaper for an article about dyslexia (dyslexia.tif) and I was thrilled. I still like it. It is easy to get disheartened when you don’t get work, but you have to keep showing people what you do – and you have to keep developing your illustration and drawing alongside that.
3. What is your illustration style? How did you find it? Has it changed since you started?
Answer: Its really difficult to describe your own style! I LOVE drawing and colour and I suppose they are at the root of everything I do. I draw in sketchbooks or on the Mac and sometimes the line is very controlled and sometimes its sketchy, but I like to have a mixture of elements in my illustrations – more to surprise myself than anything else. An Illustrator’s style is like their handwriting, it is unique to them – though there are people who like your style so much they try to copy it. To me, you just need to have the confidence to develop your drawing and your interests and see where it goes, creatively. My work for the last year and a half has been mainly digital, because I started using a Wacom Tablet to draw with, so that has been a big change for me. I still love using ink and paint, but I have been perfecting my Wacom drawing technique and I think that has made my work more painterly again as I use it with Photoshop CS2 and it really brings all the brush palettes to life because of the pressure sensitivity, which I really like. The Wacom people liked it too and when we met up at MacExpo in London they asked me to do some case studies for their potential clients.
4. In your works, we can see many lines, colors and figures, what is the theme you love to create? Has any impressing or interesting story behind your illustration works?
Answer: I love drawing people, you are correct. The human figure and the human personality fascinate me and I love creating little narratives within my illustrations as I put them together. The thing that really interests me is the relationship between people – and so I use gestures and body language and facial expressions to show this. That is the best bit about interpreting a writer’s work, whether it is for a book, or a newspaper column because as an illustrator you get to add your voice to the piece, or at the very least, give the reader something else to consider. I do a lot of editorial work and one newspaper in London, The Guardian, asked me to illustrate a short story which was quite anti-war. There were 2 full page illustrations to do in colour, one to go on the cover of the tabloid section in which the story was featuring. The only snag was that I had to do both illustrations in 5 hours! I love a challenge like that and basically I just read the story and started drawing – it was a process of gut instinct about what would work, what characters to show and in what context. I loved every minute of those 5 hours and was really pleased with what I produced
5. What are your ideas to create diverse “spots”? How you present those works? Are they different from your illustration works?
ANSWER: those spot illustrations on my website are just really small illustrations I have done – mostly for horoscope features! They call tiny illustrations “spots” over here in the UK! I just treat them the same as normal illustrations, though you have to be careful how much detail you put in them. The more simple the spot the better it works on the page
6. What is your favorite assignment?
Answer: I STILL get excited when I get a new commission – I love the thrill of being asked to do illustrations for someone. SO, in a way, every assignment is my favorite. The ones I like best are where I work closely with the art director and we brainstorm together to get the best results. I get to stretch my creative muscle in jobs like that and the whole process is so much more satisfying than just being told exactly what to do.I am constantly amazed that some art directors these days can have so little imagination and have little experience of getting the best out of an illustrator.
7. Since you have been the illustrator, what was the biggest challenge you have met? How did you solve those problems and face next challenge?
Answer: The biggest challenge has been the business side to my job. I can do the creative bit, but all the marketing, pricing, licencing and keeping financial records has been difficult, though I have a good accountant now, which helps! When I left college I had some idea about how to run the business side of things, but when it came to putting it into practice, I was hopeless! I have learnt from experience-trial and error!- I am confident pricing my work and negotiating licences now, but it took a while. I teach illustration students now, and I am keen to see that they are more prepared than I was, as you really have to be alert and know how to protect your work through licences and contracts.
8. Did you ever find yourself with no inspiration on animations? At that time, how did you face the situation?
Answer: When I am truly STUCK for an idea, I either just start drawing anything other than what I am meant to be drawing. This makes me relax a bit and then an idea just sneaks up on me unexpectedly! OR I go away, leave my studio and do something completely different, like cook a meal or walk the dogs. A change of scene can do wonders for your imagination and usually you come back refreshed and motivated. The best advice I can give if you are really uninspired, is to go outside with your sketchbook and look at what other people or animals are doing and start to draw it – there is NOTHING like real life to inspire ideas.
9. What’s your future plan in three years?
ANSWER: Although I have been working as a professional illustrator for 15 years I am still keen to do more work outside the UK. I was invited to join Friend and Johnson in the USA 2 years ago and it has been fantastic so far. They are really good agents and I have had some great work through them. It takes a while to break into a new market, and I would say that it has taken the best part of that year for the F&J team to get my work noticed through extensive marketing and folio visits – it has been worth it though, as I am working for such clients as Neiman Marcus, Philip Morris and Harvard Business Review. I really want the next 3 years to be about consolidating that relationship and to get some really interesting and challenging projects, such as the New Yorker/ Mass Mutual job.
10. Do you feel contended present life? On some day, you have a long vacation, where do you want to go? Why?
ANSWER: YES! Life is pretty good just now. I got married earlier this year and my husband and I live in a delightful little fishing village near St Andrews in Scotland. I have achieved a good balance between working at home on my illustrations and teaching illustration students at Edinburgh College of Art which I do for 2 days a week. That’s not to say I don’t like going on holiday! My friends tease me about how many times I go abroad, but I love travelling. My husband’s brother lives in Hong Kong and we went there recently and I loved it – we visited Macau aswell, which I found really interesting. My favorite destinations are Australia, which I have visited 3 times now and Mexico [ see sketchbook pages, mexico1.tif and mexico2.tif] If I was to go anywhere new, I think I would like to visit the Antarctic, as I am intrigued by icy landscapes at the moment and I think it would be amazing to experience such a wilderness and make lots of drawings. I don’t think I could live abroad though – I just like to travel and then come home and then feed my experiences into my illustrations.