Brush vs Mouse Meeting

Mon 04 Nov 2013 by Amy_Rogers

'Dragon' by Alan Baker, 'Shipwreck' by Bill Donohoe and Jungle Scene by Adam Hook.

The latest BIG meeting celebrated hand-rendered 'analogue art'. We gathered upstairs at The Earth and Stars to hear illustrators Alan Baker, Bill Donohoe and Adam Hook talk about their working methods. All three of them prefer to work on paper and they all work in an almost photo-realistic style. Following the advent of Photoshop the demand for realistic illustrations has nosedived. Instead, photographs are often digitally altered by in-house artists – a far cheaper alternative.

Despite changing fashions the basis for all of Alan Baker's illustrations is hand-rendered.  He works for high-profile clients including The Guardian and he specialises in animals and fantasy art. One illustration can take him four to five days. He uses mixed media including watercolour, crayon, stippling and airbrush.
Alan was reluctant to go digital but he now uses Photoshop to collage his scanned artwork together and alter sizes and colours. When creating symmetrical creatures like butterflies, he sometimes only paints one half. He then scans the art in, copies the layer and flips it to make the other side. This can save him hours.
Alan believes a sense of spontaneity and humanity can be lost with computers. He prefers the mess and scratchiness of analogue art, believing that digital art can be 'too perfect'.

Bill Donohoe once had a thriving career as a realistic illustrator using traditional media. He now has a thriving career as a digital illustrator and paints for pleasure. Photoshop was a career threatening development for him and many others who have had to adapt to the current fashions.
Building up an entirely new portfolio and new set of commissioners would have been even harder were Bill not already creating line and wash paintings for book illustrations. Children's books and history books are among the few fields where analogue illustration is still popular today.
Bill's realistic illustrations have appeared on the covers of Jackie Chan movies, an Arnold Schwarzenegger film and Dr. Who videos. In the pre-internet days he was sent videos of films. He would pause them on striking frames, take photos of the stills and hurry down to a photography shop to get them printed. These photos became reference material for video cover artwork. He worked primarily with acrylics and airbrushes.

Since 1998 Bill has illustrated digitally for various textbooks, packaging-designers and magazines. He draws directly onto a swish Cintiq screen. He draws an animal a month for a Country Life magazine. He works in a digital 'mock pencil style' that looks a lot like a traditional pencil drawing. Bills says it's easier to experiment digitally and simply click 'undo' a few times if you dislike the changes. He also duplicates layers for things like fur, lending his work more depth.
With computers alterations are far easier - whole paintings do not need to be re-painted and emails are always quicker than couriers. Art Editor's have become more demanding as a result, expecting artists to be able to make many quick alterations.

Bill misses having original artwork as he can only print off digital copies of his latest designs. He, Alan and Adam all agreed that original, physical artwork may now be more valuable and desirable due to its relative rarity.

Adam Hook was inspired to pursue a career in illustration by his father, the illustrator Richard Hook. He and his Dad have a similar skilled, realistic style and Adam has never worked digitally. He loves working on paper but is considering developing a digital style too, so as to attract more clients.
Adam started out as a natural history artist, which he loved. He now creates illustrations for military and historical information books and educational books. The publishers provide him with some reference images and his house also helps - he describes it as 'Books with a roof on'. Adam's friends and family also provide reference material by dressing up in costumes and posing. He also has a range of weapons at his house (for illustrational purposes only!).

Alan, Bill and Adam agreed that most commissioners currently seem to be looking for unique styles and well communicated ideas rather than beautifully realistic representations. Fashions are forever changing but elements that were popular in the past are often revived. It could be that the pendulum is swinging in favour of traditionally made art again, judging by many recent graduate shows and books.

There were several gasps of awe as our speakers' original artwork was passed around to view. They are all incredibly skilful artists with a great deal of life and humanity in their illustrations.