Friday, 7 August 2009

The Economist

A few posts back I was talking about my life in newspapers and mentioned that I used to work for The Economist every week between 1990 and 1996. As well as doing drawings for the various sections - Europe, Asia, America etc - we illustrators would also occasionally be asked to do the cover. These are a few of mine.

When I left college I had assumed I would work in books. I really only knew about book illustration. I was taught by Tony Ross who was working on his own picture books while heading the illustration department and he used his contacts to get me my first job - illustrating Sherlock Holmes stories for the French publisher Gallimard.

This was a dream job. Gallimard had published some of my favourite authors and Sherlock Holmes was a gift to an illustrator. But I blew it. When I took my drawings in, I was told that they were 'too dark'. Whether they were literally too dark (I was fond of big areas of black ink) or whether they were too grim, I never did find out. My career as a book illustrator stalled there and never really took off again.

Instead I became an editorial illustrator, working for newspapers and magazines, though I did do the odd advert or brochure or even label for cans of beans. Deadlines are tight in this line of work and are immovable. The rubbery deadlines of the book world are still a little strange to me.

Illustration is in part about making the best use of the restrictions that are applied. It is like being asked to cook a meal with limited time and limited ingredients. What can I do in the time allowed? How can I adapt the brief so I can play to my strengths? With editorial illustration time is possibly the biggest factor. We were never given more than a day to come up with a rough (though mostly with an Economist cover, the concept was given to you) and then do the finished artwork.

Sometimes it was a lot less than a day.

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