Monday, 27 April 2009

Gillian Blease

Gillian Blease has been creating graphic illustrations for a number of years, often creating work for the food section of The Guardian Weekend magazine. Ahead of her time in that, it’s only now there’s a visible shift away from the hand-drawn illustrations to more hard-edged graphical design, when her crisp structural renderings are coming into their own.  Blease has also done logo design and advertising illustration. Some of her clients have included The Guardian, Barclays and Sainsbury's. Bleases' work seems to reflect a bold, structural and well considered composition. She tends to see things in a simple light, this in some way is how I would like my work to feel, in terms of simplicity and communication. I mailed Blease a few questions. about the industry, and am now in the process of mailing her a few questions about her working method and practice in relation to my own.

Hi Sarah – this probably covers some of the same ground as the talk I gave. So hope it’s not too repetitive. Good luck with your degree show.
Best wishes

  • What are your influences and what inspires you?
Paul Rand, Hans Schleger, Abram Games. These were some of the first designers I came across when I started illustrating and they really resonated with me and helped direct my style. Other influences are the artists from my fine art days: Julian Opie, Claes Oldenberg, Andy Wharhol, Peter Doig, Terry Frost. They all combine interesting concepts with great design and composition. They have a real simplicity and richness at the same time along with being quite witty or clever. I look at work from all sorts of sources as much as a I can, especially textiles, graphic design (and logos), advertising, childrens illustration and lots of vintage images – posters and books.

  • Do you think it is better working in a studio with other Illustrators who you can share your ideas with, as opposed to 'your own private space'? if so why?
I think this is a very personal choice. I know illustrators who need to have people around them and need the discipline of going ‘out to work’ every day and who also enjoy the possibility of collaborating or working as a collective. I prefer working on my own, and from home – it’s one of the big perks of the job for me. I make sure I keep connected through illustration events and meet up with my peers in the evenings.

  • What would you say makes the difference between success and failure when trying to establish yourself in the design industry?
Making your work visible – whether by marketing or by having work in very visible arenas. It’s really necessary to keep reminding people that you’re still out there working by doing mailshots and keeping in touch with those you’ve done regular work for. Try to get yourself in artbooks and exhibitions. Also, professionalism. No one will want to work with you if you consistently deliver work late, can’t take criticism or be prepared to change your work (within reason).

  • What was the easiest way to establish and promote yourself within the wide world of Illustration?
Initially I sent out home made postcards featuring a few examples of my illustrations and followed many of these up with phone calls to arrange a visit or dropped off my portfolio. I did this regularly for the first few years until I was established. It cost me very little. Now I get postcards printed and have a good quality portfolio, but it’s not necessary when you’re starting out. Lots of illustrators produce their own mailing material.

  • Did you conform to a style that was around at the time you first got commissioned?
No. that’s a really bad idea. You have to work in the way that feels most natural to you. I went through a period a couple of years ago when everyone wanted hand drawn images whilst I was doing hard edged graphics. But there were still enough clients who needed my kind of work and eventually it came back in vogue again. It’s always possible to have a couple of styles, maybe under different names but don’t try to fit the zeitgeist. It’s much better to make a name for yourself via the strength of your personal style.

  • Would you say it is hard to remain an established Illustrator when there are so many other illustrating practitioners within the design industry?
Yes. I’ve been lucky to work with some great clients who I started out with and still work for 8 years later but it’s very easy to be dropped in favour of new talent. It’s important to keep pushing the boundaries of your own work so it stays fresh and exciting for the people who already know what you do.

  • What advice would you offer an aspiring Illustrator?
Be dogged. Develop a thick skin. Also accept that your work will develop, get better over time. Also it’s a waste of time approaching people who don’t want or don’t feature your kind of work in their magazines. Do your research – find out names of the right people to send images to at the right companies. A direct approach will be much more successful. And join the Association of Illustrators. They give invaluable advice on portfolios, pricing, invoicing etc.

Thankyou so much for your time, any of your feedback to any of the questions would be greatly valued! I look forward to hearing from you!

Kind Regards,

Sarah x

I have now sent a further message to Gillian, with regards to her working process and the similar fact of her use of shape. As I tend to overcomplicate my designs, in comparison to Blease, her work is simple but has a strong emphasis on communication, hopefully she can give me some pointers to improve my work. I also sent her an image that I am working on presently, hopefully she may have some advice of where I may be going wrong.

Hi Gill!
Your feedback is wonderful and has helped me immensely. I am a fond lover of your work, and always refer to it for inspiration. Currently, I am working on illustrations for a book by Enid Blyton. I was wondering if I could have your advice?

-As my work has developed over the last year or so, Shape has informed my illustrations with a structure and a fresh new meaning, yet it lacks communication. How do you generate ideas for your Illustrations and develop them, without overcomplicating?

-As I tend to overcomplicate and more 'picture-make' I always refer to the idea I'm trying to put across but feel the Illustration is always needing more.. What advice would you offer?

I have enclosed a recent image I am working on, to refer to as an example. 

I know how busy you must be but any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
I look forward to hearing from you.



Silly me hadn't included the context of the story!!!! I sent gill a reply with the initial idea.

Hi Sarah – can you give me the context for this illo? What’s the story it refers to?


Hi Gill,

Thankyou for getting back to me, Sorry, I should have known you would have needed the context! Silly Me. Here we go.

Well, within this Enid Blyton Book, 'Mr Galliano's Circus', each chapter has one initial idea or concept. For this chapter, a dog had just been bought and trained to participate in the tricks of the circus- one of these tricks being able to push a pram around on its hind legs. 

They are very simple and do not have any sort of metaphor, but aside of the text, you can tell what's going on.. what would you suggest?

I appreciate your time, thankyou so much!

Sarah x

And so, gillian got back to me, almost instantaniously! 

Thanks Sarah – have to head out now but will get back to you hopefully by the end of the day or if not then definitely tomorrow.
Best wishes
G I'm waiting fro a reply..

Hi Sarah

I think the image you have sent me is competent and nicely drawn. You can obviously handle texture well.

In your note though I think you’ve identified correctly what is missing: it’s well executed and attractive but could be a bit more dynamic. Although the story is set in a circus I didn’t get that feel necessarily from the illustration. It’s a visual context that you could really exploit, both both with colour and shape. The background at the moment feels random rather than specifically tailored to the piece. How can you give the dog/pram more character, make them more visually exciting? Think about how you might be able to incorporate the circus elements – or simply one element that says ’circus’- it might be big-top stripes or the suggestion of a crowd. At the moment it is quite busy and maybe overcomplicated as you point out. The linear shapes to the left and right distract away from the central image and I’m not sure of their meaning. However

It takes courage to leave things out and I still struggle with that. But if you have a strong composition – and I do like the basic structure of the image - you can get away with being more minimal. It’s possible to create a much more taut image (if that is what you want) by really working on this. You mention that you keep referring back to your idea and I think this is crucial. An image is as much a concept as a picture. Personally, if I’m not happy with the idea then a good illustration won’t follow. I have a lot of trouble illustrating other people’s ideas as I find the concept and composition inseparable. How do I get my ideas? I’m not sure. I think my mind has developed this way over the years – it takes a while to build up an approach and pattern of thought. I try and stand back as much as possible, metaphorically and see it in my mind’s eye first.

In sum – it’s understandable that you want to add more to the illustration, and I think the main elements do need some development, but be careful about how you do this. It’s possible to have both more and less at the same time if that makes sense. The main thing is to try and avoid a scatter gun approach and think about where the ‘more’ is really needed/important.

Hope that’s helpful and I haven’t repeated myself too much!
with best wishes

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