What’s the difference between Portraiture and Figurative Paintings?

How important is style?

To an artist, style is incredibly important. When you are stating out you slowly evolve your style until your portfolio reflects the work you want to do and are interested in. Your portfolio should still feels consistent. An easy way to accomplish this is to work with the same medium or same few mediums. You can work in as many mediums as you wish, but the more consistent your portfolio is the easier it it is important that their work is consistent. Consistency is is not style. Consistency is showing time and time again that you know what you’re doing—that you understand nuanced typography, that you can generate good appropriate concepts, and that you can curate and delegate well when necessary.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Procrastiworking! I have a real tendency to fill up my free time with side projects, particularly ones that are web based. This past year I’ve gotten really excited to learn how to actually make stuff happen on the web, and even started a website to help share some of the knowledge I picked up. There are moments when I’m not working or procrastiworking though, and during that time I can usually be found in a coffee shop, wandering around outside (I love walking around cities), spending time with friends or traveling for conferences (I can’t get much client work done while I’m traveling, so while these trips probably technically count as work, they don’t always feel like it). Russ and I have started little personal movement which we’re calling Tech Sabbath, in which we try to not work at all on Saturdays. Both of us are terrible at filling all of our time with work if left to our own devices.

What advice would you give to a young designer?

Be nice to people. Being a nice and genuine person will get you so much farther than your portfolio will. When you’re applying for a job, the first thing an employer thinks is “Would I mind spending nine hours a day with this person?”. If you try in whatever ways you can to brighten someone’s day, to be fair and respectful to everyone, and to grow your network without being “networky”, you will be a rockstar. Have a plan, but be willing to deviate from it if awesome opportunities arise. While it’s important to think about your future and what you want to be doing in 5 years, don’t let that plan be so concrete that you ignore opportunities around you. Practice, practice, practice—it takes an incredible amount of training to be a great designer. You have to first train your eye to see your own mistakes and the mistakes of others, then train your hand to be able to correct those mistakes. If you don’t feel like you have the opportunity to learn and practice at your day job, do personal work and side projects. Side projects can do so much for your career and you can make something you actually care about.

What’s your favourite Painting?

What’s your work process like?

For illustration work and lettering work, I always start with pencil sketches—not because it is my preferred way to work, but because clients need to approve something before I can move to final. My pencils used to be quite rough but because I’ve been doing more and more lettering work for advertising clients, they’ve become more refined. After a sketch is approved, I jump into illustrator, usually not tracing my sketch for the final. I believe that the translation from sketch to final without tracing helps me correct my mistakes as I go. I idealize like how you would if you were drawing a person from memory versus from real life.

Was it a surprise to see a giant print of Georgie hanging outside the NPG the other day?

The National Portrait Gallery were kind enough to inform me in advance that they had selected my painting as the promotional image for this years show but it still stopped me in my tracks to see the posters and banners quite so in evidence... I'm so pleased that it is a painting of Georgie too as she has really been something of a muse to me over the last couple of years. She's changing constantly, as she ages and as I get to know her better. She is a very beautiful girl but for this portrait I wanted to get away from a straightforwardly pretty view of her, I wanted something more intimate - I saw something of her occasional fragility, almost awkwardness in the pose, at that angle her face almost morphs from one thing to another somehow... tilt her chin down a little and she is a different girl... 

Probably my first recollection of the BP portrait award was around 1992 - because working with a narrative has always been very important to me I studied Illustration at Brighton University. Someone had hung a poster for the show on the notice board in my studio - I can remember it precisely, it became a goal for me there and then, infact my final degree show ended up being a collection of narrative portraits and still lifes, it was fairly evident from that point that would be the path I would pursue. So to see my painting on the BP poster now really means a lot to me. I still enjoy and look out for contemporary illustration - and when a little while ago I was approached by a publisher to use one of my paintings as the cover for a new novel I was really happy to agree... unfortunately I don't read french well enough to enjoy the book properly but I am assured it's a good fit for the imagery in the painting.

Who taught you to paint?

I did! I spent a very long time, over ten years (and I'm still experimenting!) trying to find the right method for me, looking at ways to achieve that elusive perfect finish for the paint - whilst at university I was utterly seduced in galleries by the work of great painters, their skin and fabrics glowing like jewels and perfectly smooth... looking at Ingres work years go started me on this quest and I'm still trying out different techniques and mediums to mix with the oil paint. I think it really starts by being very conscious of the effect you want to achieve. I now paint with a very highly detailed monochrome under painting - known as a grisaille, then I work in the colour, very deliberately carefully mixing my colours and using thin opaque layers and the odd layer of transparent glaze. It sounds mundane but finding the way to work that gives you the effect you want is very much half the battle.