Andrew Wightman: Illustrator Spotlight

Art Editor Valerie Pezeron meets fellow illustrator Andrew Wightman and discusses everything from the RCA, Cornwall and politics!

Written by Valerie Pezeron

1All photographs courtesy of Andrew Wightman

Andrew is a 32-year-old accomplished illustrator who currently lives in Bude in Cornwall. After having taken a year off to restore/rebuild a derelict house, he is back in business. Andrew meets up with art editor Valerie Pezeron and reflects on his successful career and the state of the illustration industry.

Valerie Pezeron: Hi Andrew, how has it been getting back to the daily grind of illustration business?

Andrew Wightman: I’ve been sending emails and got interviews…but no money yet!

VP: There is a recession at the moment and many illustrators are struggling. How has it been for you?

AW: Well, I took a year off to build a house…not from stones from the ground. An old man had lived in there and it was really in a horrendous state. It was a full-on project. I was trying to make some money on the house but it’s probably not going to happen now so I’ll see! So this is I getting back into it now, I didn’t want to just have a hammer in my hand all day long.

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VP: So you’ve moved to Bude? Did you do some illustrations while in Cornwall?

AW: I didn’t know any body there before I moved! It’s good in the summer but not so good in the winter. You pay a price. I have done some new work, took the commissions that came to me but did not look for new work until now. I do think I need to spend more time doing promotion even though I can almost get by not knocking on too many doors. I’ve always wanted an agent, I think it would be a good idea but they say “Not quite right for us at the moment, thank you”. I think if you don’t have an agent and you are making money, you feel good about it because you don’t have to give them money. I have horror stories of people who have agents who got them no work at all. But all they’ve got they have to put through the agent so they have lost money. Overall though I would say I am in favour of them as they can get you work from somewhere you’ve never heard of; I’ve got friends who do work for agencies and they’re designing for this littler known Scandinavian bathroom company.

VP: What do you think of online portfolios?

AW: It’s strange how people don’t seem to meet each other anymore. When I fist left college in 2002, you would very much make calls, knock on doors and physically show your portfolio. Some of the paid ones like The Book seem to me like a con: $700 or something and no guarantee of work…

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VP: Did the work you created for Amelia lead to anything?

AW: Yes. I’ve done two things for Amelia’s magazine. I got jobs doing covers for the Guardian because of that and a spread for a book publisher. Sometimes doing work for free opens doors if done selectively at the beginning of one’s career. If you are too proud to do work for free at that stage, it won’t help you. If you have a genuine artistic temperament, you should do something anyway. Even when you reach a certain level of success, you might still want to do stuff for nothing, especially if the paid work is painting something not that fun. And then you might have some outlet for it.

VP: Where did you grow up?

AW: I grew up in Scotland, in Fife. I’ve lived in a few places. I came from the top and gradually made my way to the bottom. I‘ve gotten as far away from my parents as I can! (Laughter) Where next? California? I’m going west, more sunshine!

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VP: So you graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002. And before that?

AW: I went to Liverpool Art School.

VP: Why become an illustrator?

AW: When I was young, I liked drawing.

VP: Were you one of those cool kids at the back drawing on the textbooks?

AW: Yeah, pretty much. I finished my books quite soon because all the back pages were full. I drew war and punk rockers when I was seven but I was confused, I called them Mods; I drew them with big Mohicans. I now quite like drawing old men with loads of wrinkles on them. I drew airplanes and I still do.

VP: What do you like to draw most?

AW: I like to draw buildings from above, from aeroplane viewpoints. I like to draw people as well. Now that I am in the countryside, I am about to sit down on the field and draw some hills just to see what happens. I went to the Van Gogh show yesterday and some of the landscape drawings were inspiring. There are certain things I don’t draw at all. I used to be really into fine art, the masters,  but I have grown out of that.

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VP: Did you always consider that you would go into art?

AW: Not really. I didn’t really know you could. Because I maybe thought you could do architecture. When I was 10, I said I’m going to be an architect. When you are at high school, you do work experience and I went to the architect office. I thought this is ok but I wasn’t that excited. I did a lot of science at school; I didn’t really do art at the end.

VP: Art education is important, isn’t it?

AW: I do think maybe you could afford to spend more time on it. When you do maths at A’ Levels, it’s so specialised! Surely we’ve done enough of adding the numbers! I’ve been worried about the arts budget being cut down in schools. I used to work for a company that did educational software; kind of like interactive computer games and we were really doing fun things for schools for all the different subjects. This is all being cut down apparently and it will be worse with the conservatives.

VP: Do you think you would have benefited from those games when at school?

AW: Not really. I don’t mind looking at really boring textbooks. My work is quite detailed and it is a reflection of the fact that I like science and facts and figures, numbers and details.

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VP: Tell us about your drawing process.

AW: I just sit down and start drawing something and I’m off. I won’t think about too much and just draw a bus and then something will happen, the bus will be in context. It’s important to not sometimes think, “oh, I can’t think of anything to do, so I won’t do anything.” I use pencils, scan into Photoshop and colour digitally. I hate Illustrator.

VP: Your work would fit animation perfectly.

AW: I used to do animation. When I was at college in Liverpool, I did animation for all of my third year. I always like doing things that aren’t always stories so much but I could think of details of stuff. I would do interactive things so it was presenting a lot of information.

VP: Do you feel you fit in with a certain trend of quirky and humorous illustration/animation?

AW: I don’t, no. If I go to the degree show at the RCA, I am always a bit surprised by how many people don’t just do illustration? The animation department is quite traditional still. One of my school year mates, Rob Latimer was in that department. That department was full of little people doing great things and I kind of liked that. It always seems lately people presenting boring information in a graphical format. But that’s not interesting. Or people who have a good graphic design portfolio and then they go to the RCA and then they decide they want to become a film –maker. Of course things are not very accomplished; you graduate with a Masters Degree and you’ve done bad filmmaking. That’s a bit strange. There is not as much straight illustration coming out of there but…

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VP: So content is very important to you.

AW: Yes! I did not even realise that until I got to the RCA. I would concentrate on style and textures in my paintings and then the tutors would ask me what are these for? And then I realised I should do something with them. I used the paintings like backgrounds. I spent hours on them; I like having an intense amount of details that you see for just a few seconds as if it was an animation and it gives it a sense of weight. And it is something I remembered from doing animation. You can improve an image a lot by spending five more extra minutes on it. That’s been the case with my new website.

VP: So what else did you get from the RCA?

AW: Oh, I really liked the RCA. It’s very hard to separate it from the fact that I had just moved to London to go there. It was really a honeymoon period. Everybody in your class was really into it and the standard is pretty high. With hindsight, I think one would benefit from going there after having worked a little bit so you wouldn’t take it for granted so much. I did some times: I would sit down and go “this is fantastic”. There were a lot of opportunities from outside companies to do something for free. It was a good way to do real work, to have some practice. Art school business in general is a great way to make a living; I’d love to do some teaching. I’m going to Liverpool in a couple of weeks to do a lecture with a friend of mine on our careers.

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Andrew likes:

Favourite movie: Ghostbusters

Favourite TV: Nothing too intelligent

Music: Rolling Stones. I like to work in my shed in silence.

Radio: Radio 4 or clever people’s conversations. I don’t like plays on the radio.

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One Response to “Andrew Wightman: Illustrator Spotlight”

  1. Aidan Meehan says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Like this interview, also your interviewing, well done. I appreciate that you edited out any editorialising, while still guide the interview gently along–good editor!

    Cheers,

    Aidan

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