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- author Jackie French

Thursday 23 February 2017

Meet the Illustrator: Alison Smallwood

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Evocative, thought provoking, always evolving and fun.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
As I do most of my thinking and planning outside my studio, when I’m in the studio I need to be surrounded by everything I might possibly need so I can create as quickly and efficiently as possible – heaps of art materials like paints, charcoal, pastels, pencils, inks etc. computer, scanner and tablet, inspiring books, sketch books and lots of paper and pencils.  I adore my speedy electric pencil sharpener and I have a sink for washing brushes etc.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
Mixed media. A combination of traditional materials and digital FX. I use whatever mediums will give me the atmosphere and feeling I’m trying to portray.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
The opulent detail in the paintings of Gustav Klimt, the simplicity and superb compositions of Hiroshige’s Japanese woodblocks and the spiritual insight of the Russian expressionist, Wassily Kandinksy.

Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?
Pre-war modernist artist living in Paris. I’ve always loved reading books set during this period of optimism following industrialisation. I think the modernist painters reached an innovative peak which has never been surpassed and the printing technology of the time allowed for exciting developments in graphic design and commercial illustration.

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I was particularly inspired by comics and political cartoonists in my childhood as well as picture books and Disney films but I never decided to become an illustrator, its just what I’ve always done. I had a knack for winning art competitions as a kid and I managed severe shyness by making people laugh with my cartoons and drawings (the teachers weren’t always laughing though). In my teens I started taking paid commissions and continued on from there.

Can you share a photo of your creative workspace or part of the area where you work most often?
I’m surrounded by books and have my computer equipment on one side and a large table for messy work in the centre of the room with easy access to a variety of art materials. The studio is the place for pulling everything together but most of my problem solving and creative thinking happens when I’m doing something else (which is why I’m a bit absent minded at times) my brain is constantly multitasking! I make sure I have sketchbooks and pens available in my kitchen, bedroom and handbag.

My artistic 5 year old daughter also likes to sit on the floor and create, using my best art materials when I’m not paying attention. I like to blame her for the mess but I sometimes pinch her art supplies too and the freshness of her artwork is also very inspiring.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?
It used to be character design but now it’s the arduous and anxious concept stage. I always start with a feeling of dread that I wont be able to come up with an idea and my sketch book is only filling with clichés and terrible sketches and I start to doubt my ability, and then pop the idea appears like magic, often when I’m doing anything else but art. It always starts this way, but now I’m aware of the process I’ve become more patient and less stressed and so the inspiration seem to come faster. Once the idea is there I can focus on the more relaxed and fun craft of bringing the concept to life in a presentable format.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?
Early in my career an art director said to me 'You’re my best freelance artist!'. Feeling chuffed I asked him 'Why am I the best?' He replied, 'Because you are reliable.' Reliable?!! How humiliating! I was hoping he would say it was because I was so talented, being reliable is something anyone can do!

But then he did go on to give me heaps of work and a good reputation. Years later, having hired many artists myself, I’ve realised you should never under estimate the importance of being reliable and easy to work with. There’s no point being an artistic genius if you miss deadlines!

But if you are still waiting for your first commission, keep working on your drawing skills. I know it sounds boring and uncreative, but if you take the time, early in your career to understand perspective, anatomy, lighting and composition you’ll have the freedom to create in the style you want to rather than have to and will be a more versatile and employable artist.

Alison’s illustration career spans print, film, television and games. In 2002 she co-founded a successful game design studio giving her opportunity to Art Direct and mentor many artists. Alison’s greatest passion is exploring innovative story telling techniques with challenging themes and the creative integration of text and image. For more see Alison's website - www.alisonsmallwood.com