It was only two weeks ago that I posted a
fangirly glowing review of August’s cover art, chock-full of nothing but sparkly adjectives positive things to say about that intriguing upside-down cover. So you can only imagine my surprise when I woke up to a comment on that very post from the illustrator himself, Guy Shield.
After trying to figure out how to word questions without appearing stalkerlike writing a few emails back and forth, I’ve discovered a few new things about Guy — like the fact that he was approached to illustrate August’s cover art because of how he proposed to his fiancée.
I hope you’re reading this sentence because you’ve already clicked on the link that takes you to how he proposed to his fiancée. And that you loved the story as much as I did. And that you found it just as charming and geeky and creative and sweet as I did. What? You haven’t yet? I’ll link it again just to make things easier for you. No really. GO READ IT NOW.
Where was I? Oh, yes. So as you can see, the guy (see what I did there?) is talented. I’ve cheerfully stolen some copy from his ‘about me’ section on his blog, because how could you not be interested in learning more about his work after reading this:
Self taught on a diet of pen and ink, Guy explores both comical and serious subjects through his work, taking a cinematic approach to composition and storytelling through single-panel frames.
And I’m so pleased that he’s obliged to stopping by the blog today. Here he is in photographic form:
(Not gonna lie, I half-expected an illustrated doodle when I asked for a picture.)
TCG: Did you always want to be an illustrator? What’s your story behind becoming an artist?
GS: As a kid I loved the idea that you could make a living out of drawing pictures—it seemed ridiculous, but amazing. My grandfather was an artist later in life, and anytime he came to town he’d teach me a few things and give me all these amazing pencils… Drawing seemed like a natural past time for me to adopt—I’d spend long summer holiday car trips filling up my old school books with drawings. I loved that it gave me a constant sense of direction and goals to improve, and when I realised that, there was never really any question about what I was going to do with my life.
At 14 I wanted to work in the comic book industry but there wasn’t much opportunity over here in Australia, so I ended up studying Graphic Design. It seemed like a sensible option and I had a geeky love affair with printing. I liked design because it felt like an extension of illustration. Type and image working together seemed like a really fun but powerful medium for communicating. I gave up drawing for about 3 years and focussed solely on design. Then I realised I was becoming ‘yet another graphic designer’ in an already flooded industry and wanted to find my edge again. I started writing to artists asking them about their craft and getting their feedback and tips along the way. I got inspired and decided to start again. It took a few years but eventually people started noticing, which felt like a bonus as I realised just how much drawing meant to me as an outlet.
I love the idea of starting something, leaving it, and coming back, honing that skill, and loving it even more. That’s completely inspiring and just illustrates (look, a pun again!) how our creative loves aren’t always so explicitly set in stone.
I discovered your work when researching the cover for Bernard Beckett’s August. I understand you were commissioned by Text Publishing to provide an illustration for the cover. What was it like working on that project? Did they give you free reign in coming up with a concept? How did that come about?
It was a fun project, but it took a while to get off the ground. I received the brief in April and then they told me to hold off on it because they’d delayed the publishing date. The project resumed in September. The concept was already pretty developed by the time they wrote the brief. It was exciting—I was on board straight away because anything that redefines the way we interact with something is good in my book. It was pretty tightly directed by Chong, the art director—it was his idea and the process was pretty meticulous. We spent a long time finessing things like the way hair fell and where arms etc were, right down to how much sky there was above the car or how open their eyes were… It was all pretty manicured, but it’s fun going to that level detail—that’s where some of the more subtle, more convincing beauty can be found. I wanted to get another angle of the interior of the car happening in the side rear view mirror, but it seemed like too much. I spent about 15 hours on that piece all up.
More behind-the-design thoughts for August and Genesis (another Beckett novel) can be found here on Guy’s blog.
How would you describe your particular type of artistry?
Cartoony I guess. A westernised Manga maybe? I kinda take american-style linework
with Japanese toning with european colour treatments… All my colouring is done digitally and that’s probably where most of my time in spent; building up harmonious palates and playing around a lot with combos. A friend of mine makes quilts as a hobby and she’s got an immaculate eye for colour balance/pairing so I’ll sometimes look at some of that stuff rather than try and rip off another illustrator, or I’ll look at the colour treatment of movies if I want to give something a cinematic tone. My stuff isn’t for everyone, but it’s pretty safe/conventional. I can go a little overboard with trying to cram too much detail in though. By the time I finish a piece I generally have to spend a few days not looking at it otherwise I’ll be continually changing it. Da Vinci said that “Art is never finished, it’s only abandoned”, and I kinda agree, but abandoned is too strong a word. I’d rather say ‘retired’!
If you had one Dream Project with an unlimited budget, what would it be?
Argh! This one is always tough, but I’d love to write and illustrate a really big, bittersweet, fictional graphic novel. And if it were unlimited budget then I’d travel the world while I do it! I quite enjoy writing and telling stories—I love finding out the stories and idiosyncrasies that make the people around me so special and unique. Beauty is always in the details.
If I had a million dollars I would absolutely fund this project (as well as commission you to paint several walls in my house). And I’d be first in line to buy that GN, too.
What type of art (or artists) inspires you?
I like most kinds of art, and the ideas behind them, whether it’s someone being clever or just a strong emotional connection to a style or subject. Any visual expression is generally a good outlet, and anything I can look at for hours on end and leave feeling inspired for months is pretty special. There are tonnes of artists I totally adore, but the main ones that I follow are Tomer Hanuka, James Jean, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Yuko Shimuzo, Gillian Tamaki and Chris Gardner at House Industries. They’re all such unbelievable people with what seems like endless talent, but they’re seriously only a handful of the many.
Just last year I was introduced to House’s work (sad, I know!). I want to look at and buy everything on their site. It also took me nearly half an hour hyperlinking all those illustrators and designers because I could not. Stop. Browsing.
Speaking of browsing. What do you look for in cover design when you’re browsing the bookstore, library, or online? Any favorites that come to mind?
It has to stand out amongst the thousands of other covers obviously, but generally the simpler, bolder covers are often the best. High concept kinda stuff always inspires me—Chip Kidd’s a guru. I like a lot of vintage stuff as well—a friend of mine has an extraordinary collection of editions of Catch-22 and it’s so great seeing all the different takes on that book in all the different cultures it’s been reproduced for. I’m not really that well versed in the Young Adult fiction stuff sadly, and it’s such a big realm these days. Tomer Hanuka’s cover for Marquis de Sade always blew my mind for some reason. Such a risque but straightforward cover but the body language, colour palette and typography are so powerful. I liked Jenny Grigg’s covers for the Peter Carey series. Gray 318 are doing some great stuff too.
This one’s my favorite of Gray318’s work, hands down. (Man, I am ON FIRE.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I’ve enjoyed reading his answers and posting this myself! Warm thanks for stopping by TCG, Guy!