We’re constantly receiving praise for our striking cover designs but we simply cannot take all the credit — our brilliant illustrator Guy Shield has been impressing us since he joined KYD in 2011. For those eager to break into the illustration industry, Guy offers some wise tips about working as a freelance artist.
Could you tell us a bit about your illustration career and how you became a professional freelancer?
I grew up with a love of drawing. I think it was just something that was ingrained in me as a child, and fuelled later by a fascination with comic books. So throughout my adolescence, when I’d think about what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up’, my natural inclination was to draw comic books. Problem was, there was no real Australian Industry I could learn/work with and more truthfully, I was too embarrassed to tell my parents this. So instead, I opted for a more socially-accepted field of graphic design. Oddly enough, I ended up falling in love with design and typography. Everything print-related absolutely fascinated me, and its relationship with illustration seemed really symbiotic. So I trained as a designer and worked in publishing for 10 years, typesetting magazines and books, all the while maintaining a nightly drawing practice to keep my cravings satisfied.
I was also very fortunate to have open-minded editors at work, who’d throw opportunities to illustrate for the magazines/books I was laying out, which became a great way to learn on the job. After quite a while I gained representation through the Jacky Winter Group, and continued to moonlight outside of work as an illustrator. It started getting tricky — briefs would have tight turnarounds, or simply be too good to say no to, and I found myself working 70-80 hours a week between work and home. So I guess once I realised I was on a steady trajectory to becoming self-sufficient as a freelance illustrator, I bit the bullet and quit my full-time job. Feel pretty damn lucky to do what I do for a living. It brings a lot of joy to me.
Could you give us a brief run-down of how you go about designing each cover of KYD?
Sure! I generally start about 2 months before the print deadline, and I’ll spend a large amount of time thinking about the type of story I want to tell, or the message I want to convey, and how I can fit it into a standard cover. A pretty picture is one thing, but if it fails to engage, or doesn’t have much of a ‘feel’ as a book cover, then it’s no good. Quite often the editor may suggest a theme (we’ve been covering seasons quite frequently), or there’ll be something weighing on my mind that I’d like to cover. I’ll roughly throw together a handful of ‘concepts’ and send them over for the editors to take their pick, and get the ball rolling from there. The standard cover will go through about 4 stages. The concept sketch (as I mentioned before), the refined pencil draft, inking (using a brush and black India ink) and then colour, which is probably where I spend the most time. It’ll then go back for one final hit of feedback and I’ll assemble the cover artwork from there and prepare it for print. All up, I usually spend 30-40 hours on a cover, depending on how detailed it is, or how finicky I’m feeling.
You design across print and online. Do you have a preference for either medium? I assume there’d be pluses and minuses for each.
Regardless of how obsolete it’s becoming, print will always be my preference. I like the smell of freshly printed stuff, and I like the idea that every reproduction is minutely different, so when my work’s out there, it’s almost one of a kind, even if it’s been reproduced so many times. There are pros and cons to working in either. Screens have way more colour gamut to work with, and aren’t subject to the stock you’re printing it on, but they just don’t have that endearing tactile charm of print.
Which illustrators most inspire and inform your design work?
A lot of the guys producing alternative comics have always been a big influence on me. People like Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine play a big part in the way I interpret, draw and tell stories. Other contemporary illustrators like Jillian Tamaki and Tomer Hanuka have constantly shaped the way I frame things. Finally old school illustrators like Norman Rockwell and Robert Fawcett have long been incredible craftsmen in their field.
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring illustrators eager to work in the publishing industry?
Of course. Practice regularly, harness inspiration and grow a thick skin. Don’t be scared to get your work out there. It’s important to hear what people have to say about your work, whether it’s positive or critical — either way, take it as encouragement to keep aiming high. Try to contact the art directors at the publishing agencies you like and see if you can send in your folio. Also, get illustration agencies across your work as well, as often they have the best connections to publishers and the like, and they’re really good brains to pick about what might be missing in your folio. Finally, and I know I said it at the start, but I’ll say it again, practice! Constantly. Momentum is the key to improvement, and even people who have been in this industry for decades still do it.
Learn more about Guy’s work at guyshield.com.