Chris Kasch.Illustration

Interview with Vortex (online) Magazine / January 23rd, 2009

A short article and interview conducted by my old tutor,published in the schools online magazine.The link to the actual page is here.
Due primarily to the all consuming emergence of computer technology, illustration as a subject and profession has changed enormously over the last two decades. However, out there, are (some say mad) individuals working in a traditional manner and with traditional media and achieving remarkable results.
We here at Vortex believe that, along with the popularity of traditional type methods, (see Alan Kitchings work at St Bride’s) there is a niche future in hand crafted design work in the commercial world. Chris Kasch, ex student and Go Kart fanatic gives us an insight into the life and rigours of working in the capital as a freelance illustrator:-
Q….which of your design projects have given you the most satisfaction?
Off the top of my head I’d probably say the “Rock Of Ages” Radio Times covers I did last year (4 individual covers that needed to work as a whole). It was a challenge to get all of those figures to work together, especially as the amount of cleared/authorised reference I had to work with was so limited. Factor in the relatively small amount of time I had to do the job and I don’t think I could have done much better to be honest.
Q….design courses often include contextual studies (design history) modules in the curriculum, is this relevant?
I’d say it is to an extent, as long as it’s relevant. Some art history lessons I can remember were terribly dull and I really didn’t see the need (at the time) to be stuck in a darkened room looking at slides of Raphael and Titian at the age of 17. A few slides on Peter Blake and I might have perked up a bit but I had to discover him for myself. Of course as students we need to understand what’s gone before us, if only to understand where we stand as individuals within the art world. There are better ways of doing it I think and mostly I think the hunger for knowledge should come from the student and it’s important for universities to generate an environment where this is encouraged. I think if you find things out for yourself and you want to learn then you will take in a whole lot more information than being force fed it.
Q….if yes, are there any artists or designers from the past that have influenced you or that you particularly appreciate the work of?
Mainly it’s a lot of painters from the 60,s and 70’s, not particularly because of that era (although my work does often echo those decades) but because of the figurative nature of the work and the thread that runs through them all. R.B. Kitaj, Peter Blake, David Hockney, Michael Andrews and Patrick Caulfield all inform my work in some way I think. I completely immersed myself in the work of these artists as a student, not some much these days but their influence is always there. Incidentally I’m quite partial to a bit of abstract art, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be something that people want from me commercially and as most of the work I create is commissioned then it’s not something I’ve been able to explore too much.
Q….are there any current designers or design studios that have influenced you or that you particularly appreciate the work of?
Funnily enough it’s the guys that have nothing in common with the way I work that I like. I’m going to have to leave you guessing who though as I know a good few of them and it’s most definitely not my style to knowingly hand out compliments! I’d have to admit to being a little insular in terms of keeping an eye on the industry though, and to be brutally honest there isn’t a whole lot of work out there that excites me. There are of course some stunningly good people out there and they certainly jolt the competitive juices into action.
Q….what kind of music do you have on your ipod?
I don’t have an ipod I’m afraid! I do however absolutely love music and always have done. In fact so much I’ve often asked myself one question. Did I start to really get into drawing as something to do whilst listening to music or did I put the music on as something to listen to whilst drawing? I suspect the two fed each other. I listen to a pretty broad range of music. Anything from Luke Haines, Shack, The Beachboys, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Spain, Plush, Rufus Wainwright, Jim o’ Rourke, swearing At Motorists, Tom Waits, Bonnie Prince Billy, Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed, Can, The Who, Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Scott Walker, Neil Young, Tim Buckley, Big Star, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Fairport Convention, Terry Callier, Queens Of The Stone Age, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, The Staple Singers, Nada Surf, The Smiths, Ladytron, Laura Nyro and all those in between . The list is endless and I’m afraid they are starting to take over the house!
Q….do you listen to the radio?
Yes I do. It’s usually a talk based radio station that I will listen to, just to have a voice in the background whilst I’m working at home on my own. Usually it’s Talk Sport. There is however a limit to how much opinion I can listen to without being enraged and have to put something else on.
Q….what books are on you currently reading?
I’ve just finished reading “Pies and Prejudice” by Stuart Maconie which was very good. I might read a Autobiography by Martin Hines the kart racer next.
Q….what is your favourite ice cream flavour?
Vanilla or Strawberry.
Q….what kind of clothes do you find uncool?
Anything where the wearer has tried too hard or is conforming to some sort of style/uniform guide.
Q….the cinema has long been a source of inspiration for designers, are there any movies (or directors) that you particularly like and if so why?
Not so much any particular directors. TV and movies are a good source of reference though I find and it’s not unusual for me to make little compositional sketches or remarks for future reference while I’m watching a film.
Q….where do you work on your design projects and what would be your ideal environment for this?
Unfortunately I work in my bedroom and I pretty much always have done. It’s far from ideal but space dictates that’s where I need to work. Ideally it would be great to have a work space of my own where I can have some space and create a good environment for myself. It would also be nice to “close the door” on the work once I have finished in the evening. I know a fair few illustrators who share studio’s but I’m not one for travelling to and from work. The time consuming nature of my illustration means that I will quite often have to work into the morning hours which makes it a little impractical. I also tend to slip off into my own little world when I’m working and I don’t really communicate with anybody. I find it difficult to slip into that “zone” when people are around and the distractions break up any flow or momentum which makes painting a very frustrating process. When I am painting at home and in the right mood I can sit there all day and not notice a phone going off or a door bell ringing.
Q….when you work, what do you need?
A steady stream of tea(only half a sugar as my wife made me cut down!), good lighting, a desk that isn’t going to hurt my back or neck, some good music and no distractions. The most important thing of all is the time to do the job. Working to tight deadlines is all part of the job, especially when you work as I do. The work would be much more considered and better rendered if I was given the time to do things properly. It happens on occasion and those people always get a better quality illustration.
Q….can you describe the design process that you employ in your work in your work?
Firstly you need to get an accurate idea of what the brief requires. It’s so important to know what the client wants exactly. I’m personally not a fan of people asking me to go away with an open brief and come back with something “cool” because the majority of the time the client does know what they want, or more frustratingly, the rough you have just spent two days working on has prompted them into knowing what they want(its never what you have just provided!) and so you have just wasted a lot of unnecessary time.
Once I have got the brief I’ll compile a broad range of reference onto computer and work out how best to come up with a suitable image. I tend not to scribble down any compositional sketches(although I used to) but cut out individual sections and play around with them on photoshop in much the same way you would do with a collage which was the way I went about creating images before I owned a computer. I used to print off my photoshopped image and draw out a quick line drawing for the client to see but lately (as I’ve become a little more proficient) I have emailed over the photoshopped image as the rough itself.
Once the rough is approved then it’s a case of painting. I tend to work very small (no smaller than A4) as the less area I have to cover, the less time it takes me to paint. I use 000 to size 2 brushes to paint, working in acrylic. I use plain old photocopy paper to paint on which is very thin and pritt stick it down to card. This method of working has surprised a few people but I don’t really like working on art boards, thick watercolour paper or canvas as there is just too much texture for the way I want my work to look. The way I work is perfect for my needs and I don’t get any problems with paper buckling or anything like that as I don’t actually use much water in my paint.
Once the painting is complete I’ll scan it and do a few minor adjustments on the computer and then email a high res file off.
Q….is typography important?
I personally don’t use a lot od typography in my own work but yes of course, it’s very important. It can make or break, it can sit unobtrusively, it can be in your face but when it doesn’t work its painfully obvious for all to see.
Q….when you were young, did you always want to become a designer?
I don’t really think I ever thought about being an illustrator, I just enjoyed painting and drawing. I’ve always felt that I just sort of fell into it because I couldn’t do anything else as well as paint. What I do know though is that once I did decide that I wanted to be a working illustrator, I went at it with a lot of focus and determination.
Q….in your opinion, are there ethics in design?
I think that individually artists and designers have their own set of ethics but as a collective then no, I don’t think so. Personally I can think of only two projects I have decided not to work on for ethical reasons.
Q….what is the best time of the day?
I would probably say mid morning when I am still fresh, listening to some music and after a few cups of tea.
Q….do you read design magazines?
No. I don’t read any magazines or newspapers. As far as m concerned the majority of publications celebrate mediocrity. I do read books quite a lot though, and as I grow older, a fascination with manuals!
Q….is news important and if so where do you receive news from?
I do feel it is important to have a good understanding of what’s going on around you. I’m not keen on keen on keeping up with the news via newspapers as they all have their own editorial/political slant that I just don’t have time for. I tend to get my news via the radio or television but even that has a lazyness in the way it is reported.
Q….who would you most like to design something for?
I haven’t really thought about it. I just like to work on projects that are interesting and stimulating that has a reasonable fee and has a sensible deadline. Maybe a Jarvis Cocker Album or Scott Walker.
Q….what would you most like to apply design to?
The whole of the ABKC and the karting scene. If there is one sport that needs some marketing and design consultancy it is kart racing. The purest form of motorsport there is and a real passion of mine. The sport seems unable to modernise itself and with the impact drivers like Lewis Hamilton are having at the moment opportunities are being wasted.
Q….do you discuss your work with other designers?
Well, us illustrators tend to be an unsociable lot but yes, when on the phone or maybe at a private view, we all exchange ideas and stories. Usually it degrades into two camps(essentially both complaining!). Those who have too much work and need a break and those who aren’t getting any work at the moment.
Q….is copyright protection an issue for you or your studio?
I guess it is in that I source most of my reference from magazines or the internet. I had a copyright issue early on in my career and I try not to make that mistake again.
Q….what are the challenges facing design schools?
I’ve done a little bit of teaching and there are three things that seem to me to have disappeared in Art Colleges from when I studied.
First of all, Sketchbooks or scrap books. As far as I’m concerned a student shouldn’t be without one. It should be constantly in use and the student should have a hunger to capture everything around them. There is no 9-5 with this job, it’s all consuming and I don’t find a lot of students with that desire.. Of course there are some but I don’t feel like there are as many as there used to be Is that just my memory playing tricks on me?
Secondly, I find a lot of students now are a bit lazy. If reference or information isn’t found on Google within ten minuites then as far as most are concerned, it doesn’t exist. I realise this isn’t the case across the board and I am generalising , I also understand that this makes me sound particularly old but that’s the impression I have.
Last of all(and tragically!) I find that there are many students who do not actually own any paint or brushes. It doesn’t seem to me that the students aren’t willing to paint, it just seems as though they aren’t encouraged. Many times I have actually had to sit someone down and show them how to mix paint(a basic skill!). I am happy to do it though and it is very rewarding seeing a student take up painting and flourish. It is no wonder that painting in the field of illustration (traditional illustration it’s called now) is becoming an increasingly marginal activity.
Are all of the points I raise the faults of the education system? Not all, but I believe there is a case to answer and maybe my views are a reason for not being asked to teach very often. I believe there are some fantastic students out there and also some truly inspiring tutors but I also think there is a general lazyness and malaise at Art Schools and sadly, I cant see it changing in the near future.
Q….do you have any advice for students of design?
Find what you’re good at, find where you fit in the industry, work out what you need to produce in order to get a foot hold and then do it, brilliantly!
Know that you will suffer set backs and dissapointments, that people aren’t going to clamour for your autograph the moment you leave university.
Understand that there are a lot of very talented people out there all trying to do the same thing you are and that you may need to do something different or clever than the pack.
I know of quite a lot of artists who were very talented that never made it because they felt like they were owed a living as an illustrator and didn’t need to work for it, I also know quite a few who weren’t the most talented but were determined to succeed and worked out how and what they needed to do in order to succeed.
Q….do you have any advice for the young?
Don’t burn your bridges and have a little humility, listen well and take on board what you find relevant. Not one of the things I managed to do when I was young.
Q….is there anything about the future that worries you?
The marginalisation of traditionally crafted illustration and the inability for young designers to actually commission an artist. The inability for some designers to differentiate between an image that has been created digitally and takes maybe half a day to create and a painted piece that can take five days to work up to completion. The minimal fees that have stagnated and don’t seem to have increased over the years are a worry too.