Chris Kasch.Illustration

Q and A’s for a major project / April 8th, 2008

I’ve had one or two people using my work in their university major projects and a few little interviews, which I’m always happy to do. I thought these Q and A’s might be of use to others and so now that I have this blog its perfect to post here. Thanks to Andy for allowing me to use the interview.
(1) How did you get into illustration?
I’ve never really felt like I had a choice. I have virtually no qualifications that the ‘real world’ would be interested in and I never even considered being anything else (maybe a graphic designer at foundation but that would have ended in disaster I think). I just went through the art school system, listened to some great tutors and battled with the ones I didn’t agree with. The usual really!
(2) Do you enjoy what you do?
Hmm, that’s a funny one. You try finding an illustrator that doesn’t love a bloody good moan, and try listening to a room full of them!
It very much depends on the job I’m doing at the time I think, and how ridiculously busy or desperately quiet I am. I’ve been an illustrator for fourteen years now and it’s very much a job for me and all the other full time, long-term illustrators out there. Sometimes you enjoy your job, sometimes not. I guess I have actually considered quitting illustration twice but I never have. I’m very much locked into it, there isn’t anything I can do that’s better.
(3) What skills do you feel a designer/illustrator needs to be successful today?
These days I couldn’t say. I feel that the landscape of illustration and design has shifted slightly since I started out, and I’m not convinced that if I did the things now that I did to become an illustrator back then that they would work now.
I still think that having very thick skin and a determination and drive to succeed are two things you can’t do without. A little guile and enough initiative to get you noticed ahead of a throng of equally talented people can’t hurt either.
As for skills on a practical level, well I’m going to assume you already have them and even if you don’t have them in abundance there is no reason that with a bit of that hard work and perseverance that you can’t earn yourself a living anyway.
(4) Do you agree that experience is just as important as talent in the design world?
I suppose it is but very often you can only gain experience by learning from your own mistakes.
(5) What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
I’d say it’s staying home and not having to deal with people. I could quite happily not speak to anyone for months on end. I’ve done the 9-5 jobs and I didn’t really enjoy working with the public at all. I sit at home and do my little illustrations with no real idea of how people see them and I must say it’s very nice to occasionally get positive feedback from people.
(6) Are Graphic designers/Illustrators becoming more dependent on software?
Possibly yes, and illustrators. I find myself increasingly isolated as an illustrator who actually paints these days, with some designers having very little clue how to commission and use original artwork and just as importantly, how to safely store artwork until it’s returned to the artist.
One of the most obvious drawbacks with painting traditionally is that commissioning editors seem either unwilling or unable to give someone like me more time than an illustrator who works digitally and very often has a much quicker turn around. I’d have to say that the people who plan ahead and actually give me the time to do my work are really cherished and in return they very often get the benefits of a higher quality of considered artwork.
(7) What would be the ultimate goal in your illustration career?
I pretty much keep hold of the majority of my artwork and so, one day I’d love to have a big retrospective (somewhere with a bit of glamor and packed to the rafters!). I had a fairly successful exhibition at the start of my career which kick started things for me and it would be nice to have a big exhibition in later years. I have always wanted to produce my own personal work to sell through galleries and possibly earn my living that way but I’ve never really figured out how I can do that, especially with the lack of free time I have so this would be the next best thing.
(8) What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’ve never looked at any of it as an achievement.
I guess my biggest accomplishment has been to continue to be a working illustrator (working traditionally) who has maintained a high and consistent level of work in an environment that all too often promotes mediocrity.
(9) What advice can you give to a graduate who is just starting out in the field of graphic design or illustration?
I always tell people that it took me three years of hard graft to get my first job and I tell them how hard it was for me. My lowest point was two years into that period when I dropped my portfolio off for someone to look at. I returned to this major magazine a couple of hours later and spoke to the person manning the desk. ‘some one will be right with you’ she said. Ten minutes later I saw a pair of trainers at the top of a big chrome escalator, and my portfolio. This utter shit just dropped my folio onto the escalator and let it descend down to me. That was the last straw for me and I considered that I might not be made of the right stuff to make it as an illustrator.
Illustration for a year after that was very much a hobby for me, but in that period I discovered exactly what it was that I was interested in and what I wanted to paint about. My ‘style’ slowly started to change (without calculation) to accommodate the things I wanted to paint about and I created a whole new portfolio of work that id done for my own enjoyment. As I started to show this work around there was a very different response to it and people were interested in commissioning me.
The point of my story is simple. I’m not trying to be negative or scare people. I’m just trying to show that it’s tough and that you shouldn’t give up. Take the knocks and move on, toughen up. I’ve known better illustrators than myself give up within six months of leaving university because they feel that the world owes them a living so you need to realise that talent alone doesn’t guarantee you success.
(10) How did you develop your particular style as an illustrator?
I guess I’ve partly covered that in the last question. I realise now that while I was at university I was trying to please everyone but myself. Everything I did was on a style/composition level. My work was very loose and I was pretty influenced by folk art at the time. The turning point in my work came when I left university and things just weren’t happening for me (as I’ve covered in the last question) and I just started to paint for myself. ‘Style’ was forgotten about. Music, fashion and books were the things I now wanted to paint about for no other reason but because it pleased me to do so. I was very much into the mod movement and books like Martin Amis’ ‘London Fields’ were of importance to me. I distinctly remember wanting to paint someone in a betting shop wearing Adidas Samba trainers (pictured above). Painting in the loose way that I had been doing didn’t allow me to describe those trainers how I wanted to. Similarly, I had some very specific stitching on a jacket I wanted to describe and now my style of painting was changing (in a subconscious way) to suit what I wanted to paint, and satisfy the need I felt to add detail to those things.
(11) Who are your influences?
As a student I really studied some artists and tried to understand how they made their pictures work. None of them were illustrators or designers and I couldn’t tell you if that’s a good or a bad thing. They were all ‘fine artists’ for want of a better word. These days I don’t often look at them for inspiration, possibly because they are already ingrained into the way I work already. I did however attend an exhibition in Liverpool by the fantastic Peter Blake who is still something of a hero for me and I was both in awe of his work and a little pissed off! (The competitive juices were flowing freely!). Anyway, here are some of the people that I would consider an influence on my work. Michael Andrews, Patrick Caulfield, R. B. Kitaj, Peter Blake and David Hockney.