Once upon a time in Bromsgrove...
I was 17 when I saw my first Studio Ghibli movie. I was at boarding school studying for my A-levels at the time: Business Studies, Biology and Physics when a friend walked into my dorm and dropped a dodgy bootleg DVD he had brought back from Hong Kong on my lap. It was in a scuffed up semi-opaque cd sleeve with a poorly reproduced and awkwardly cropped cover image that read Spirited Away.
|Film poster for Spirited Away, Hayao Mayazaki, Japanese film director, animator, manga artist, illustrator, producer, and screenwriter.|
After watching, I skipped my class that afternoon and hopped the West wall of the school to get into town. I bought my first proper sketchbook and proceeded to fill it with very poor drawings. As it turns out, drawing was rather difficult and I was probably going to need some form of structured education in the subject. Within a week I had dropped Physics and switched to Art nearly halfway through the two year course. As you may expect it was a fairly disastrous experience for everyone involved, providing multiple existential crises for the poor faculty trying to catch me up on years of missed classes. I managed to scrape by with a passing grade but most importantly for me, I was slowly but surely improving.
…and then there was College
After a brief jaunt at the university of Teesside studying computer animation, I applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2004 I made the perilous journey to the swamps and wetlands of the deep south to study Sequential Art in the picturesque and almost certainly haunted City of Savannah, Georgia.
Art school is a funny place and I get a lot of people asking if it's worthwhile to attend an Art College. The honest truth is, there is very little you can learn at an Art school that you couldn't learn under your own steam if you are willing to do the work. However, for me it was an invaluable experience. It gave me four years to catch up on everything I had missed by waiting so long to get into Art. I could focus on getting as solid a grasp on the basics as possible. I took every foundation class going, anything that taught traditional draftsmanship, perspective, and composition.
I was exposed to new methods and inspirations I never would have experienced otherwise: The sequential work of Juanjo Guarnido (Blacksad), Pierre Alary (Belladone) and Man Arenas (Yaxin) obliterated any preconception I had of how a narrative could play out across a page. The fluidity, energy and effortless communication performed by great story artists like Rodolphe Guenoden and Chris Sanders. The ability for vis dev artists like Mary Blair and Gustaf Tenggren to so succinctly capture an entire scene with a single image. These and many more would become touchstones in my own progress and growth for years to come.
|Inside spread from Blacksad, illustrated by Janjo Guarndo and written by Juan Díaz Canales.|
|Man Arenas; visual development from the 7th Dwarf.Man recently worked on Studio Soi’s The Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s Child.|
I completed my four year course in Savannah in a little less than three by taking extra classes as well as summer semesters. I knew what I wanted to do, for the first time I could start to see significant improvement in my work and I was eager to get out into the world and continue my growth. I graduated in 2007. Just in time to watch the credit crisis and the global recession unfold.
Seriously, what was the deal with 2007 anyway?
After graduation I moved back to Teesside in the North East of England. The job market for paid art work shrank rapidly as creative budgets along with most other budgets across the western world dried up, which is bad news if you are trying to break into an industry.
The next two years were tricky. I worked as a freelance graphic designer when I could find the work and focused on improving my personal work and painting. I knew I wanted to tell stories but wasn't really sure how to go about it. I chased jobs in animation, comics and computer games and between 2008 and 2012, contributed to multiple Disney press projects as well as doing freelance design work for social games such as Zynga's Farmville.
|Process gif for, Down the River, showing initial sketch to final digital painting.|
Rosie's Rainy Day
It wasn't until the end of 2012 that I really gave pure illustration a shot. Up until then, most of my work had been providing designs or sequentials for small projects that typically never saw the light of day. When I received comps of my first physically published work for the Collected John Carter of Mars covers I painted for Disney, I knew I wanted to make my own books. After spending years trying to learn how to paint in a way that would make my illustration useful for other people's projects, I went about actually creating something for my self, and stumbled into a story about a little girl called Rosie and her adventures on a Rainy Day.
|Early design work for Rosie’s Rainy Day, picture book in progress.|
Between 2013 and now my focus has been on developing my work to try and carve my own little niche in the world of children's literature. I joined the SCBWI in the Autumn of 2013 and have had nothing but support and encouragement from one of the most talented group of individuals I have ever met. I attended the SCBWI British Isles conference in 2013 where I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Illustration award for Best of Portfolio and chosen to be one of the exhibitors in the Members’ Showcase, as well as being picked up by the Advocate Agency.
|Sketchbook page showing the importance of life drawing.|
Since then I have provided layouts and illustration for Viz Media's Catbug's Treasure Book which will be published in August as well as continuing to develop and paint my own stories which I hope to find a home for in the coming year.
See more of Alex's work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery
Alex is represented by Advocate Art and maintains a personal portfolio Alexinatree
See his Sketches and process on tumblr
Occasional tweets: @alexinatree