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I'll own up from the beginning. I failed at art in school big time. I got CSE grade 5. That means I really sucked at art. I believe I did that badly because I was never really taught what art was and so didn't know how to do art. Mind you lots of the other kids did okay so maybe I just wasn't listening.
For my exam exhibition I blatantly copied some 2000AD artists. It's a miracle I wasn't disqualified. Now I think about it, the grade 5 was a good result. I clearly must've shown promise as a forger.
I started drawing for myself about 3 years later, at Sixth Form college. My art student girlfriend and our mutual besties inspired me and imparted some cool drawing techniques, and I've kept a sketchbook ever since. I found it immediately relaxing and fascinating, practising every day by sketching people, the Norfolk marshland vistas and by doing blind self-portraits. It soon became a daily wordless journal.
For 20 years I thought of my drawing as having no purpose beyond personal enjoyment. Heaven forbid doing it for other people, and so I never sought professional rigour or technical improvement. I actively dismissed my friends asking why I didn't stop playing playstation and make something. For me, I just thought that if I still like drawing when I'm 60 I might also be all right at it.
But about 6 or 7 years ago something started niggling me. In my head I was a creative first and [insert job title here] second. But my life between those squared brackets was rarely creative, dominated my time, and I was usually pretty unconvincing at them - I've endured a varied career comprising some quite highs and very lows. So I decided to focus on Illustration as a platform.
I started at the beginning and took a short course, 'Exploring Illustration' I think it was called, at the old St Martins on Southampton Row and after the final week was utterly despondent. The tutor (a highly conceptual fine art illustrator) told me flat-out I couldn't draw. So I stopped altogether, resigning myself to not drawing for a living. The sketchbook for that time lasted for about 3 years.
In 2013 I got wind that my job in a struggling charity was under threat of redundancy. I started wondering what to do next and thoughts returned to drawing again. At that point I realised something about what I'd been filling my sketchbooks with all that time - characters. Nothing like the industry idea of character design, for sure, but all those odd people with odd emotions were rough character sketches, even all of the portraits of people in cafes and riding buses. I’m obsessed with characters. I decided to try again, and took the redundancy quickly.
I found more short courses, technical ones to improve my skills, and this time the courses made complete sense and I found myself in exactly the right place. My drawing styles fitted perfectly. I found complete joy in life drawing and in discovering the process of character design. For that course I needed a project to focus it on so I tried to develop a children's character, a plucky little Siberian girl, that I'd recently doodled. The tutor taught us how to give a sense of movement and animation to drawings.
It was also about this time that I considered joining SCBWI and asked to sit in on the London illustrators crit group. I joined SCBWI soon after. The crit group, portfolio reviews, meeting actual illustrators, agents' parties; SCBWI has been the difference in my thinking of myself as an illustrator. A year later my first commission for OUP came, after the senior designer saw my work on the Siberian girl, and I'm about to embark on my third with them. Nowadays, illustration comes first. The 'square bracket me' is still taking jobs but now he supports the creative.
My working process has changed enormously over time of course, and it's still evolving with each commission's choice of media, but both Warriors of Honour and For the Fallen more or less followed the same process.
Everything starts with pencil sketches, doodles, thumbnails, storyboarding, followed by rough layouts, then I head over to Photoshop. I use Kyle T. Webster brushes. I redraw everything for the final roughs in PS and then build on those for the final art. The colour palette and line styles develop throughout, but I always show the commissioner my thinking in advance.
I also love the freedom and versatility of ink with both dip pen and asian brushes and the next commission will be less focused on digital. But then again, the process always evolves, and letting the process in is what defines the end product for me.
I feel like I have so much more to learn compared to the knowledge I can impart, but this much I do know:
Firstly, if being commissioned by a publisher or signed by an agent is your ultimate goal, don't focus on it. You may start to second-guess what people want or expect and that way lies madness. It's quite hard, but focus on personal projects. Revel in your own art's weird and quirky bad self. When the right people knock on your door it'll be because they want you. As Yuko Shimizu says, she can't work on personal projects because she's too busy with commissions that ask her to just be her.
Also, if it wasn't for the web I wouldn't be a working illustrator, so if you've not yet sorted out a basic website or use Twitter and Instagram a little, start now. It doesn't take long and it only takes one person to love one image to gain a new client. My first paid commissions all came from the Siberian girl after I put her on Behance. Since then I've tried to be creative *and reliable* and, luckily so far, they've all asked me to draw for them again.
Thanks for asking!
See more of Patrick's fantastic work on his Featured Illustrator Gallery page.
Patrick's personal website is here. Also on Behance
He's represented by Davinia at Andlyn