Of Beasts and Machines

"I see myself as halfway between a writer and an artist""

Feature by Rosamund West | 05 Feb 2008

Andrew Rae's illustrations will be recognisable from a wide variety of media including MTV ads, TV's Monkey Dust, and his own book 'Of Beasts and Machines'. London-based, he works as a commercial illustrator both freelance and within the Peepshow collective. He is currently showing at Recoat gallery with a selection of prints and a specially-made mural. Leigh Pearson caught up with him when he came up to hang the show to talk about creativity, the nature of art, and Where's Wally.

How do you feel your works fits into a gallery space?

[Exhibiting]'s never really been an intention of mine, as a commercial illustrator. But within our collective we've always made a point of doing exhibitions, mostly as a way to produce self-motivated work. If you're working for clients they're often pushing you in directions you don't necessarily want to go in. A gallery exhibition's a way to break away from that. Once people see the exhibitions, it can influence the [commercial] work you get as well. It's a weird one, though. How the art world looks on illustrators - they're not very impressed.

What sort of experience do you want to create for the viewer within the gallery?

I don't want people to come away feeling cheated and confused, I guess. As an illustrator you're trying to create work for a wider audience rather than for an elite, as you may as a fine artist. I'm not trying to be exclusive - I guess I see myself as halfway between a writer and an artist, which is why there's quite often text in my drawings. You can read them. Most of my illustrations tend to have a fairly simple point you can take away from them.

I wanted to ask you about your MTV poster. It reminded me of Where's Wally (no offence).

Well I did actually address that. There's a kind of Where's Wally character down the bottom getting beat up. There's definitely a slight similarity there. But at the same time, it's not the same in terms of the creative process. With Where's Wally every character's quite simple and the whole thing's done in one go (I suppose. I don't actually know how they do that.) Whereas I tend to do each character individually and then put it into the computer. Each character's drawn about so big [indicates the size of an A4 page] cos when I draw them smaller I'm never happy with the way they come out.

Is there a certain set of conditions that makes you feel most inspired?

I've been thinking about that lately, actually. When I first started working I was working at home on my own generally, and now I work in a studio with nine other people [in the Peepshow collective]. It's interesting trying to fit working into a working day, try and get home for dinner and so on. It's getting to the point now where I'm wanting to force myself out of the studio, get some time to think. I'm quite a late night sort of person, I think a lot of creative people are. I also tend to put work off a bit at the start, until I feel I have to do it, then once I'm going I can't stop until I realise I'm hungry or something.

Do you look at other illustrators' work at all?

I kind of try not to, to be honest. I kind of feel like it's too small a pool. There's so much more out there to see. I find with students now (I've been doing some teaching), they'll be really clued up about illustration, but they don't seem to look much further beyond that. You need to be reading, and watching films and… Everything has to go into it.

How do you feel about all these illustration books being published?

I have mixed feelings about it. Some of them are done well, some aren't. I don't like when people order the work by what looks similar. You get people looking at it going 'who did that first?', people lying about the date they did stuff… There's also an issue as an illustrator, with people giving their work to publishers for free. Prices for illustration are going down, and part of the reason for that is people being prepared to work for less, or for nothing, and there comes a point where, as a professional, you shouldn't do that. It's like socialism really, you all have to club together and make sure that doesn't happen. But equally, when you're starting out you have to get stuff published to make a name for yourself. And that can mean working for free. It's a difficult one, we need to find a balance.

Finally, what are your plans for the future?

Publishing a book. More work with Peepshow. It's also important to just make time to do my own work. It takes time, and it's important to remember that.

Andrew Rae is showing at Recoat until 13 Feb