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Interview with Rod Hunt

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We are pleased to bring you an interview with Rod Hunt, who is a London based illustrator. This talented artist has an extensive portfolio and has successfully represented clients like BBC, British Airways, Maxim, IKEA, Vodafone, and more. He's designed the cover art for the widespread publication "Change the World 9 to 5′ "His illustrations have a colorful retro-isometric style with detailed character filled landscapes. So without further ado, let's have a chat with him!

1. Hello Rod, where in the UK are you from? Give us a brief bio on yourself.

I’m a London based illustrator/designer who has built a reputation for retro tinged Illustrations and detailed character filled landscapes with UK and international clients in publishing, design, advertising and new media, for everything from book covers to advertising campaigns, and even the odd large scale installation too!

Some of my many clients include Barclays, BBC, Computer Arts Magazine, Dorling Kindersley, The Economist, FHM, Maxim, The Observer, Orange and Vodafone

I’m also currently Deputy Chairman of the UK Association of Illustrators. The AOI was established in 1973 to advance and protect illustrator’s rights and encourage professional standards theAOI.com.

Originally, I was from near the rural town of Bridport in the UK county of Dorset. For the last 12 years I’ve lived in Greenwich, London and I also have my studio there.

2. When did you first feel a calling to be an artist? We would also like to know about your first design job.

I was always a prolific drawer when growing up, but I really didn't consider art as a career until I was 17. Originally, I was planning on pursuing biochemistry and horticulture, and was studying towards that. I was studying art just for fun. But the realization grew on me that I wasn't really enjoying studying the sciences any more and as I spent all my time drawing, art college beckoned.

Like many illustrators I cut my teeth on editorial work. My first editorial commission was illustrating a short story for a women’s erotic magazine. Things could only get better after that. Back then I painted my work in acrylic paints and it was only in 2000 I started to go digital.

3. What are your main tools of trade? And, what does your workstation look like?

I’ve just upgraded to a new 24inch iMac running CS4. Up until then I was working on a G5 Mac with CS1. All my work is produced in Illustrator and I draw with a Wacom Tablet. I’ve also just moved studios due to imminent demolition of my last one, so things are a bit chaotic, unpacking things and getting my workspace how I want it.

4. Your illustrations are very detailed, each and every elements are very well placed, what is the thought process and planning involved in creating these pieces, do you follow any grid system or rule of thirds or compositional principles? Walk us through the creation of a typical image for you.

All my work is produced digitally, but before I go near the computer I start doodling ideas and compositions in an A5 sketchbook with a pencil or biro. These are very quick and throwaway. Once I worked out the rough idea and composition and gathered any visual reference I might need, I work on a larger finished pencil drawing, which I then use as a guide for drawing the final artwork with a graphics tablet in Adobe Illustrator.

Working on my roughs for an isometric piece I don’t use a formal grid system and work everything out freehand. It might not be 100% accurate but I like the imperfections and  feel it makes it all a bit more human. I think it’s important to keep the hands on feel with my work, despite producing the final artwork on the computer. At the end of the day, the computer should just be seen as another way of making a mark on a page.

5. Could you please tell us about your illustration for the cover of "Change the World 9 To 5." How did the project evolve and how was working for it?

It’s one of those random jobs that came from sending out sample postcards to design companies. The design company Antidote and the client We Are What We Do thought my style would be perfect to show a lively, fun work of work for the cover. Everyone who worked on the book did so pro-bono and that initially was an issue for me as I don’t do unpaid work. But Eugenie Harvey from We Are What We Do came over to my studio and was very persuasive, and their press list for the first book was immense, so I agreed. The book’s been very high profile and has led to lots of other opportunities, so it was worth breaking my own rules in this instance.

It was a great project to work on with great people and everyone involved was so enthusiastic all the way through the design process. It was also satisfying to be involved with a project that has captured the public’s imagination and helped educate people on environmental and social responsibility issues.

6. As a freelancer, what do you enjoy about being on your own, as opposed to the design firm environment? Do you feel you’re missing anything from not being in a studio environment?

As freelancer I enjoy being in charge of my own destiny and creating my own opportunities. I like the fact that often I don’t know what I’ll be working on from week to week, and the next phone call could bring a really interesting commission.

For the last 8 years I’ve worked from various studios in Greenwich, sharing with other artists. It’s good to have other people around, have a chat and see what everyone else is doing. Working on your own from home can be quite isolating and not something I’d want to go back to.

7. Your illustrations have a very fabulous retro style, how did you come to develop this style? What attracts you most about it?

I think it’s important to indulge your personal interests in your work and create your own unique voice, as that is what will set you apart from everyone else.

I love old illustration from 50’s and 60’s advertising, Pulp Fiction covers, album sleeves, old posters, etc. Having a sense of history and what’s gone before is very important, as you can’t learn from just what everyone is doing today.

I also grew up with Science Fiction films like Star Wars, The Day the Earth Stood Still  and Forbidden Planet, and old TV shows like Flash Gordon and Star Trek. Their design aesthetic definitely stayed with me and their visions of the future are still what I think the future should look like.

And of course the robots were always cool! I also owned a few old tin robot toys as a kid, which were amongst my favorite toys.

8. Share with us your favorite Adobe Illustrator tool, tip or technique.

I tend to use Illustrator almost as a straight drawing tool and use effects sparingly. The biggest thing for me is making working in Illustrator a smooth and economical process, so it’s essential to learn keyboard shortcuts. I also zoom in and out of the artwork a lot while I work on a piece, so have programmed the side key on the Wacom pen to be zoom in/out keys.

I haven’t had time to get to grips with the new features in CS4 yet, so we’ll see where it takes me.

9. What role do you play as Deputy Chairman of the UK Association of Illustrators? What are the duties and responsibilities involved?

I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the AOI for about 7 years and Deputy Chairman for about 4 years. As part of the Board we’re responsible for the strategic direction and good management of the organization, and ensuring the AOI’s members interests are looked after. As the only body to represent illustrators and campaign for their rights in the UK, the AOI has successfully increased the standing of illustration as a profession and improved the commercial and ethical conditions of employment for illustrators.

I also chair the committee for the AOI’s Images, best of British Illustration competition and exhibition, and only jury selected awards book in the UK.

10. What project are you working on now and what excites you most about that project?

I’m currently working on a big project creating a whole 32 page picture book for a major BBC TV show. I can't give too many details at the moment, but it’s pretty crazy book, very detailed and challenging, but an immense amount of fun. It’s will be out at the end of September, so not too long to wait to see the results.

11. What are your biggest design influences or inspirations? What contemporary designers do you admire?

I’m a big observer of popular culture, film, TV, etc, and that makes it’s way into my work. Comics were my big love as a kid (and still are), especially 2000AD/Judge Dredd, and that fired my imagination and inspired me to draw.

One of my favorite artists is American painter Edward Hopper and has been a big influence on me. Just love how he lights and captures a scene.

Things that inspire me, in no particular order: Edward Hopper, comics, 2000AD/Judge Dredd, pulp fiction covers, sci-fi, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, robot toys, retro 50's/60's/70's advertising and graphics, architecture, animation, film, Mad magazine...

A few other contemporary illustrators I admire include Serge Seidlitz, Boo Cook, Russell Cobb, Mark Ryden, Catalina Estrada, Andy Smith, Gary Taxali, Gary Baseman, Jon Burgerman.

On the design front Non Format, Peter Saville and Mark Farrow are just consistently great.

12. What changes do you see happening in digital vector arts in the next few years?

That’s a difficult question, but I’d probably say there will further crossover into motion graphics, and possibly the fine arts adopting more digital technology and vector graphics.

13. Is there any dream project you would like to work on? What would it be?

Anything that stretches me creatively, giving me the opportunity for my work to be seen in different contexts and new mediums.

If I was to have a wish list of commissions I'd say designing the interior of a bar/club/store, a whole building facade wrap (like Selfridges did in London for their renovations), an illustrated book of the future (obviously the future would be retro), and some stuff for a cool clothing label like Mambo or Quiksilver. I’d also like to do some more interactive installations along the lines of the Lightbox Museum and Gallery project.

14. Thanks Rod, for the interview. What advise can you provide to illustrators who are trying to be successful in this growing field?

Get out there and get your work seen by as many people as possible. You should never be afraid to show people your work. You maybe the best designer/illustrator in the world, but if no one sees your work, you won’t get commissioned

Perseverance. It can take quite some time to get really established.

I’d recommend joining the UK Association of Illustrators (AOI). They’re constantly campaigning to protect all illustrator’s rights, and if you need advice on pricing commissions, contracts, promotion, etc, it really pays to get help from the experts.

Maintain control over your Copyright in your Illustrations. There are very few occasions that clients need to own the Copyright in your work. Your body of work is your livelihood, and you should be entitled to the financial benefits of your talent and hard work.

Rod Hunt on the Web

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