Interview with Simon Oxley
Simon Oxley is a British Illustrator and designer living in Fukuoka, Japan. Simon moved to Japan to work in a design company based in Harajuku, Tokyo. Since 2002, he runs his own design and illustration studio, Idokungfoo, and works for clients from all over the world.
He produces illustrated imagery for iStockphoto and he designed the iStockphoto logo. Simon is also the creator of the cute bird graphic that you see on Twitter's homepage. His work features strong Japanese influence and his illustrations are simple and refreshing. So, let's take this opportunity to have a digital chat with him!
1. Hello Simon, could you give us background bio of yourself?
I'm a 39 year old Britisher living in Fukuoka, Japan with my wife, Noriko. We have 2 boys, Tyler 6 and Hagen 4 - they keep us smiling. I worked within a multimedia company in Tokyo for 3 years, Harajuku.
I have been freelancing for 7 years now, making designs for Japanese corporations, Annual Reports for the English speaking institutional investors while producing illustrative imagery for character driven brand promotions, and uploading images to iStockphoto.com. I designed their logo and got to know the CEO Bruce Livingstone. I also designed the bird used as a branding devise by Twitter.
I sell my images on postcards and posters – currently available in the ICA (London), Artisan Bookshop (Melbourne, Aus), Gallery1988, LA and more.
2. What made you pursue digital art as your profession? How long have you been working as a designer? Tell us about your first job.
I always liked drawing, probably gained praise for it which fueled my desire to communicate using images. I like trying to convey ideas using drawing together with words sometimes.
I began working at a local company that produced computer games, lots of programming types there, who were into heavy metal,fantasy/sci-fi, and caffeine drinks. I did the layouts for the cassette inserts from 1989-90.
3. We are curious to know about the Twitter bird image that you created. So how was this illustration conceived? Did you have any idea that it would become so famous and iconic?
Not sure, I cannot remember exactly why I drew the bird. I was uploading like a sausage factory to iStockphoto.com, and tended to draw without too much attention on the subject. I like making icons with careful consideration to the curves and how shapes have relating complementary angles, etc. - very prevalent in Japan. When visiting any shrine in Japan one can bare witness to a multitude of amazing symbols. Simply walk through any Japanese department store to view the most perfect icons and illustrations which form the branding for food and drink packaging.
I did not know the bird would become so famous, although it did and does sell most days, one of my most popular uploads.
4. Twitter's bird may not be a logo but it is an identifiable branding graphic, it has become synonymous with Twitter and it represents Twitter perfectly. But the Company bought this graphic for just $10 or $15 without attribution from iStockphoto or without any credits to you. As a creator of this graphic do you want to comment on this?
Of course it would be great to get a mention on the Twitter site, but I understand why they do not wish to do so, and they are not obligated. I am happy they chose to use the image, no sour grapes at all. I also like what Twitter enables people to do, communicate ideas and emotion. We can all see what effect it's having on global events.
On the 21st June, The Washington Post will publish an article with me, regarding the Twitter bird, it will be placed on the blog and in the Style and Arts supplement. Great promotional value!
5. Your illustrations seems to tell a story, they have simplicity of form and have fun concepts. Where do you find the ideas for your illustrations, what inspires you to create?
Maybe impossible to answer! I, like everyone, have memories which shape me, things which I find funny. I suppose it is luck if others find the same humor in life.
6. Give us an insight into your creative process. Do you sketch traditionally first or start directly on the computer? What tools and applications do you use?
I use Adobe Illustrator CS2 - vector software. I spent years drawing with pencils and painting with ink, paint and brushes. I always kept a pad of paper beside my bed, and would sometimes not sleep for the need to quickly sketch down ideas in the night.
Sometimes, I tend to simply begin drawing shapes, maybe characters, then Frankenstein parts of older drawings with new, and write a comment in a speech bubble. Other times I grab the pencil tool and draw free style shapes. I like the not knowing what will happen and what the outcome will be.
I always write phrases and words which could eventually become illustrated images, when watching TV, talking with my family and friends or walking through the shops and streets.
7. What are the important projects and clients that you have worked with in the past? Also tell us about your experience with designing the logo for iStockphoto and the poster you designed for Coca Cola.
As mentioned, I was an early starter on the iStockphoto game. I got to know the few staff members there at the time in 2005 and they gave me some tasks. I made introduction tutorial characters as well as the logo for photo and video.
For Coke, I worked with an agency based in Brussels - Rock and Roll agency, Wouter De Coster. They specialize in music based graphic projects.
8. You have lot of experience working with micro-stock websites like iStockphoto, give us some professional tips and advice for creating vector illustrations and preparing the artwork for these sites. What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
Tips... well, I was just lucky to find a niche maybe, I had no plan exactly. I just make a variety of images, that way your bottom line won't be affected by changing trends. Diversification is the key, vectors are editable, bendable and can be presented in many forms and colours, so make several versions of the same theme.
One can never determine the success of an image. Just present lots and some will be noticed. The market is diverse, multicultural and massive, someone will dig your stuff, surely!!
9. What project are you working on currently and what excites you most about that project? Is there any dream project you would like to work on?
I am making characters for various brands, also packing and sending cards and posters of my images, then sending them to various small scale shops which does orders in the 100s.
My dream is to be able to fund travel for my family and I to broaden their and my mind. Also, I want to buy a house with a garden so we can grow vegetables, etc. I don't have a dream project. I like how things are right now - living the dream maybe!
10. What do you like or dislike about being in the art and design industry?
I like looking at people's visuals and ideas, listening to people's music and watching their sport. The design industry does not exist independent of everything else in my opinion, so I hardly ever look at sites or exhibitions which try to secularize it from other things. I view design as I look at everything else. I wish design commanded a higher income.
11. How is life in Japan? Do you miss your hometown?
I miss my hometown, I miss the sauces, the air, the smell of countryside, the attitude of British people. But I also feel good in Japan, a parallel universe of sorts. I sometimes suffer culture shock or something, I am not great at the Japanese language so feel lonely in a crowd sometimes. Food is great and generally life is healthy and happy.
12. What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I go to the beach, collect drift wood, swim, tennis, golf, write, read historical Wikipedia print outs. I love the Meiji and Elizabethan Periods, chat with family and friends, play with the kids and watch them draw and write, cook curry, drink beer and wine, and laugh.
13. Thanks for the interview Simon! Would you like to give any advice or tip to artists and designers who are trying to be successful in this growing field or work?
No advise, if it feels right it can't be so wrong?
Simon Oxley on Web
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