Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Alumni; Magazine interview with Luke Spooner

I thought I'd send through the text from an interview I did back in August/September for a  horror magazine in which I was feature as artist of the month as well as their cover artist for the issue. There's a couple of things that people just starting out may find interesting in there so I've copied and pasted it into this email to save you having to buy the issue. I've put the questions in bold so that you can find which questions and answers interest you. There are some about my artistic education, how I tackle a piece from beginning to end and also how I got started.

UtB:  Let's start with an easy one: Illustration.  Why? 

Initially, once I realized I wanted to do something creative, I started subconsciously weighing up my options as to what it was I could possibly see myself doing for the rest of my life. I was able to do a fair few things when it came to being visually creative, like photography, animation etc. but it would always boil down to drawing, painting and just being able to arrange things on a page. I then took stock of my life previously and noticed that, although it hadn’t seemed odd to me in the slightest, I had always been drawing and painting in whatever medium I had to hand and it was something I clearly enjoyed. Plus – I loved anything with a narrative. If you were to pick up a handful of my CDs, my films, my books and video games – you’d see that the common thread is always a strong narrative. So with that in mind I decided that illustration was the best way forward as it allowed me to do what I loved, explore new narratives and stories that perhaps the world hadn’t even seen yet and hopefully get paid for it in return. There’s a saying that goes: ‘If you can do something you love for a profession then you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ and I started quoting it as a front line of defense whenever people questioned why on earth I was doing what I was doing.
However, once I got out of University and started interacting with clients and their source material I came to appreciate the level of honesty and trust between client and illustrator. As an illustrator you become a translator of sorts for the author’s work and that in turn is a huge responsibility and ultimately an honor, but I think that in my line of ‘darker’ illustration I have had the opportunity to translate some of the most honest pieces of work I will ever read. Darker fiction, or ‘horror’ if we fancy being very general, is often the stage through which people explore and play out some very deep things about themselves. I’ve had clients that use their writing to explore their sexuality, their fears, their beliefs, their passions – even some shocking home truths but ultimately it’s honesty and that’s something that I respect above all else. In everyday life, and especially as an illustrator or writer, it is far easier to lie than to tell the naked truth.

UtB:  Often, we ask our horror artists why they can't draw something pleasant.  But you do create art for children as well as truly disturbing horrific art.  Why so versatile? 
When I came out of University I started applying for anything and everything that had the word ‘illustration’ in the title. After weeks of sending just over 1,000 emails I got a reply from a brand new publisher who wanted to commission me to write and illustrate a children’s book with the hopes of developing it into a series. I was completely baffled as I had no idea what they’d seen in my style of work that had led them to think I was capable of such things but I had a stack of work that didn’t get added to the portfolio (ironically because it wasn’t dark enough) that proved that I might be up to the task. A year later the books came out (‘The Girl Who Could Make Things Float’ was the debut) and I had a great working relationship with the publisher but I was also suddenly aware of how balanced I felt. Something that should seem obvious but isn’t as an illustrator is that if you do dark work all day long – you get a little dark in yourself by association, so having that new outlet to explore a happier side was incredibly relieving and eventually I remembered I used to enjoy that sort of work long before all my darker stuff started creeping as a student. Anyway – a year into being an illustrator I was still relatively unknown for my children’s book work but I was also aware of how niche I was as a darker artist. I knew I wanted to be doing this for the rest of my life so it seemed that the best way to do so would be to have a more inclusive style of illustration running in tandem to my existing ‘Carrion House’ style that could bring in the extra funds I needed to comfortably keep myself in what I love. I needed a style that would be commercial but at the same time uniquely my own and that’s how my ‘other’ illustration alias: ‘Hoodwink House’ was born. However, upon making this decision and launching it to the world, Carrion House started gaining more and more popularity, almost like some sort of sibling rivalry, and suddenly Hoodwink House seemed to become the supporting style but that hasn’t deterred me from pursuing both in equal measure. I have numerous projects for both styles in the pipeline and am almost at a stage where I’d consider both styles to be 50/50 split in contributing to who I am as an illustrator.

UtB:  How important is it to you to keep the macabre and fairy tales separate?  I mean, have you ever read those Brothers Grimm? 
I find it very difficult to stop the darker work bleeding into the child-friendly work quite often, although it’s not usually until I am about half way into one of the happier projects that this starts to happen. This could be chalked up to the fact that I don’t really separate my work whilst it’s ‘in utero’ – my desk is covered in drawings of corpses and happy woodland creatures in equal measure, but you rightly mentioned the Brothers Grimm, and they are proof of how fine line the line between whimsy and melancholy truly is. For instance I recently had the chance to collaborate on a children’s book called ‘Emlyn and the Gremlin,’ with an incredible author by the name of Steff F. Kneff, that has a plot built around the idea of a small, humanoid creature sneaking into a young girl’s bedroom at night to play with her possessions, whilst she sleeps, before leaving again come morning. Now, obviously the story is incredibly bright, very happy and is created with the aims of teaching children not to judge on first impressions, the importance of understanding other people’s reasons and backgrounds etc. but with themes like breaking and entering, small children being visited by strange life forms – and a rhyming pattern throughout reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, you can see how easily (and how tempting) it could have been to just cross the line into darker territory for a spell and see what would happen. But on reflection, I think all of the best children’s stories have an element of horror within them, whether it’s obvious or sub text, it’s that element that stays with you long after you close a page and adds a lasting effect to any moral lesson that the book may have been trying to impart. I heard someone once say that a great comedian is the perfect choice when casting a drama because they know how peoples’ minds work and I think it’s the same for darker writers and artists – they can explore and appreciate innocence on a level uncharted by most because they know what real horror is capable of.

UtB:  Artists vary widely in their education and training.  Please tell us about yours.
In the U.K we tend to go: Nursery school, infants school, primary school, secondary school, A-Level or sixth form for two years, then University. It’s whilst I was at A-Level that I realized I was going to be doing something creative. The teacher that I had for those two years was one of the biggest influences on my work ethic and overall respect for the artistic world, in all it’s forms. He would tell you outright if he thought your work was terrible and had no problems berating you in front of the whole class – he even ripped out one of my sketchbook’s pages and forced me to paint over another with white wash but he did it in such a way that you went away wanting to prove him wrong, not out of petty teenage angst, but out of pure respect and admiration. He was an artist in his own right, still is, and his studio would be covered in students’ work, past and present, as well as his own work right along side it. He’d set us up for a lesson, tell us what we had to get on with, show us how and then go over to one of his massive canvasses and paint his own personal piece right alongside us for the rest of the lesson. I think it was that effortless transition from professional creative to self-directed creative that showed me first hand how easily your passions could be transferred to real ‘working’ life. It gave me hope and something to aim for. Then, I went to do a ‘Foundation degree’ before University which, unless you are an art student, is fairly uncommon and lasts roughly a year.  I did mine in London, Wimbledon, and you spent the first couple of weeks sampling everything the establishment had to offer. Then you whittled it down your three favourite fields for another month or so before finally selecting what you thought you were most suited to. I ended up in a scary umbrella option called ‘visual communication,’ which basically meant commercial imagery in the most general sense. I was trapped in a room shoulder to shoulder with photographers, graphic designers, typographers, traditional illustrators, children’s book illustrators and even a couple of ‘fine artists’ who had severely lost their way but continued to scratch their chins and occasionally ask from across the room in their most Shakespearian monologue style voice: ‘what does it all mean?!’ I made it out the other side of that year with a huge sense of confusion and a strange mix of influences caused me to temporarily lose sight of what I truly wanted to be. But when I got to Portsmouth for my University degree everything was confirmed. I was reminded of what I truly enjoyed and what I wanted to do more of in the future, I found it all by ironically being forced to look more inwardly than outwardly at the other students I was grouped with. The tutors were practicing illustrators so you knew there was truth in every shred of advice they saw fit to pass your way and it felt like a continuation of my formative A-Level experience. I was receiving the tools to do what I wanted to do but only the choice to practice and perfect them, to bend them to my will was completely up to me. The unofficial mantra of the illustration degree at Portsmouth is “what you put in – you will get out,” and I know that sounds like common sense but you’d be amazed at how many people decide to sit back, put in minimum effort and sit lethargically in the belief that the work will just find them. It doesn’t work like that and once you’re out of the starting gate you know that. You have to do the leg work, you have to put yourself out there and you have to believe in the work you’re creating but if you truly enjoy what you’re doing then it won't even feel like effort. It’ll feel necessary. I heard from one of my friends at a London based art degree that her department’s mantra during her University years was “nobody wants you,” which although incredibly depressing is an unfortunate truth. The difference with my time at Portsmouth and my combined education to that point is that I came out of there wanting to make people want me and that’s probably more important than the degree itself.

For the full interview see 'Under the Bed' September 2014 Vol. 02, No. 12