Animal x Iain Macarthur
Creativity is part of the Animal mindset, which is why every season we choose to collaborate with renowned artists, designers or photographers to bring you unique capsule collections. For Spring 2017 we worked with the illustrator Iain Macarthur, transforming his original designs into a new tee edit for men. As we launch the collection, we caught up with him to talk about his work and inspiration.
Fanatical about art since the age of eight, Iain Macarthur works predominantly in pen and ink to produce his extraordinary surreal illustrations. Featuring portraits of people and animals but embellished in a blaze of patterned detail, he creates intense, hypnotic designs.
Mowhawk graphic tee: £22
When did your love of drawing begin?
My love for drawing started at a young age when I was still living in Hong Kong. We lived there for 3 years as my dad used to work in the RAF as an aircraft engineer before moving back to the UK. It was a bit of a culture shock for me—but in a good way! I watched a lot of animé, even though I couldn’t understand what most of them were talking about, I just loved it for the animation. It was this that first motivated me to draw and paint.
Where did you train, and what did you specialise in?
Back in 2004 I went to Swindon College and enrolled in an Art Foundation Course for 2 years. Following that I did Art GNVQ and, finally, studied for a HND Illustration for 3 years. My HND specialised a little in the business side of illustration but we mostly concentrated on practical work. It was a very long and exhausting couple of years, but it was worth it in the end!
Describe your work place for us…
At the moment my workspace is in my bedroom. It can get a bit hectic now and then, as I end up with piles of sketches all over the floor or research images on my wall above my desk! I’m currently looking for a studio to work from and also where I can do large-scale paintings, somewhere in east London.
Which artists do you use as reference?
I usually look at a mixture of artists from the past and also from the present. I like to look at work from Art Nouveau artists such as Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, as I love the use of detail and space in their work. James Jean, Bruno Novelli and David Hale are a few of the modern artists I like to get inspiration from.
What’s your favourite tool? Do you prefer to work traditionally by hand, or use tech?
Ink and pencil are my main tools when I’m working. I’m very traditional when it comes to creating illustrations but I do sometimes edit my images in Photoshop with my graphics tablet.
Iain at work. Pen, ink and infinitesimal detail characterise his designs
Your style is a really unusual contrast of pattern and realism. How did this develop and how would you describe your technique?
I actually developed this style accidently during my college years, I drew a lot of portrait sketches as I was fascinated by creating elegant female faces. I drew so many that I started to get a bit bored of the style, so I tried incorporating different elements and drawing methods such as charcoal, paint, colour and pencil. I then used pen (which I immediately fell in love with!) and doodled random patterns all over it. I felt like that method worked really well and I’ve been drawing that way ever since. I’d say my style is a mixture of surrealism and Zentangle, though I’m trying to avoid making it look too Zentangle and more Art Nouveau.
Can you describe your creative process for us? What’s the starting point?
First off I sketch a few rough ideas out, I browse the Internet or look through books for reference. For instance, if I wanted to draw a patterned tiger head I’d search the Internet for tiger heads at different angles, I then try to figure out how to apply the patterns to the subject and make them flow well within it, so that it’s like an organic layer or a second skin to them. Secondly, I lightly draw the tiger head in pencil on nice fine paper, just a simple outline and a few guidelines to indicate where the patterns will go and in what direction they’ll flow. Then I add the detail in ink and, finally, I scan it and adjust it on Adobe Photoshop.
A blaze of illustrated pattern, like a second skin.
Tell us about the pieces you created for Animal, where did the inspiration come from?
Some of the designs I’ve done for Animal clothing have been inspired by animals and nature. The skull with the mandala on the side of its head was inspired by modern tattoos and geometry; it was one of my faves to draw!
Which other clients have you worked for? Which commission has meant the most to you to date?
I’ve worked with a fair amount of good clients throughout the years such as Nike, All Saints clothing, Landyachtz Longboards, 55DSL, Front Magazine, The Telegraph…but my all time fave commission to work on was Game of Thrones last year. Me and a few talented artists were commissioned to create decorative designs referencing Season 6, to be laser etched into big wooden doors and installed in various hotels and pubs around Northern Ireland. (Game of Thrones is mostly filmed in Northern Ireland.)
You can watch the making of the doors here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OTLFjuabk0
Forging a career as a freelance illustrator is notoriously difficult. What piece of advice would you give to those starting out?
Work hard at what you love doing, look at books and magazines for research and keep getting inspired. Go out there and make some awesome art!
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