Thursday, 4 March 2010

Paul Kidby Interview

If you are a fan of Discworld, you will surely have seen Paul Kidby’s work on the covers of Terry Pratchett’s novels. Often, a fan will say “that’s exactly how I pictured {insert character name here} in my head.” Bright, interesting and obviously brilliant, Kidby’s work has a classical, renaissance feel. This must be down to his love of the old masters of that time.

So, without extensively going on, I bring you a wonderful, in depth and fascinating interview with the great illustrator Paul Kidby.

Lloyd Harvey: In the illustration industry, a brief for a commission can range from something that lists everything in extreme detail with pages upon pages of guidelines to follow, to a simple one liner like “Can you do me a green dragon?” When working on a Discworld brief, generally how detailed can they be? Do you get much freedom for artistic interpretation? What is it like to work for Terry Pratchett?

Paul Kidby: If I am working on a commission for a Discworld cover the brief is fairly specific and will have been agreed on by all the various departments at the publishers such as marketing, editorial and the art team. The plan will also be approved by Terry before I am sent it via a designer who I will work with for the duration of the project. I then make up preliminary sketches which are sent in for approval; second drawings are also submitted showing any necessary changes and then finally I will settle down to painting.

With other Discworld artwork such as chapter headings there is more flexibility and the brief is less tight because there isn’t such a lot riding on it as there is with a book jacket.

Working for Terry has been a wonderful opportunity to flex my imagination and develop my skills as an illustrator. I don’t work with him as closely as I used to and it’s been a while since I produced any significant body of ‘Discworld’ work, but I am grateful for the opportunities he gave me.

Unseen Academicals. The cover for Terry’s latest Discworld novel

Thud. "This ‘Discworld’ image is regarded by the publishers as my most successful book jacket to date. I am currently producing 3 more so I hope to better Thud with one of them!"

A lot of your portfolio consists of illustrative work for Terry Pratchett and the Discworld franchise. Illustrating the covers for his books is something I would class as a dream job. What sort of illustrative job, other than this, would you class as a dream assignment? Maybe working on a Studio Ghibli title?

Being a self employed illustrator I take most work offered to me, in the past year for example I have done a book jacket for writer Tom Holt, sculpted a mermaid and painted an elephant on behalf of the Orangutan Foundation to be sited in Hyde Park next summer as part of London’s Elephant Parade. The biggest and most exciting project of the year was the publication of a 64 page illustrated book, ‘Le Royaume Enchanté’ which I created with my wife Vanessa, and French publishers Daniel Maghen. My working life is more varied in content than some might presume!

Eko the elephant "This chappie lived with us for a few weeks. He will be in Hyde Park next May, June and July for the 2010 London Elephant Parade, when 250 elephants will be sited around the city. Eko was commissioned by the Orangutan Foundation."

A possible dream assignment for me might be working as a concept designer for the movies; (I saw Avatar lately and was blown away by the creativity of the environments). I also really want to produce more books of my own.

Le Royaume Enchanté, what can you tell us about that?

'Le Royaume Enchanté' is a light-hearted fantasy field guide. The idea for the book began with the concept of the character 'The Cabbage Hunter'. We imagined a gnome who had a close working relationship with a winged snail similar to the Chinese fisherman with the cormorant and the falconer with a hawk. The snail would fly to seek out the highly prized cloud cabbages. The ideas were a mixture of folklore and country remedies, humour (the gnomes wind problem due to his brassica diet which fortunately the snail cannot smell because he has no nose), and natural history.

The jacket cover of Le Royaume Enchanté.

We soon realised that we could create a whole cast of such characters, some earthy and coarse, some beautiful and fragile and others ethereal and spiritual to populate a magical kingdom.

Olivier Souillé, director at the French publishing house and gallery, Galerie Daniel Maghen, encouraged us, and under his guiding hand we were given the opportunity to create a book where all our fae folk, gnomes, goblins and creatures could be together in one volume. For us the book encapsulates our love and respect for the natural world and reveals some of our varied imaginings. It is also the first work that we have produced together so it is a very personal and precious book to us.

The Cabbage Hunter "The first character to be created for Le Royaume Enchanté and the catalyst for a whole new collection of work."

Is your wife Vanessa very hands on with your illustrative work?

Vanessa and I work closely in the creation of all my work. We discuss concept ideas, colour schemes and ways of making improvements and changes. I find it an invaluable help to have a second set of eyes that can look at something fresh and spot what might become a problem. Also without her the bills might be unpaid, emails unanswered and deadlines not met! We hope to make more books together in the future because we had such fun coming up with ideas for the last one, creating the text and images. We do not find it a problem to live and work together, and we both consider ourselves very lucky.

Are you working on anything now?

We are, in fact, working on an entirely new project together at the moment with a third 'team member.' It is an entirely different style of book and a considerably longer and a more complex story. More details will be released closer to publication time!

That sounds very intriguing. Before Discworld, you worked illustrating covers for computer games magazines, would you ever go back to that?

Times change and these days there isn’t really a call for hand drawn artwork for computer game magazines. Digital art is the correct medium for that genre. I don’t make artwork with a computer and therefore it’s unlikely that I would go back to that. I think nowadays the games companies provide ‘blinged’ up graphics from the game to promote it. Making my work in the old fashioned way suits me best, and I like to have an original painting or drawing at the end rather than a digital file.

How did you end up landing that job having previously worked in the field of dentures?

There were a few stages between dentures to magazine covers…the first step was airbrushing designs onto roller blinds in a factory, (a very eighties phenomenon); following that I worked for two studios in London producing greetings cards, video film and computer game packaging and various advertising work. There was plenty of trudging about with a portfolio and plenty of rejections, but I had the optimism and arrogance of youth so I kept at it.

If we were to take a look through one of your sketch books, what would we see that would surprise us? For instance, I know we would see a healthy amount of Discworld design work, but would there be anything darker?

No nothing darker! In my sketchbooks there is indeed plenty of Discworld drawings, but alongside those, rather than darker stuff you would be more likely to see humorous drawings: my dog thinly disguised as a dragon, neighbours thinly disguised as gnomes, various mythical creatures and fey folk. I am inspired by natural objects, folklore, art nouveaux swirls and slender female forms, all of which crop up in my drawing pad alongside the number for our local Indian takeaway, shopping lists and notes from phone conversations.

Can you share with us what you have planned for the rest of 2010? Any shows or books?

2010 will see a crop of new Discworld book jackets – The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight and Amazing Maurice. I’m also going to be producing Discworld calendar artwork. Another project will be creating World of Warcraft Trading Card designs. I will also be working on an exciting new book collaboration. My dealers ‘Books Illustrated’ here in the UK and the Galerie Daniel Maghen in Paris will both be exhibiting my original artwork throughout the year.

Atlantia "I enjoy sculpting and this mermaid is my most recent endeavour. She took me 400 hours to make!"

Questions I ask every artist

What has been your career highlight to date?

Well the most professional fun I have had so far has been working with my wife on our own book, ‘Le Royaume Enchanté’. I found it really liberating working in collaboration with a realistic deadline and enthusiastic publishers who gave us creative freedom.

What was your big break into the illustration industry?

I think my ‘big break’ was being commissioned to produce the artwork for "The Last Hero" by Terry Pratchett.

What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?

When I was young and an aspiring artist, a retired art teacher who lived down the road from my mum and dad gave me weekly lessons. Miss Ockingdon helped me with the essential basics such as anatomy and perspective. Her help was generous and invaluable to me. As for passing forward my own pearls of wisdom – I’m not in the league to really feel in a position to do so, but I do think good old-fashioned hard work and dedication is the key to most things. They say you have to work 10,000 hours at your chosen skill to become proficient, I think that sounds about right.

What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

I think the old saying: “you are only as good as your last piece of work,” rings true. I constantly strive to push forward with my illustration; if I draw a Discworld character I will always try to improve the design, even if I have drawn it many times before. I try to keep an element of ‘freshness’ in my work that I hope keeps people interested in it. My website is useful as it’s a place for folks to contact me directly and to see what I am working on, they can browse the gallery and even buy stuff! I’m not great at the marketing and business side, but I hope my work speaks for itself and will do the leg-work for me!

As an illustrator, what are your biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenges are to keep producing quality artwork that will stand up in an international arena which is crowded with stupendous talent. It’s a tall order and some days its just sheer terror that motivates me!
Pegasus  "The fifth and most recent painting in a series of mythical beasts"

Paul Kidby's Randoms Questions

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Wine gums, liquorice, strawberry mivis and holidays visiting my big sister in Scotland where she was living at the time, we read Lord of the Rings together and I was INSPIRED.

If you were an animal for a day, what would you be?

Something vegetarian – a deer maybe, in the New Forest, or maybe a bird, I’d like to fly like a Swallow.

What are you top 5, all time favourite songs?

Today they are:
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Goldfrappe – A and E
Blur – Good Song
Kate Bush – Running up that Hill
The Killers – Human

What really grinds your gears?

I’m not sure what ‘grinds my gears’ means – if it is ‘what annoys me’ then it’s duplicity and people who are not kind.

And finally, are you a tea or coffee person?

I’m a tea (PG, Earl Grey, Red Bush, Herb), Coffee (instant and real) and Barleycup person – I drink them all when I work depending on mood and whether I’m having a health kick or not.

And there you have it. Thank you for your time Paul Kidby. To those reading, make sure you head over to where you can purchase some high quality prints and stay up to date with all things Kidby.

Also See:

1 comment:

  1. As someone who does not know the artist by name, but recognises his work, I found this to be a very interesting interview.



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