Focus talks digital art, architecture and markets with in demand illustrator Paul McBride

Paul McBride works as an illustrator and sells his work at art fairs and markets throughout London.

What lead you to become an illustrator?

I’ve always drawn things and sketched things. As far as being an artist is concerned, I only started selling my paintings and work three or four years ago. There was a place nearby, which was opening and they wanted people to sell things from a stall as part of the launch. I made two prints and one sold particularly well. For years before that I’d thought I should be selling my work, but hadn’t done it. Off the back of that experience I thought that I should do more.

Looking back, I’ve worked in creative industries for quite a while, from design agencies to animation studios. I’d always worked in that field, and I facilitated a lot of other people’s creative ideas, but I always had my own. That moment when I started selling the prints made me think why don’t I create more of my own work? Then I can have ownership and not just be facilitating other people’s ideas.

What is your process?

I’ve lived in London for a few years and I enjoy creating images of London, of Brixton, or other parts of the city. When I get an idea which tells a part of that narrative I will go and hand draw some sketches, which scan and then use Illustrator or Photoshop to complete. I have a lot of drawings on A4 bits of paper where I create my characters, and then piece them together digitally.

So, you use digital technology to feed and perfect the ideas that you have come up with by traditional sketching?

Yes, it’s part of my process, which has come from my work life. I didn’t do a fine art degree. I studied interior architecture at college, after which I decided to further my abilities on computers and I studied an MSc in digital animation, which took me into the world of computer animation, creating ads, and pop promos; that kind of thing.

With my prints, I started off screen printing, but the problem I found was that you do a batch and then you have to  hope that they sell. So, I quickly moved into digital, although traditionally that is not seen as an artist medium as it’s such a new technology, but having worked in animation this technology was my logical method. It gave me an opportunity to play with ideas and see what worked and what didn’t without too much investment.

What drives you to live as an artist?

I primarily see myself as an image maker, with a purpose to create images around ideas.

Once I started doing things for myself I got into bigger, more complete illustrations, so I then saw myself as more of an illustrator. Now people are buying my work and hanging it on their walls, so I suppose that makes me an artist. But I didn’t think one day I will be an artist. It was all a process which led me to that point.

If you had to name one artist or creative inspiration who would you call to mind?

I’ve got a few books on Edward Bawden, I find him very interesting; he did a lot of illustration and print making. Also, a guy called Maurice Noble, he worked with Warner Bros and has a really interesting book about staging and colour theory.

What is it about the clean, graphic nature of the design process which appeals to your personality?

I think the process of creating the digital image tends to push the work in that direction.

When I first went to the market, I didn’t go for my ego as an artist, I wanted to sell stuff and be practical. I think that this has been a factor in making my work appear clean. I would appeal to what people found interesting, then draw it and find something within that subject for myself. That way I could have a happy middle ground between being interested in the subject and producing work that people want to buy. I don’t want to have a studio and house full of unsold work. Ultimately, you want to make work, sell work, make money so you can live. Not that money is the whole point of it, but you have to live, and at the same time good work will sell.

How did you gain inspiration for the characters and subject of The Shard prints, which you will be exhibiting in The Londoner’s Compass?

Having studied interior architecture, I maintain an interest in architecture. I thought about the building and its elemental shape; it’s just a triangle really.

I find storytelling really interesting which has developed from my animation work, so I love to create a narrative. In this case I thought, what is the story here? You’ve got the lobby at the bottom, the restaurant, the hotel, then there are flats above and the viewing gallery, so there are lots of stories to tell in that. I think, what would be on the office floor? There would be a meeting, and then these little scenarios get built up in my sketch book, get scanned and the image starts to piece together.

How long does the process take you to do?

Around 2 to 3 weeks for each design, I build it up over time. I may be in a café one day and I’ll have half an hour free, so I’ll sketch the next segment of the narrative and draw a few little characters.

I like the idea to keep the shape very simple. And with the shard it’s a glass building, so if you were there on each level you would be able to see in. I did the day image and then I passed it at night, as I regularly get the Thameslink train nearby. At night, as you look up you have all the offices at the bottom, which are lit up, and as you go up into the residential floors the light disappears, so the form of the building sinks into the night sky, which is what I have tried to achieve with the night version.

The two illustrations work nicely together and I was happy with the pair of them.

What are your hopes for the future?

A lot of my work has been quite practical in terms of appealing to my audience, the price point, etc. Being on a market stall makes you think about how to retail yourself. The shard was a step in a bigger direction. I am moving away from the markets and towards making larger pieces of art. The shard series is the start of a move in that direction.

The last few weeks I have been out and about drawing a lot more and developing my sketches. I love looking at London life and I will be developing larger, more complex pieces of artwork in the future. I want to take my work to the next level and I’m happy to be in The Londoner’s Compass as it allows me to move towards the place I want to be as an artist.

Paul will be exhibited his prints in The Londoner's Compass this Oct 19-23rd.