Thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview - I have been keenly following your work for some time now, and it is with great pleasure that I get to know a bit more about you and your process. Two years ago, before I moved to Cape Town I sent you an email asking for some advice on illustration courses in the sunny city - and you kindly assisted. It's really since then that I got to know and love your work - and love it, I do.
Thank you! I really appreciate the compliment!
So, how did you come about illustration as a career choice?
After high school I studied Graphic Design. While studying I started getting into cartooning on the side, which really gave me a buzz, I wanted to be like Gary Larson. I used to try finish my design assignments as quickly as possible (because I didn’t like doing design and wasn’t very good at it anyway) so that I could draw some cartoons at night, that’s how it started.
How would you describe your illustration process?
I spend some time refining an idea in my head or through quick idea sketches. From there I like to work up a more detailed pencil rough that I erase and redraw a few times. Then I hit it with the dip pen and ink, trying to keep the linework as organic as I can. Because dip pens are unpredictable and create line oddities I often redraw a drawing a few times until I get a version I like (light boxes can come in handy) Then I go in with watercolours … which creates further accidental oddities. Then I look back at the initial concept sketches to see if they were better.
Your illustrations give me a great sense of nostalgia for my childhood, what inspires you to create your work in the style you do?
What inspires the nostalgic style? I guess I make drawings with the intention of personally creating, indulging and dwelling on those feelings or responses myself, it’s about ‘going there’ through drawing, trying to reach that
feeling of euphoria that happens when one is in the zone.
Then I trust that at least some other people out there who see the drawings might have the same response to it that I had while making it. I do like the process , take my time on it and dare I admit that I enjoy looking at my own work afterwards too. It’s all quite selfish really, I stare too long at my own pictures and laugh at my own jokes :D
I do like to focus on expression and emotion in illustration. For me the ultimate is when a drawing catches one between emotions, on an emotion that one can’t quite pinpoint or name but you know, often long forgotten emotions fall in that zone.
What is your favourite project to date?
My favourite Freelance project was illustrating the book “The Adventures of Kingsley Cat” written by my friend Gavin Bonner.
Interesting question. Honestly I can go through phases of sloppy time management when it comes to creating time for personal projects. I find it works best for me when I create a routine where I keep business hours for my commercial freelance stuff and then work for a couple of hours at night on personal work. If I don’t do personal drawing work for a while and then suddenly get free time and decide to sit down and draw something … I sit staring at the page, give up and just end up going on Youtube to watch videos of sea-lions slapping their trainers in the face. A drawing a night (even if small) builds a habit of doing. For freelance work, I manage project times by being picky about taking on jobs that are tight on deadlines, and if a client asks how long something will take, I make sure to ask for a decent amount of time so that I have room to breath and work on other things simultaneously.
What is your chosen method of marketing yourself?
Most of my marketing happens online. I like to upload drawings, both quick sketches and finished work onto my Facebook page and website. There is a degree of interaction on my Facebook page that my website doesn’t have. Like most artists, I say that I don’t care what people think of my work but like most artists I am actually quite curious to see what people think of my work.
Can you describe your workspace?
I change my workspace a lot. I shift the desk around a bit, sometimes I like to put pictures on the wall in front of me, other times I need a blank wall in front of me. I keep most of my equipment off the desk apart from my pens and a few brushes.
Illustrating books for European publishers.
And in 5 years?
Actually writing the books that I illustrate. I need to practice and learn how to write stories.
What advice would you offer to someone starting out?
In my opinion at least (get more than just my advice):
Back yourself. By that I mean, while its very good to identify areas where you lack industry experience or areas you need to develop you should also stand up for the parts of work that you believe in but that might be different or at odds with what is currently happening in the industry. Don’t let a lack of experience make you believe that you are not onto something good.
Don’t work for free or ‘exposure’ or for future work promises. Your work is of value from day 1. You aren’t doing clients a favour - you are trading with them. Respect them and demand respect in return.
Don’t be afraid to ask advice from other artists, we’ve all been there and we are all still learning and asking other professionals questions about our trade.
Keep developing interests and hobbies outside of illustration, they feed and enrich your illustration work and open up very unexpected markets for you down the line.
How would you advise approaching an agency?
Prioritise quality over quantity. Only send your favourite work. Send the work that you think makes you stand out not the work that looks like everyone else's or the work that you think they want to see. When approaching clients and agencies, don’t send out mass mails to them, research who you are approaching and be clear on what your own strengths are and your focus is, it helps.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you choose and why?
I’ve always wanted to illustrate ol' Spike Milligan's war memoirs. Though he passed away in 2002, RIP.
Can you recall your first big break and how have things progressed for you since then?
My first big break was when 'Protea Books' sent me a kids fiction manuscript to illustrate back in 2007. Looking back, the drawings I made weren’t the best but I like them none the less.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
A nice whiskey, a cat, a fireplace and a sketchbook with some ambient electonic music going later in the night.
What can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
I will be doing my second City Soiree Exhibition on the 27th May and I am also compiling my first zine titled “Echoes in the nostril of a pig” , soon to come.
Where can we find you?
My website is www.theodorekey.com
my instagram handle is Upset_Tummy
and my facebook page is Theodore Key Illustration
**Bonus Round – ding, ding, ding **
Here are some quick fire questions
Digital or traditional: traditional
Favourite place: so far, Istanbul.
Least favourite place: Johannesburg.
Odd socks or matching: Odd, worn on the ears.
Favourite person: Karl Pilkington.
Favourite colour combo: Deep Cadmium Yellow and Ultramarine Blue (Café at Arles, Van Gogh)
Cats or dogs: Cats for lovin’, Dogs for laughin’.
Cream teas: cream then jam or jam then cream? Cream on top, please.
Favourite song at the moment: “Highlands” by Bob Dylan
Place you want to travel: Japan.
Weirdest experience: err, Watched a large businessman run, fall, and slide 12 meters on his belly across the tiles at the airport. Not weird I guess, but memorable.
Wildest experience: Getting violently seasick on The Great Barrier Reef
Happiest experience: Stepping onto dry land.
New skill you want to learn: story writing skills for kids and adults.