Rod Hunt is a London based Illustrator & artist who has built a reputation for retro tinged Illustrations & detailed character filled landscapes. With UK & international clients spanning publishing, design, advertising & new media, he’s illustrated for everything from book covers to advertising campaigns, theme park maps, iPhone apps & even the odd large scale installation too!
Rod is also the illustrator behind the bestselling Where's Stig? books for the BBC's hit TV show Top Gear.
Rod is currently Chairman of theAssociation of Illustrators. The AOI was established in 1973 to advance and protect illustrator’s rights and encourage professional standards
After a chance meeting with the influential illustrator not so long ago, I couldn’t help but ask him if he was up for an interview. Thankfully, he was, so here we have some extremely useful words of advice from the man himself.
You and the Second Floor Studio Studios you work in recently had an open studio session. Can you tell us about how that came about?
Second Floor Studios & Arts is based in South East London by the Thames Barrier, & is one of the largest complexes of it’s type in the UK with approaching 200 studios already completed & London’s largest open access fine art printmaking studio opening in the autumn. Every six months we open to the public for the Open Studios, a great opportunity for people to meet the artists face to face & see their working spaces.
Talk us through your particular studio, do you share it with people? With so many creatives in one space, is it a great space to bounce ideas off of each other and generally create?
There are currently 5 buildings on site housing the studios, with my own self contained studio room in one building containing 28 studios. There are currently 9 illustrators here amongst fine artists, printmakers, photographers, sculptors, designer makers, etc. It’s an incredibly creative place & a real community is growing. I regularly meet up with the other illustrators here for a chat over tea.
Can you talk to us a little about your style? Are your detailed situations and characters hand drawn or vector? Or both?
All my final artwork is produced in Adobe Illustrator drawing with a Wacom Cintiq screen tablet, but everything starts with a finished pencil drawing before I go near the computer. When using Illustrator I want to keep a hand drawn feel to things & not be overtly digital. At the end of the day, the computer should just be seen as another way of making a mark on the page.
From what it sounds like, you pretty much went from uni straight into freelance. Was this always the idea? Was there ever a thought for going to work in a company?
After graduating from the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University I spent 2 years working on my portfolio & starting to get my work seen by clients to gain commissions. Eventually it got to the point where I moved to London & went full time.
I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. Working full time for a company has never really been on the agenda, & there aren’t really that many staff positions in illustration.
How did you gain your first few clients straight out of uni and generally get started out in the industry?
I graduated in 1994, which was pre Internet portfolio days, so I sent potential clients sample postcards & visiting London to pound the streets with my portfolio. Pretty much all my work was for newspapers & magazines to start with.
Once I moved to London in 1996 I used to do two mornings a week every week with my portfolio seeing clients, doing in excess of 120 meetings a year. It built from there. Then everything changed with the advent of affordable digital technology & the internet, & I decided I had to change with it. In 2000 I taught myself web design to create my first website & in 2001 I completely reinvented my work, abandoning paint & mess for a Mac & Adobe Illustrator.
You are now also the Chairman of AOI. How did this all come about?
I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the Association of Illustrators for around 8 years. I’m a great believer that we are stronger working together to protect & develop our industry than working as individuals. The AOI has helped me develop my career, so I also feel that it’s important to give something back to help develop the organization for the future, support other illustrators & ensure the sustainability of our industry. I’ve been Chairman for two years after being elected to the position by the AOI’s Board of Directors & was deputy Chairman for four years before that.
Do you feel the AOI is an important vessel for freelance designers and illustrators today?
I feel being a member of the AOI is a vital part of a professional illustration career. Being freelance can be a bit isolating & being part of the AOI can give you a sense that you’re not alone in this, you’re part of a community & you know where to get professional advice. With pricing, contracts, copyright & business development it pays to get advice from the professionals, who are just one phone call or email away by being part of the AOI.
Your recent ‘World Of Sex’ piece certainly raised a few eyebrows with such provocative imagery. Was that the aim of the brief? Or did you really push things to see how much you could get away with?
AIDES, the first French HIV/AIDS prevention non-profit organization, have a history of using creative & provocative work in their campaigns, which have won many awards over the years. San Francisco based advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners approached me via my New York agent Bernstein & Andruilli for their new advertising campaign. The aim was to use fun rather than fear as it’s primary motivation, the tagline being “The safer you play, the longer you stay” embracing the positive aspects of sex with a condom.
I received the brief & a rough scamp of the idea as a starting point & from the start the correspondence between “Team Dirty” unsurprisingly degenerate into innuendo. The brief mostly consisted of a list of humorous rides that encompassed the range of human sexuality. I also thought up some ideas for rides of my own as suggestions to add to the park, which they thought were hilarious – I think a British sense of humour helped bring a different perspective.
It’s unusual to be asked to create something so provocative for an advertising campaign & I’m proud to have contributed to such an important cause.
You’ve been working in the industry for well over ten years now. How have things changed since you first started out?
When I started I created my work with acrylic paints on paper & delivered the artwork by courier or Royal Mail Special Delivery over night. Rough drawings I faxed over for approval, so they had to be no bigger than A4 to go though the fax machine. With promotion I had to physically go & see potential clients with my portfolio on a regular basis every week, send regular postcards or colour photocopies & pay to go in expensive Source Books.
The Internet & digital technology has completely changed the way that I work, from researching reference, creating the artwork then delivery via the internet, to promotion & communication with clients worldwide pretty much at no cost. I now have a worldwide reach for my work in a way I could never have had when I started. Thinking back, it’s hard to imagine how I ever ran my business without the internet.
Do you have advice for young aspirational illustrators and designers?
Be yourself & indulge your personal interests in your work as that is what will set you part form everyone else.
It’s vitally important to educate yourself about the business side of things. Understanding pricing, copyright, contracts, etc is just as important as the drawing if you want to be successful & sustain your career for the long term. I recommend joining the Association of Illustrators. They’re there to help with all aspects of advice & developing your creative career. http://www.theaoi.com
Rod Hunt will be giving his lecture The Art of Self Promotion on Monday 19th September 2011 as part of the Illustrators Guide To Business season of events by the Association of Illustrators.
Monday 19th September
The art of self-promotion
Illustrator and AOI Chairman and Illustrator Rod Hunt will reveal the secrets behind successful self-promotion and networking. He will also illustrate the importance of having a signature style and effectively using your website to publicise your work.
For further information & to book your place see http://www.theaoi.com