Illustrator Scott Garrett on trying new things, breaking out of ruts and loving creative work again

Image credit: Copyright Tim Willcocks

Scott Garrett is quite the established creative. Working for clients as big as The Guardian, Los Angeles Times and Vodafone, he's spent over two decades perfecting his career as an illustrator, starting off in editorial and later moving into different fields.

More recently, he's experimented with ceramics – something which started as a hobby and has since become a nice little earner. Calling his business Garrett World, we went to his studio on the South East coast of England to find out more and ask Scott about his career so far.

You've been an illustrator for quite some time. How's it all going?

I’m now in the 24th year of my career as an illustrator, having worked on thousands of wide-ranging jobs, with the usual highs and lows along the way. I’ve definitely seen it all!

I now find myself at the beginning of yet another phase. This time, an exciting one of new experiences and challenges, both in my long illustration career and also in my relatively new ceramics career, which has been running alongside my illustration work for a few years now.

I recently felt that I’d slipped into one of those ruts and it was time to freshen things up a bit, time to go again. I was resting on my laurels, I was veering towards being lazy (well, as lazy as my overly active mind would allow me to be).

Part of this change included a new agent, How Do You Do. It was a bit of a risky change after a good 17 years with my previous agent, but I knew it was also part of what needed to be done. It felt fortuitous when I saw this new agency developing on social media. It felt like a good fit and there was a fresh energy which matched how I was feeling. I really liked the line up of quality illustrators that was being added to daily.

Sometimes it’s important just to feel like you are moving forward and that was mentally all I needed. Suddenly I found I had ideas for images, just for the sake of them, the way I used to!

Would you say you have a certain style or theme to your work?

I’ve had years to figure out the answer to the question of what my work is all about and yet I still struggle for definitive easily digestible soundbites. I think probably everyone else other than me knows what my work is, or isn’t about! I’m made freshly aware of this these days as I find myself having to write artist statements for my ceramic work.

These statements should be removed from existence, as they're so painful! Ha! It just pains me really to talk about what might be behind what I do. ("Knowing myself", is not something I’m very good at, I have discovered!)

There's definitely a sense of humour behind what you create...

Yes, I guess underpinning a lot of what I do is humour, often veering towards darkness, but humour nonetheless. Humour, characters and keeping it simple. Funny or tragic, isolated characters trying to communicate a clear message.

I like a bit of space for ideas to breathe on the page. I don’t like visual clutter. Backgrounds only exist if vital to the message. It all sits in my mind like a blank stage and I try and keep the cast as minimal as possible, along with any props.

I’ve said in the past, as more of a joke, that my work is like Samuel Beckett doing Bob Monkhouse, but the more time passes it just seems about the best way to sum me (and my work) up!

Was it always this way?

My earlier career (as many often are) was almost exclusively editorial work and then with time it branched out into more varied areas. The last few years veered largely into children's publishing and lots of book projects. I’ve just finished illustrating Henry Winkler’s series of Here’s Hank books for Penguin, after five years and 12 books. Similarly, another series with Bloomsbury illustrating Andy Seed’s non-fiction books, one of which won us the Blue Peter Book Award in 2015.

However, my mind finds itself back in a place craving the demand for generating ideas. I missed those earlier days of a tight deadline and impenetrable copy that is editorial illustration, challenging myself to look beyond the obvious or literal solution. I’m coming back to ideas (did they ever go away?) and communicating them sharply and simply.

You're also delving into ceramics now. Tell us more

It started off slowly seven years ago when I decided to just go and buy some clay (quite a lot of clay!) and tried to figure it out myself. I had been an avid follower of several pottery blogs for the previous two years and even started communicating with some of the potters, who I now count amongst my friends.

I did a brief 10-day course at the local college, but all it really taught me was I could probably figure out what I needed to do myself.

It's been a much steeper learning curve than I could ever imagine though! Making traditional English slipware was probably not the easiest starting point, making my own slips and glazes. I had some major problems to overcome and it was eventually four years later when I bought a new kiln and had the help of some very kind potters that I eventually got myself to having pots that I could finally sell! It’s now going from strength to strength.

My illustration work strongly influences my ceramics, however, I’m still waiting for my ceramics to return the favour. I look forward to the day I can close that circle and it all "clicks" and everything feels like a part of the same whole.

Because this is Creative Boom, and we're all about supporting others, what advice would you give to those just starting out?

Be nice. Never miss a deadline. Care about every piece. Don’t give up, never give up. If you know it’s inside you, keep going, you will get there!

What's next for you?

I feel like I’m standing in a fresh creative meadow as it springs into life all around me. I’m excited again about work yet to be created. This coupled with a new and dynamic agent gives me a lot of hope for the times ahead. It’s exciting, I’m excited… even after all these years!