Rod illustrated the half-million-selling book ‘Where’s Stig?” and has worked with a raft of massive brands all over the globe…yet he still does all his own marketing.
Creative Boom spoke to Rod about tips on getting inspired, how to market yourself and of course, a bit about his latest Easter Egg filled artwork, a thanks-for-the-support gift from pop starlet George Ezra to his most ardent longstanding fans.
Did you look yourself up on that ‘could your job be taken by a robot’ thing?
Yes! But I’m not worried. That’s never going to happen. Computers will never replace the creativity of the human mind. They’re good for repetitive tasks and analysing data but I can’t imagine a robot could ever think laterally and come up with a creative idea, however sophisticated they get.
I looked up both ‘artist’ and ‘graphic designer’ and they were both around 3% ‘at risk’. People lucky enough to be creative are the least under threat from the rise of the robots.
You’re very successful. What tips do you have for up and coming illustrators?
I’ve got an agent for the USA and China, but for the UK and the rest of the world I do all my own marketing. So I’d say:
- Put a lot of care into your website. I’m not much for Tumblr blogs and suchlike; you need a proper home for your work.
- Get yourself on talent platforms, like Behance and also, industry specific ones like Creative Commission.
- You need to utterly lose your inhibitions about contacting people and showing them your work.
- I’m a big believer in producing high quality print promotion. Every year, I send out a 24 page promo book to 3000 suppliers all over the world. It’s expensive, but it’s got me great gigs as far away as Australia, Russia and India. You only need a couple of the 3000 to say yes.
- I also recommend doing mailshots with resources like Bikini Lists, who keep up to date lists of relevant creative buyers.
- Stay cool. You’re raising awareness. It can take years for leads to filter through. You could be at the back of someone’s mind and not know that they’re just itching to use you when the right campaign comes along. So don’t worry about rejection, just keep moving, keep improving, keep pushing on.
Where should illustrators look for inspiration - and when does ‘inspiration’ go too far?
Taking inspiration goes too far when that search for inspiration doesn’t go far enough. Looking at the internet is a good place to start, but when you’re looking no further than the first ten returns on a Google Image search, you’re going to run into trouble - and as a professional, you have to be absolutely scrupulous when it comes to copyright.
You have to be original. Don’t bother following trends. If you’re following a trend you’re already behind anyway. I’m a big believer in going to museums and galleries, looking at old books, putting a lot of yourself into it and indulging your own personal interests.
So you subscribe to the John Lennon view - all art should be in the self-interest, and come from within?
Yes, I do. It’s a balancing act. As an illustrator, you are a commercial beast. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be filling your work with your own life experiences. You’re more valuable that way. If 100 people are just like you, your longevity will suffer. But only you can be you.
Does your art have narratives?
There’s always little stories going on, a lot of my stuff is really 20 illustrations in one. Obviously the “Where’s Stig stuff” has a lot more narrative than something like a theme park map. There’s not as much potential for Easter Egg dropping there…
Your skill with the Easter Egg was why you were hired to do the George Ezra thing, right?
The guys at Creative Commission gave me a call to say Sony / Columbia records had posted a brief on their site, wanting a Where’s Wally style piece for a major artist. I hadn’t seen the brief at the time, but when they’d compared my profile with what Sony needed, we are perfect for each other. It just goes to show, so much of an illustrators work is about right brief, right time. That’s why you have to cast the net wide.
I went to a meeting, and yeah, it turned out what they needed was a someone to deliver a piece with loads of references to George’s career so far. Scenes from videos, people from album covers, that sort of thing. It’s a gift to the fans, a sort of ‘in joke’ for those that have followed George Ezra from the beginning. If you’re a fan, you should recognise a lot of the stuff.
Ed’s note: there are various challenges to take, you can zoom in and have a proper good look at www.wheresezra.com
Did you meet him?
Not so far, no. But if I was doing a brief for Queens of the Stone Age or The Roots, I’d love to go for a pint with them.
You’re very successful now, were you ever a starving artist? Any tips for coping with that?
Erm…you need to like baked beans? Yeah, I had years of not earning much, worrying about paying the rent, going a couple of months without getting a job in. I remember all that.
Starvation and poverty is great motivator, at times. You have to believe in what you’re doing and get out there. I moved to London before it was possible to market yourself on the internet; I was out there, knocking on doors, asking for meetings. Winning some, losing some, but always having the dedication and motivation to keep pounding the streets and showing people my work. The internet has changed how the game works, but the underlying principles remain the same.
And finally…I know you’re a huge comics fan. Who’s your favourite superhero?
Well, he’s not really a superhero, but…Judge Dredd, by a mile. It’s a very British take on American culture and policing, a superb satire. It’s the antithesis of what American comics were doing at that time, and I’ve always loved it.