Will Cordell's intricate artwork is like a grown-up Where's Wally packed with little details
Texas-based illustrator Will Cordell specialises in drawing "neurotically detailed" artwork that draws the viewer in with their intricate observations. We caught up with him to learn more about his work and how it helps him to communicate with the world.
If you've ever read The New York Times, Forbes Magazine or Devolver Digital, you might have come across the work of Will Cordell. Instantly recognisable thanks to their meticulous detailing, Will's illustrations conjure up a unique world of their own as he bravely refuses to buckle and conform to a broader corporate style.
Based in Texas and a graduate of the Savannah College of Art, Will's artistic journey started in a way that will be familiar to many creatives. "I've always been a back of the classroom, head down in a sketchbook type of dude growing up, and I always knew that being an artist was what I wanted to do," he tells Creative Boom.
A big fan of alternative comics growing up, Will's work today still reflects the influence of pen and ink kingpins such as Robert Crumb and Geoff Darrow. "Both have a very confrontational descriptiveness to their work that I really wanted to strive for in my own illustrations," Will explains.
"Something about drawing every cigarette butt on a trashed street corner or drawing every flake of rust and every screw on a robot really inspires me. It's like these artists took the time to reward the viewer for getting up close and personal to their work, to slow down in this constant stream of saturated media that's always 'go, go, go' all the time. I like that when you see this style of work, you almost think, 'Wow, they drew that for me'."
Describing his work as "neurotically detailed", Will says that he describes his artwork as Where's Waldo but for adults. "It's the fever-dream, late-night TV version that goes live after the kids go to bed," he jokes. "It's a bit unnerving and sometimes pretty dark, but still playful and has a sense of humour deep down."
This balance is reflected in the craftsmanship that goes into Will's illustrations. Thanks to the careful use of shape language, perspective and his own well-honed artistic sensibilities, Will knows exactly when to pack in the details and give the eye a break via uncrowded, open spaces.
Another key to the success of Will's art is its individuality. This emerged from the best advice he ever received from a SCAD professor, who urged him not to deviate from the style he was drawing. "I really appreciated that advice," Will reveals.
"I've had several situations where peers or coworkers suggested that I draw differently, change this, or try to draw more realistically. I am only beginning to see big clients recruiting my work because they want my style, not some cookie-cutter corporate art. I've begun to build a reputation for drawing how I do and am just now getting the courage to refuse to comply with anything else."
When it comes to working on client commissions, Will prides himself on zeroing in on a specific detail of the brief and bringing it to life. "My initial concept sketches for clients are always clean and show all the necessary details to convey the key message," he says.
"I try to ensure each preliminary sketch has a vastly different approach, so they have a wide array of design solutions. Keeping the communication rolling throughout the inking and colouring phase is essential too!"
It's a work ethic that's paid off, as Will can reach out and work with big clients on the strength of his portfolio from his home in Texas. Even living further from the creative hot spots of Dallas and Austin has not gotten in his way. "Social media has been a total game changer as far as finding your creative niche is concerned," he elaborates.
Of all the work he's most proud of, though, Will is most happy with the drawings in his sketchbooks. "Ironically, that might actually be what people see the least," he admits. "This is where I can really get experimental and not worry too much about the outcome. It's just a creative sandbox to splash around in.
"They're loosely taped together, sticky with adhesive, and covered in collaged clippings from things I find inspiring or interesting. One of these days, I'll do a full video tour of my years of sketchbooks!"
As for what Will enjoys the most about being an illustrator, he singles out its unique, expressive potential. "I'm not very talkative in general," he concludes. "Creating art (as cheesy as it may sound) feels like my life's purpose.
"My favourite part about being an illustrator so far has been that I can communicate with the world around me visually and not verbally. That feels powerful and fulfilling."