Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
Technically, I have lived in Essex my entire life, but I usually advertise myself as being from London, partly through shame, but also because my town is on the Central Line so I figured that counts as London. I graduated in Summer 2010 so have been working freelance since then.
There's been a lot of talk lately about whether illustration degrees are worth their money, how do you feel now about your education and did it prepare you well for the professional market?
I can obviously only answer this question based on my University experience, and I think the answer would be 'No'. There's no doubting that I got about 10 times better at putting together a successful image, but i'm not sure how much of that is down to the tuition and how much of it is down to just drawing a lot. I feel as though the same would have happened had I practiced as much and compared the standard of my practice to that of the industry leaders, because that's essentially what pushes me to get better. Obviously the fact that you have a structure in place at University helps; the briefs are there for you and you are given honest critique afterwards, but you can find both briefs and critique all over the internet now.
The other thing is that on my particular course there wasn't a huge emphasis on the workings of the industry, so on graduating I didn't necessarily feel 'prepared' to confidently quote a fee or interact with clients. That said, my illustration course was only in it's third year at the university and there were still plenty of positives (meeting like-minded people in the same situation etc.). I'm sure also, that there are plenty of Universities out there that offer a more complete course, but even so, with the increased university fees I'm still not sure it's worth it.
I feel the same way about the new fees, the degree courses are great for getting you motivated, making sure you draw every day to deadlines etc and at £3000 a year it's probably worth it just for that but at £9000? I think that's a lot to ask. So how do you create your work? I'd guessed it involved some kind of digital collaging but there's some pretty large-scale work on your site!
The process is always the same with my work; I always begin by drawing the focal point of the image in biro fairly accurately, but with semi-loose lines. Then I scan it into photoshop where I colour and texture it before adding other doodled and/or written elements which further portray the brief. Then if I'm going to be painting the illustration on a wall or elsewhere, I will use the original illustration as a guide, or sometimes as a template on an OHP, before painting with matt emulsion and acrylic and using Uni Posca paint pens for line work.
That mural you did for Zizzi is huge!!! How did you get that job and how long did it take? From the pictures it looks like you worked through at least one night.
I assume you're referring to the one in Earls Court? That was my first job for Zizzi, they saw my work at NewDesigners soon after I had graduated, which is a huge design exhibition for graduates and takes place at the Business Design Centre in Angel, London. It was also my first even mural, so eve after practicing in the summer house at the bottom of the garden it was quite a nervy affair to begin with. The whole project was part of a major re-furb, so the restaurant was closed for a week or so. My work took 5 days to complete, but thankfully no nights. I start work on my fourth project for Zizzi this weekend, it's at my local restaurant and they are keeping it open for this one, so i'll be painting through a saturday evening service, which should be fun. You can see all the work I have completed for Zizzi on my website.
So since we last spoke you've done another image for Zizzi, how did the painting go? Any nerves having to paint this in front of a crowd? No paint spilled into any soups I hope!
Yeah it went well actually, I just plugged myself in to some music and tried not to turn around to often! I had a nice space cordoned off, so that made the whole thing more relaxing, and meant there was no chance of painty pizza or the like. It was probably up there with my most ambitious mural in terms of detail with the pens, so i'm pleased with how it turned out.
Looks fantastic Tobias, really well done! And I hear you're now on the design team for Zizzi, is that correct? What is that going to involve?
Yeah basically I left my job working at a bar in the hope that I might find some part time work more relevant to what I do, whilst I knew it was a massive stab in the dark, Zizzi was my first port of call because I knew I liked how they worked. It just so happened that they were looking for someone in design and marketing, so Pia Fairhurst (head of design at Zizzi) recommended me to the Marketing Director, and we have just sorted out my contract recently. Like I say, we’re still in the fairly early stages, but I know I will be working three days a week and will be involved in design for print and web, as well as photography of some new/refurbished restaurants. I will still be doing the mural work for them too, which is good.
Sounds like leaving the bar job was a good move! Do your photography and design skills influence your illustration at all or do you find it's more the other way around?
I always use photography as reference when I draw, and it's always my own photography wherever possible. I also tend to use a few graphical elements in my work and I certainly have a love for beautiful graphic design, so yeah I guess I would say that they both influence my illustrations.
Are there any particular artists or illustrators that have influenced the development of your style?
I think initially it was David Foldvari who I idolised, in the early stages of uni I pretty much copied his style completely (the results are pretty embarrassing to look back on), but then it kind of grew into what it is today - it's still changing too. Keith Haring has always been one of my favourite artists generally, and he has inspired some of the doodled elements to my work. At the moment my favourite work is coming from Kilian Eng and Yuri Ustsinau, they're tearing it up right now. Oh, and one other artist to mention, Ruben Ireland - his work is incredible.
Any advice for young illustrators?
I'm not sure I am qualified to give 'advice' out to anyone, especially seeing as I am a young illustrator myself. But yeah, of course there have been times where I have thought, 'What am I even bothering for?', especially when there are so many other incredible artists out there - I just thought I could eventually be good enough to make money from what I did, and I didn't like the idea of giving up without having a real go. It seems to be paying off now, so that would be my 'advice'; just keep your head down, produce work you want to produce, and produce it as well as you can. I think if you are intimidated by everyone else's work it's probably a good thing, because essentially that's what will push you to improve, I know it did me.
Anything to say to the old pro's?
Thanks. They help me improve by creating work that makes me realise mine's not good enough, and I haven't come across an unhelpful one yet. I think that's one of the best things about this industry, yeah its hard to get by, but I think generally speaking there are friendly creatives about that will help you get your stuff out there, or give you good advice.
Thanks Tobias, great speaking to you! More of Tobias’ work can be seen at www.tobias-hall.co.uk and http://tobiashall.tumblr.com