The 10th Book Illustration Competition theme is Love Poems which was selected and edited by Imtiaz Dharker. The winner will be commissioned to complete a further six illustrations and a binding for the book which will be published by The Folio Society.
Greg McIndoe is 1 of the 4 illustrators shortlisted for the 10th People’s Choice Award at Book Illustrators Competition 2020 and has won £500. Greg is from Glasgow and is a current student at Duncan Of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee.
Hi Greg, thanks for talking to TNC, how's your week looking?
Hello, thanks for having me! I have interviewed a lot of artists but this is my first time ever being an interviewee so I am very excited! My week has been a weird one as I am sure it has for everyone. It is an odd time to be at university as we are all wondering what the current situation could mean for our assessments and degree shows. There are so many people in way worse positions however so you’ve got to think of the bigger picture at times like this. We are just pushing on as if everything is going ahead as planned so the week has been busy. I've been juggling a lot of different projects at the moment including colourful paper packaging, photography for a book and a new illustrated homeware project. Our degree show is planned for just over 2 months time so it is all starting to feel real now.
Congratulations on making the longlist for the BIC 2020 People's Choice Award, what does it mean for you be part of this competition?
Thank you so much! I am huge fan of the books the Folio Society publish and I visited the House Of Illustration recently for the first time and loved it. Making the longlist really does mean a lot to me. Being in my final year at university and working towards the degree show can feel quite overwhelming at times so getting such positive feedback from Book Illustration Competition was a perfectly timed confidence boost. The level of talent on the list is amazing and it has already been such a positive experience. Understandably, the awards ceremony scheduled for next week has been cancelled so I will not get to meet the other long listed artists anymore. I am however still looking forward to finding out the results and congratulating the winner (fingers crosssed I will be congratulating myself).
Do you ever feel any apprehension when you hand over your work like this to the pubic?
These days I am quite confident sharing my work. As well as being an illustrator, I work as a freelance design writer and blogger. Before I started university, I did not have any social media for my design work and never mentioned my own creations within my writing. Studying at DJCAD, my illustration style has slowly developed and my confidence in what I produce has gradually grown too. Writing has also helped this as exposing myself to so much illustration work - whilst disheartening at times as it can lead to harshly comparing yourself to others - has overall built my confidence in my design taste and I now know when a piece is ready to be shared. I know my work will not be to everyones taste but in general I have found the creative community to be very supportive. Lots of my lovely friends and family have shared the entries online and I have had some really uplifting messages from creatives I don’t know wishing me luck.
Last year your screen print Alfred Anderson was on display as part of Lateral North WW100 Exhibition what was it like for you to create such an important and historic piece?
The WW100 was an incredibly interesting and humbling project to be a part of. 100 students from across Scotland were each given the story of a different Scottish war veteran to inspire an edition of prints. I was given the story of Alfred Anderson, the longest surviving participant in the 1914 Christmas Day Truce. I love the story of the Christmas Truce - when armies from both sides seised fire for a day and came together for a festive celebration and game of football - and knew instantly that this historic day was what I wanted to illustrate in my piece.
The turnaround for the project was quite fast so I spent one evening producing the drawing and textures for the piece and another screen printing the edition with the help of the team at the DCA in Dundee. As part of my research, I read some extremely moving words from Alfred Anderson himself describing the memories of the war and how his “heart hurt” when he thought of them. Each element of the print - from the colour palette and inks used to the drawing style - was intended to portray the contrast of the energetic activity being depicted with the morbid underlying tones of war.
Was this the first time you've created a piece that was inspired by a real person?
The Alfred Anderson piece was actually the second time I had created illustrations inspired by a real person. The first happened a few months prior when I created a short narrative-based zine called A Tree For Kiran. The publication was based the true story of Shyam Sunder Paliwal who planted a tree in memory of his daughter and, in doing so, kickstarted a cultural revolution which would change the lives of the women in his village forever. Illustrating real life stories is definitely more challenging as you have to be careful when tackling true subjects but it is also so rewarding. Working on both of these projects has inspired me to tell stories inspired by my own experiences during my final year at university.
Can you tell me a little bit about the work you submitted to BIC 2020?
The BIC collaborated with poet Imtiaz Dharker this year to select 3 love poems for entrants to the competition to illustrate. My class at university was given the BIC brief as part of our course. We all definitely benefited from tackling the project as a group as we could discuss each other poems and gather a general understanding of the themes of each together. The 3 poems selected were Wild Nights! by Emily Dickinson, The Good Morrow by John Donne The Trick by Imtiaz Dharker herself. Each discuss the theme of love in very different ways and so my illustrations all contain very different visual motifs.
"The Trick talks about the senses coming alive during sleep, The Good Morrow looks at love as being all consuming as you become each other’s universe and Wild Night’s!"
The theme for this years BIC 2020 is Love Poems, how did you go about creating your pieces based on this theme?
I knew from the very beginning that I definitely did not want to use any cliched, love-themed imagery within my illustrations as I wanted them to feel sophisticated and not cheesy. The final series contains one tiny love heart and even that took a lot of careful consideration. This intention stayed the same throughout however other than that, my process for creating these illustrations was a bit messy. The initial idea I had for the project was a lot looser and based around some abstract ink drawings but in practise it just did not work. My second and third ideas were also both scrapped after tests and I decided I needed to go back to basics.
I decided to take a much simpler approach, designing a collection of simple forms and icons which related to the themes within each of the 3 poems. The Trick talks about the senses coming alive during sleep, The Good Morrow looks at love as being all consuming as you become each other’s universe and Wild Night’s! is, as you’d imagine, about a wild and very passionate night. I tried to depict all of these ideas in the simplest way possible and once I had all of these elements the process finally began to flow and the scenes constructed themselves quite well from here. I also had a great tutorial with my tutor Mick Peter who helped my elevate the illustrations by adding to some of the visual metaphors within them.
What was the most challenging aspect of creating these pieces for BIC 2020?
The most challenging part of this brief was the subjective nature of poetry. The interesting thing about poetry - especially poems which are written with such ambiguous language as these were - is that different readers can take different meanings from the text. With my illustrations, I wanted to portray what I had taken from the poems but in a way that was not too literal and still left room for readers to take their own meaning from the words. My work is all about abstraction and this helped when trying to create artworks which were not too explicit in the stories they told.
"Since then the book has been through a lot of different stages."
You are also in your final year studying Illustration at DJCAD in Dundee, what has this experience been like for you?
My final year at DJCAD has been really great so far! The structure of the course this year really suits me. We complete 2 major personal projects in our final year alongside a series of more structured shorter briefs. We are given a lot of freedom with how we work and plan our week in order to replicate the feeling of being a freelance illustrator. Coming in to a nice studio to design stuff around a bunch of other creative people is not exactly a hardship and it has been really nice to see lots of my illustrator friends develop their unique styles as we head towards degree show.
I have always been quite experimental with the way I work during my studies and have always worried that I did not have a clear illustrative style. During the first semester however I feel like I finally found my style. I have really leant in to my love of abstraction and playing with shapes. This felt like perfect timing as I am now slowly building up a portfolio that I feel portrays the type of work I would love to do when I graduate. As it is my final year, there is of course the slight fear about entering the big bad world once I graduate but for now I am just enjoying my finals months as DJCAD as I know I will definitely miss the people and place after I leave.
At your degree show in May your book Wilson Strange is going to be released, can you tell me a little bit more about this?
Wilson Strange is a book which explores the connection between creativity and mental health by telling the story of a man who feels he cannot control his brain. Wilson’s brain switches between being magical and spiteful in seconds which ultimately leaves him feeling lost and confused. Whilst this sounds quite dark, the books imagery all has a thread of humour throughout it as I feel the best way of opening up discussions about serious topics such as mental health is through laughter.
The book is based on my own experiences with mental health. Ever since I can remember I have had an anxious brain which over the years I have learnt how to control a lot better. Again with this project, I have kept the illustrations style abstract with the intention of the story being able to be read in different ways. The core idea behind the book is the feeling of your brain being out of your control and making you feel things that are irrational - a feeling I think we all experience at some point in our lives. Mental health is universal and the main message of the book is that talking always helps.
What has the process been like for you creating this book?
The process for creating the book actually started years ago. I wrote the first draft of the story’s text around 4 or 5 years ago inspired by how I felt at the time. I didn’t have the confidence then to develop it into an actual book so it stayed in my notes for years until I was brainstorming what to do for my first personal project last Summer. Since then the book has been through a lot of different stages. The story takes place in 2 different settings - the real world and Wilson’s imagination - so the biggest challenge was deciding how to visually differentiate between these 2 worlds. In the final book, the real world is all 2D illustrations and his imagination is made up of 3D illustrations. I created the 3D work using lots of different lasercut, wooden blocks which I painstakingly hand-painted and sanded. Digital work is definitely my comfort zone so it was nice to take this extra challenge on and try and make images in a new way.
I was a little hesitant with this book project at first because it is definitely the most personal piece of work I have produced to date (even the name Wilson Strange is based off of my middle name being Wilson). I am very open about mental health in real life but this had never crossed over into my design work. I am so glad I decided to tell the story though as it has really helped me refine my style and explore the concept of abstract story telling. I have loved developing Wilson Strange and I can’t wait to release him into the world this Summer!
What would you say have been some of the most valuable lessons/tools you're going to be taking away with you from DJCAD?
In terms of tools, I will definitely miss the Risograph printer and laser cutters most of all! I have fallen in love with both of them more and more over the past year as I feel they are both perfect for adding a bit extra tactile interest to the simple, pleasing shapes I like to work with. Luckily there are plenty of laser cutting and risograph printing studios I can use in Glasgow but I will sure miss having free access to both.
"Over the past few years I have written for the likes of Inkygoodness, Ohh Deer, Mincho Magazine and 91 Magazine as well as my own blog."
You have a deep passion about all things associated with design, where did this come from?
My broader passion for design has definitely come from my work as a design writer and blogger. Writing began as a way for me to feel like part of the creative community at a time when I did not have the confidence in my own creations. It has grown into a side-career and helped me develop a passion for a diverse area of specialisms. My writing focuses mainly on illustration but also cover Graphic Design, Interior Design and Fashion and I especially love seeing how these different specialisms overlap and feed into one another. Over the past few years I have written for the likes of Inkygoodness, Ohh Deer, Mincho Magazine and 91 Magazine as well as my own blog. It has taken a bit of a back seat whilst I focus on finishing my degree but I plan to get stuck back into writing - hopefully for some exciting new places - as soon as I have time!
Do you have any one area of design you would really like to focus in when you graduate?
The thing I have loved about studying illustration is how open it has been. Projects have ranged from editorial illustrations and storybooks to set design for Shakespeare plays and archive-inspired magnetic puzzles. The course has given me the opportunity to try so much with a view to working out what I do and do not want to do when I graduate. My list is still pretty long; I’d love to do more editorial work, collaborate with an interiors or textles company and getting Wilson Strange out into the world as an actual published book is the ultimate dream.
"I am also not the kind of illustrator who wants to sit and draw for hours."
How much would you say your style and approach to you illustration and design has evolved since you started?
My style has definitely evolved just by the fact that it is far more refined than it ever has been. I am not the kind of illustrator who has a natural drawing style they can just turn to anything. My work is more about abstraction, composition and colour than it is traditional drawing methods. This made it hard to start out with as I felt I should have a set way of drawing that just flowed out of me and turned into a final piece. However, I am also not the kind of illustrator who wants to sit and draw for hours. Accepting that all illustrators have different strengths has definitely made me more confident in having my own process and in turn refined my style to something much more cohesive.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your work?
I once had a feedback session with my tutor, Tommy Perman, in which he said he liked the way my work had a sense of personality to it and I should try not to lose that as I went forward. I have had lots of great advice since being at university but this piece has always stuck with me. With abstract work like mine it is a fine line between tastefully minimal and just a bit bland and I hope I keep my work nice and flavourful. Whether it is a humorous approach to opening up the conversation about mental health, a sombre screen printed inspired by war or a cheery collection of illustrated homeware (coming soon!) - I hope that my illustrations give off a sense of personality.