Meet the team: George Morton
This week, we catch up with the Cardiff School of Art and Design graduate illustrator
We’re in the process of making our final selections for our Issue Four illustrators at the moment. It’s always a really exciting stage in the process as you start to get an idea of the visual character of the mag. It was at this juncture last issue that we decided that George Morton was perfectly suited to our ‘Value of Volunteer Journalism’ essay by Oliver Griffin.
George did not disappoint. His considered and clever colour combinations and knack for portraits packed with character were the perfect foil for Oli’s trans-continental tale. Not that it should come as much surprise, he was after all listed as one of People of Print’s Director’s Graduate Picks in 2013. It was really interesting chatting with George earlier in the week to find out more about his craft and career to date. An edited version of that conversation commences after the jump.
When did you first start seriously considering a career as an illustrator and when did you first get interested in image making?
It’s going to sound like a massive cliche straight off the mark, but I’ve been drawing pretty much since I could hold a pencil. I drew all the time when I was a child and used to make these minutely detailed pencil drawings of animals. I remember my nursery school teacher telling my Mum that I was going to be an architect when I grew up (I don’t have the patience or maths skills to be an architect), a theory she developed based on a drawing of a pig I did which turned out looking more like a mouse.
I had always known people must make careers out of illustration with comics and cartoons, but not until college did I even consider it in any other sense. My tutor there really pushed for me to study graphic design at university but at the time I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew is that I really liked drawing and image making so he suggested I look into illustration, which to be honest I had no idea you could even get a degree in.
Your style is one that employs vivid colours, what are your influences in this respect? Has your use of colour always been so expressive?
I spend a lot of time looking at fashion photography and watching a lot of films so I guess that’s quite a big influence on my work. But I often get ideas for colour schemes from weird things like badly designed kebab house signs – colours that probably should’t be seen together in a design context, but kind of weirdly work when I transfer it to one of my illustrations.
While I was on my degree I never utilised colour in the same way that I do now. My work was always very minimal in terms of the colour and tone, and I used a lot of white space. Then one day I think I just realised that my own work wasn’t exciting me anymore. So I tried doing the complete opposite and started using obscenely bright, contrasting colours and I just started to enjoy what I was making a lot more than before.
You studied Illustration at Cardiff School of Art and Design, how did the course influence or effect your style and process?
The illustration course at Cardiff, although very young, was really good for me in that they encouraged you to try out a lot of things you would never even think to try out. They were also really big on everything you created needing to have some sort of purpose and context which I sometimes found hard, but in hindsight was beneficial to the way I make work now.
Even though they were a bit ‘anti-digital’ and favoured more traditional forms of mark-making, this benefitted me in the long run in that I now often combine the more hand drawn aspects with the digital techniques I’ve taught myself since graduating.
On reflection, were the practicalities of working as an illustrator addressed during the course?
While I was at university I remember thinking that not enough was being done to prepare us for life after graduation and I felt a bit let down by that. However, from my own experience I’ve found that I actually learnt a million times more just by going out and meeting lots of people, making lots of mistakes, and making opportunities for myself rather than waiting to be spoon-fed by the university.
We were given a lot of projects relating to ‘real world’ briefs which I think were meant to prepare us somewhat, but I personally think a lot of it you have to go out and learn yourself through trial and error.
You’ve done a couple of internships with BBH and YCN, what did you gain from those experiences?
In my opinion internships are (mostly) always good; especially when you don’t really know what you want in terms of a career. Basically every internship I’ve done has come from a contact I’ve made through the previous one, and while they can be difficult because a lot of them often pay very little, the experience is always good – even if it’s just to bulk up your CV. Some are more worthwhile than others, and some are just beneficial to make you realise you don’t want to do that thing ever again.
YCN was a great one for me because there are a lot of different sides to the business. At the time they were a design agency, illustration agency, awards programme and also published their own magazine. So I got to work on a lot of different projects which helped me realise my own interests more clearly.
As well as Intern, you’ve done some brilliant editorial commissions for magazines like The Skinny. What draws you to that kind of work and how do you feel it suits your style and skill set?
Editorial illustration is something I’m trying to do more of. I’m drawn to it mostly because I really like the challenge of creating an image that portrays and simplifies an entire piece of writing in a way that isn’t too obvious and compliments it at the same time. I like being able to make something as simple or surreal as I like too – depending on the client and the subject matter.
What’s your ideal commission and why?
I don’t know if I have a dream commission as such but I’ve always wanted to design some album artwork, so that would probably be top of my to-do list. I’m really interested in the relationship between art and music and I’ve worked on a few projects which have looked at this.
I’ve also been reading a lot lately and have become a bit of a jacket snob in that I’m reluctant to buy a book unless it has a nice cover. So getting to design a jacket for a really good book would also be a dream.
You’re currently working at Studio Juice, how is that job sitting alongside your illustration practice?
Working at Studio Juice is great, while at the same time fairly separate to my illustration practice. I’m not directly involved with the creative side of things at SJ but through my role I’ve learnt loads about creative business which is massively benefitting that side of working as an illustrator during any spare time I have. It just means that by the time I’ve finished my day job, I go home and start working on illustrations which can be pretty full on when I’ve got a tight deadline for a project. I enjoy being busy though.
What are you working on at the moment or where can we see your latest project soon?
The last project I worked on was a series of illustrations to promote an upcoming season of Scandinavian theatre put on by a Cardiff based theatre company. They gave me a lot of artistic freedom which made it a really enjoyable job. Some clients I’ve worked with in the past have had a much clearer idea of what they want and it’s hard to get excited about a project when you disagree on the direction of it.
I’m also in the process of starting a project with a friend of mine from university to create a series of cinemagraph type pieces which should be exciting because I’ve been wanting to try out using movement in my work for a while.
If you could offer one piece of advice to student illustrators, what would it be?
Three years seems like absolutely ages. But, as any graduate will tell you, it goes weirdly fast so make the most of being in a space where you can make as many mistakes as you like without it being too much of an issue.
For more of George’s brilliant illustration, click the link below to head on over to his website.