Illustrator Interview: Dan Mitchell

Illustrator Interview: Dan Mitchell

Ikon Images

Describe your work in three words.

A really difficult question! Hopefully these 3 words: Attention to Detail

How did you get started in illustration? Did you always want to be an artist?

I have always wanted to do something creative; it’s been a bonus that I have been able to make a career out of it. I have been obsessed with drawing since childhood. I tried to turn every other lesson at school into my own secret art session whilst pretending to pay attention. This was to the detriment of other subjects!
I then felt I had found my ‘home’ at art college, then eventually onto illustration at degree level. It was fun as well as work. Despite a good grounding and an education in illustration, it’s still difficult to make a career of it, even if you might have talent or were the ‘best drawer’ at school.
After my formal education finished, I decided to start from scratch again. I produced a new portfolio of work which I then physically hawked around potential commissioners (mostly in London). It took a while to become established, but perseverance does pay off. To begin with, this was a bigger learning curve than any prior education. I was out of my comfort zone basically and had to learn fast as it was now my job!

Penguins in Christmas Jumpers

How do you approach a new illustration, where do you start?

Always with pencil/pen and paper, no matter how scribbly or rough to start with. I then refine any sketches to send to the client. I sometimes take my sketchbook to a café (if time permits) it can help to generate ideas in a different environment other than my desk. I prefer to work to music/radio or some background noise too.

Man falling in eyes

What inspires you?

I know it’s cliched but walking, birdwatching, just being in and around nature. I quite like a meander around a good museum or art gallery too! Other illustrators inspire me and in general art, film, music, reading and tuning into other creative work whatever it might be.

What’s been your favourite topic to illustrate / favourite illustration and why?

I am lucky enough to enjoy most of my work. Although I particularly like illustrating book reviews. These are usually a newspaper or magazine feature to review an upcoming novel. It can be easier when a client is specific about a brief but being given ‘free reign’ over ideas and concepts is more rewarding creatively. If the words are visual, then ideas flow and develop more freely.

What’s been your most challenging commission?

Probably a feature on a ‘super mansion’ for The Evening Standard magazine. It involved illustrating a double page, cut-away view of the mansion with loads of detail and tiny figures interacting within the rooms. It was a combination of tech style architectural drawing with a bit of ‘Where’s Wally?’ thrown in. I have done quite a few storyboards too, these can be fun, but the deadlines are very short, and you often have to re-do the whole thing after all the clients have pitched in with suggestions!

What is your favourite medium to work with and why?

I would have to say brush and gouache on paper. It is the most analogue part of my working process but can still be the most satisfying. It feels a bit like good tai chi if you get the brush flowing just right!

What does your workspace say about you? Include a photo.

It’s literally a work in progress as I have just recently moved house!

Donna Grethen's Office

What bit of kit can’t you live without?

All of it I really, favourite pencil/pens (yes, seriously - I know it sounds sad!), sketchbooks, PC, software such as photoshop, graphics tablet etc. I find it ridiculously hard to walk past an art shop or stationers without making an unnecessary purchase (I have still not used that adjustable set-square).

Doctors Holding Vaccine

Do you have any other creative endeavours outside of illustration?

I do draw for pleasure, especially if travelling or just being somewhere inspiring away from home. I make observational (mostly landscapes) drawings in a moleskine sketchbook. These drawings are much more relaxed and sketchier than my commissioned work. It’s good to draw just for the sake of it at times. I sometimes make paintings on canvas too if I make the time for it.

Name a favourite artist or an artist who inspires you.

I have lots of these, I can get a bit obsessional (I think this is a common trait amongst illustrators and creatives) with certain artists and illustrators for periods of time. I have always liked Peter Blake, Georges Remi aka Herge (Tin Tin) just the artwork though, I find the character Tin Tin a bit annoying! Van Gogh of course… Visually, Wes Anderson films are up there too (having recently seen ‘The French Dispatch’).

Dan's 2 Minute Self-Portrait - A Day in The Life

Dan Mitchell Day In The Life

A cartoon of my 'working day'. The character is me and 'sort of' looks like me, albeit a bit younger.

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