Russell Walker is an award winner illustrator, designer and educator. After graduating from Hornsey College of Art in 1981 he immediately established his own Illustration and Design consultancy; he has since been privileged to have worked with organisations such as British Airways, M&S, BBC, EMI Records, as well as many of the creative industry's leading advertising agencies and publishers both nationally and internationally.
Throughout this time Russell has been producing brilliant graphic images and Illustrations that often contain characters and lateral ideas on themes as diverse as shopping, pasta and poodles. His strong distinctive style has assured his popularity with advertising, design and publishing agencies across the globe.
We were very excited to steal a few moments with Russell to find out more about his life and work, and hear all about his World Shapes Football League Project...
Interview: Matilda Barratt in conversation with Russell Walker.
What’s your background? When and how did you get into illustration?
As long as I can remember I’ve loved to draw. At about the age of 13 I decided that drawing was going to be my thing and that I wanted to go to Art School. So I did, and I studied Graphic Design and Illustration in parallel for 6 years. Just three months after I graduated I went freelance and started my professional journey. This essentially involved walking the streets of London with my portfolio going from one art director meeting to another looking for work. Eventually I was commissioned by Cosmopolitan magazine and my career started.
You have such a strong, distinctive style - what is it that inspires your work?
I started to fashion my illustration style at a time when the Art Deco movement was having a bit of a revival. That coincided with my introduction to a drawing pen that almost no one has ever heard of before called a Rapidograph, an ink pen with a nib that’s very much like a hypodermic syringe. I brought these two things together to evolve the style that I have today, adding and subtracting things along the way.
[Left: 'Varifocal' - an illustration produced as a result of a failed attempt to use a pair of Variocal glasses.]
[Right: 'Bayern Circle' - One in a series of images for the World Shapes Football League.]
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process? How do you typically take an idea and bring it to life?
I have a few approaches to image making. I like to play with words to see what visual images might arise from interruptive word play such as alternative meanings and slang etc. I also like to manipulate shapes to see what ideas pop up from that. Alternatively I just doodle and see what happens, something similar to how a musician might jam in a recording studio. As long as I start the drawing process and keep it moving forward I know that I’ll always find a few ideas that can then be refined, or maybe rejected. Lots of them get rejected...I have a big bin!
We are very excited about your World Shapes Football League Project. How did the idea come about, and what is it all about?
The ‘World Shapes Football League’ started as a piece of playful drawing with one of my sons, many years ago. I wanted to show him that he could imagine a game of football by just drawing simple shapes and colour. That he didn't need to be frustrated by detail or make any kind of attempt to be accurate. Once we had drawn lots of different shapes we could turn them into figures, some jumping to head a ball or running. We could invent imaginary football players and there teams, design badges, new kit designs, trophy's... even a football stadium. The drawing shapes approach allowed him to be creative and not intimidated on a piece of paper. I could draw with him, because a square for me was a square for him, so we drew our ‘Square United’ football team together.
[Left: 'Stadio Home' - The big match, Dinamo Square versus Bayern Circle...in the Stadio Home.]
[Right: 'Lasher' - Part of new limited edition print series about Football. Series available autumn 2020.]
Why do you think that fusing creativity with sport is important?
Ironically sport and drawing are very much linked, both are creative acts and performances. One is infinitely more physical than the other, but both are forms of expression and both seek to conclude with a successful result. When we draw we are also expressing ourselves through the act of mark making. By drawing images about our favorite sport it allows us to enter that sport and enjoy the feelings that we have about it. Our drawing allows us to roll play and visualize sporting moments that we might never enjoy in person.
Drawing, naturally, plays a major part in your career - I’m interested to know what role (if any!) Drawing plays in your everyday life outside of work?
Drawing allows me to see things and understand things better. It helps me to solve a problem and consider a solution of all kinds in everyday life. So while drawing is what I do as a career its what I do to explain things to others and to myself. I try to make things that aren't visible...Visible.
Do you think there is such a thing as a ‘bad drawing’?
Yes. I think you can often judge a bad drawing relative to what the drawing is for. If a drawing needs to communicate the precise dimensions of a building then it can be judged by its level of accuracy and clarity. Once the context is clear, then a judgment can often be made. That sounds conveniently neat, doesn’t it ! However, there is an aspect of drawing that’s difficult to pin down. Every drawing has a feel about it, a mood and an attitude... That’s something which isn’t very convenient to measure, but it is intrinsic to all forms of mark making. It can be recognised but not so easily quantified.
[Left: 'The Covid League' - Observation illustration about the re-started football season.]
[Right: 'D & AD Winner' - No designer can design without a pencil.]
What would be your advice for those interested in illustration? What sort of challenges and opportunities await the industry’s future generation of creatives?
A bit of the answer is in the question, it is a ‘Creative Industry’. I think that the most important piece of advice that I’ve ever given is that you really really must want to do it. Tirelessly experiment with your drawing to find your own visual language, one that gives you the vocabulary to say something about any subject or topic. Once you have your illustartive voice, continue to refine it and extend its potential. Interestingly, over time, that visual language can morph and change. You could even become multilingual, illustratively speaking.
Do you have anything exciting in the pipeline?
I’ve just started a series of graphic images about Football...again, a complete coincidence. Each illustration is quite colourful and impactful with a hint of the Art Deco about them. The plan is to produce a set of 5/6 images as a short limited edition series, which will be for sale at the start of the 2020/21 football season. I think that’s in a few months time ! Once completed they’ll be on my website.
Thank you Russell!
If you were inspired by this interview with Russell and would like to find out more about his work, head to his website here.
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