We spoke to Member and illustrator Adam, about how he draws on screen-printing and papercut techniques to craft intelligent editorial illustration.

After spending his teenage years admiring the artwork in the newspapers and magazines at his local newsagents, hard-work, experimentation, and a friendly approach have helped Adam build his career, with his analogue-inspired digital illustrations garnering commissions from renowned publications including The Guardian and CNN. 

He explained a little about his approach, inspirations, and gave us an insight into some notable recent projects.

When did you discover your interest in illustration, and come to pursue it professionally?

I think right up to university, my perception of illustration was completely wrong. I thought that it was a very intense, detailed almost fine-art like practice. Admittedly it can be that, but I quickly realised it can also be anything! I began university on a Graphic Design course, and I would say to this day that design is where my heart lies as a consumer. But I realised that, nine times in ten, the products and brands I love would be nothing if it were not for an illustrator's hands at some point in their conception. I moved over to the Illustration course pretty quickly and have never looked back.

Finding my place within illustration practice came fairly tough. To be honest, I was 90% ideas 10% talent. I knew from the start where I wanted to be, who I wanted to work for and what kind of artist I wanted to be — I just had to wait three years (and counting!) for my ability to catch up.

I'm still very much at the beginning of my career now, but I think I've got to this point through dumb pride and, hopefully, being a nice, approachable and easy person to work with. 

Work With: Adam Avery

Your work’s inspired by screen-printing and papercut. How do you draw inspiration from these analogue arts to inform your digital practice?

I actually have my mum to thank for getting into papercut originally. I'm very ideas driven, and when I was younger I had a tendency to visualise something and just dive straight in, trying (and failing) to work from the image in my mind. She one day suggested that I try cutting shapes out, so I could move the pieces around the page until I was happy with the composition so I'd at least have something physical to work from.

That made complete sense to me. I didn't have to redraw things, or accidentally scrumple my paper whilst frantically rubbing out a misplaced line. Instead, I could just play around with it until I was 100% happy. I then combined this approach with a very limited knowledge of Creative Suite when I reached university, scanning in shapes and moving them around, experimenting with inky offcuts from my classmates' lino prints and forming images. Because my digital output was less than perfect, I moved into screen printing where the imperfections leant themselves to the aesthetic of printed materials. Realising the demand for quick turn around in the "real world", nowadays my illustrations are 90% digital, but I still use the archive of hundreds of scanned textures I amassed whilst at university to apply and hopefully retain some humility to the images I make.

Work With: Adam Avery

Work With: Adam Avery

What’s drawn you to editorial? And could you explain a little about your approach?

I was a borderline pre-internet teenager so, growing up, trips to the newsagents were where I predominantly found new and exciting stories and information as well as further extensions of Saturday morning cartoon characters adapted to still frames and panels. These printed forms awarded me time to read and re-read each frame's intent, gestures and message, and perhaps subconsciously absorb the intricacies of relation between text and image. Whatever it was, the only thing more exciting to me than words or pictures, is words and pictures. So its a real treat when you get to work on a publication where the design team have a more free flowing approach to layout as it forces me to consider the implementation of whatever I create — will it compliment the text or contrast it? 

A lot of the time, I get the opportunity to broach quite complex issues. The turn around time is usually fairly tight, so as an illustrator you have to really try and break through to the crux of the article and respond in the most immediately understandable way to the reader. I like to do this by trying to humanise articles. At the core of most problems, however complex, there is usually a very basic underlying humanity to the issue, I like to find it, magnify it, and where possible, add some sort of visual pun.

Work With: Adam Avery

Are there any recent projects you’ve particularly enjoyed? 

My favourite job recently has been working on this year's Guardian University Guide. The Guardian has always held a special place in my heart, I used to buy the weekend edition every week to catch Paul Blow's illustration in the supplement throughout university. That column was symbolic of my personal "winners podium:" interesting copy, a highly reputable publication and strong, cool illustration. In a bizarre "believe and achieve" turn of events, that column was my first ever job. But anyway, I was approached to illustrate this year's University Guide, working with the design and marketing team to conceptualise and illustrate something based on the tagline 'Find Your Place.' The campaign was rolled out across digital and print with an audience in the hundreds of thousands, which I think for any illustrator is a total dream. It also meant that I had to ensure that the elements of the campaign worked as singular narratives but also as a cohesive whole. I really enjoy thinking of the bigger picture when it comes to creative briefs, and then zooming right into my part and trying to make the most of the opportunity given.

Work With: Adam Avery

Work With: Adam Avery

What’s next?

I've recently completed work on a short animation for CNN which was a real learning curve, but I'm so happy with the results. In the future I would absolutely love to do more animation work, working with animators and studios. I'd also like to continue working heavily within the editorial field. Nothing beats the rush of a quick turn-around or that feeling of taking a huge subject and summing it up perfectly within a 10x10 square!

Work With: Adam Avery

Joining our Learning Network

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Our peer-led membership programme is a popular starting point; giving teams open and self-directed access to a weekly calendar of in-person learning, a digital learning platform and a personal relationship with our own connective central team.

Find out more about what we offer in this PDF, or by contacting Nick Defty on nd@ycn.org.