#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Philip Longson
Illustrator of…For the last three weeks we’ve dedicated our #FlorisDesign take-overs to showcasing our wonderfully talented Traditional Scottish Tales illustrators! We kicked off our interview series with The Dragon Stoorworm illustrator, Matthew Land, followed by The Selkie Girl illustrator, Ruchi Mhasane, and for our final instalment we have the brilliant illustrator of Lari Don’s The Tale of Tam Linn, Philip Longson. Read on to learn about where he found his inspiration, his favourite page in the book, and advice to his younger self…
Hi Philip! Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your beautiful illustrations for The Tale of Tam Linn! So where did you look for inspiration when preparing to illustrate this tale?
I always try to take inspiration from as many diverse sources as I can. For this book I looked at some of the classic illustrators of fairy tales (Arthur Rackham, Ivan Bilibin, Edmund Dulac) as well as paintings, landscape photography, books on Scottish history, concept artwork for films and lots of other things.
What a great variety of sources! You can really see the influence of classic fairy tales in the Tam Linn illustrations. Now, The Tale of Tam Linn is a very dramatic tale with dramatic illustrations to match – do you have a favourite?
Probably the page where Tam is turned into a swan and Janet is holding on. That piece came together pretty smoothly and I think it came out well.
It’s one of our favourites too! We love the movement in this one, and the brightness of the swan against the ominous dark background is beautiful. The colours in The Tale of Tam Linn are very striking, how did you decide on the colour palette for this tale?
Besides looking at the Scottish countryside I also looked at concept artwork for films like The Lord of the Rings and Pixar’s Brave.
The Dragon Stoorworm illustrator, Matthew Land, looked at Brave for inspiration too – it seems we owe Pixar a thank you! Now, we’ve been asking all of our Traditional Tales illustrators if they have a favourite fairy or folk tale, what’s yours?
I always struggle to choose favourites. I have previously made some illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, I find them particularly interesting. Especially The Wild Swans and The Tinderbox.
It’s difficult when there’s so many to choose from! So is this what you expected working as an illustrator would be like?
In many ways yes and in many ways no, But there’s always something to learn from each project.
And do you find it different working under contract than for personal projects?
It definitely is different, but that’s good, I think it offers a good balance. Personal work is open to infinite possibilities which can be paralysing sometimes, so having a project with definite objectives and limitations helps to counterbalance that. I often find that I have lots of ideas for other pieces while I’m working on projects.
Far too much to write here! Probably two main things though.
1. When planning your time, everything will take twice as long as you think.
2. “Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.” – John Cleese.
That’s some great advice, I’m sure all of our younger selves would appreciate wisdom from John Cleese! Now, do you have a favourite spot you like to work in?
I’ve had to move around a bit over the past few years, so I don’t have a permanent set-up just yet. But usually somewhere light, spacious and quiet. I also like to share studio space with other artists, it’s really helpful to have others around to bounce ideas off and get some second opinions.
It’s always good to get feedback on your work and it must be inspiring to work in a space full of artists. So what made you want to become an illustrator?
Well, I love art and I love stories, and illustration has both of those things. I was never particularly interested in making images of still life or landscapes, I always wanted to tell stories.
Well we’re very glad you illustrated this fantastic tale! Now, your work is a mixture of traditional and digital methods, which do you prefer? Are there benefits of combining the two methods?
Working digitally gives you a huge amount of freedom and an ability to try things out quickly in a non-permanent way. However, drawing is the basis of everything I make and I couldn’t do that digitally. So, it’s just a case of using the tools that work well for me.
Do you have a favourite thing to draw?
Like I said, I’m not good at picking favourites. But, I always love drawing trees, especially old, twisted ones.
We love these wonderfully twisted and gnarly trees in the opening pages of The Tale of Tam Linn. Now, what do you do if you get stuck or illustrators’ block on a brief?
Well, the worst thing to do is stare at a blank page waiting for an idea. I usually dive into the research and pretty soon I’ll find something that sparks my interest. Getting the ball rolling is that hardest part, but the good thing about working from a brief is that it usually gives you a few things to latch onto to get started.
Blank pages can certainly be very intimidating! So when you’re looking for inspiration do you have any favourite illustrators you look to?
Probably James Jean. He’s had the biggest influence on my work and me. The first time I saw his work it just blew me away, it showed me the sort of things that are possible.
Click on the cover for more info on The Tale of Tam Linn and to see more beautiful illustrations using our See Inside feature. You can also see all of our beautiful Traditional Scottish Tales on our big sister website florisbooks.co.uk!