1. What’s your story? Where are you from?
My name is Tom Peake, I’m a freelance illustrator based in sunny Manchester.
2. Tell us about your aesthetic.
Concepts are the driving force behind my aesthetic. Working mainly in the editorial field, it’s imperative that the ideas behind my illustrations hold their own. It’s always tempting to make an image look pretty, but if the concept isn’t clear then I’m never truly satisfied with the outcome. I struggled for a period finding a balance between design elements and conceptual clarity. I recently came to the revelation, however, that design components and communicative elements aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m currently experimenting with the use of light, shape, colour, perspective and overall composition as a means of accentuating the conceptual gravitas of images. But I’m developing: I think the notion of a personal ‘aesthetic’ entails a series of revelations about yourself, your practice and how you visually solve problems. It’s all too easy to become weighed down by the pressure of finding your style, but in my personal experience good things happen when you refuse to pin yourself down by working to a formula: I hold dear the value of experimentation and change. (Oh and I like colour, the punchier the better)
3. What is your favourite medium and why?
I currently work entirely in Photoshop, using a Wacom Cintiq Pro. Up until university, however, I strictly rejected any digital media: I was a drawer and a painter. And although my work-flow is now entirely digital, I like to think my work is infused with the traditional skills I developed prior to making the switch. Even as a digital illustrator, it’s important to understand light, shape, tone, colour, composition etc. as used in more tactile media. For me, the primary appeal of digital is the speed at which you can create and edit artworks – it’s a practical and economical solution for the fast-paced and ephemeral nature of the contemporary industry. It’s also incredibly easy to consistently put a personal stamp on your work when creating digitally: I’m constantly building upon a personal catalogue of brushes and textures that I can call upon when creating artworks. There are many great brushes out there for download, but I really value-creating and using my own – I think this enables you to unify your body of work and infuses your portfolio with your own unique tastes and personality.
4. What is your artistic process like?
Painstaking, irritating and often incredibly intellectually taxing – but I love it none-the-less. As concepts form the backbone of my images, each project throws up unique challenges and its own set of questions that need answering visually. About two-thirds of my process happens behind the scenes of the end product. It’s a process of brainstorming, refinement and honest self-reflection. I start by reading and re-reading the text; At this stage, I’m hunting for any symbolism, underlying messages, metaphors or visually stimulating extracts. I then try to boil the article down to its essential message, trying not to simply re-write the headline and bi-line: This allows me to focus on my own interpretation of the content and gives me a personal slant that directs my visual brainstorming. I then completely disassociate with the text and begin to quickly sketch out potential visual solutions which I feel may answer the questions posed. For me this is the most enjoyable part of any project – It feels like you’re sitting on a ticking time-bomb, at any moment an idea could spew out from the depths of your brain that potentially solves the problem. When I feel as though each possible line of enquiry has been exhausted, I begin to reflect on my brainstorming, putting the ideas in association with the text. I then refine the most successful concepts into roughs, all the time assessing which may best solve the problem at hand.
5. Who and/or what inspires your work?
My inspirations are three-fold: The Theoretical, The Visual and The Audible. My theoretical inspiration lies in the thought processes pioneered by the Golden Age of Advertising. The movement brought visual metaphor, irony and simplicity to the forefront of communication design, and united the visual with the psychological – I think conceptual illustration owes a lot to that era.
On a visual level, I’m incredibly inspired by mid-century modern design. The closest thing I have to a hobby is in interior design and furniture. Whilst my bank account holds me back from kitting out a home with pieces I love, I look on with passion and awe at the design principles adorned by mid-century modern designers. The clean lines, simple shapes, and deft use of negative space informs and directs how I compose images. To name a few particularly influential figureheads, I’d have to say, Finn Juhl, Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen. Aside from the visual, I draw a lot of inspiration from music. Whenever I’m creating I listen to music, and on a subconscious level, I think the rhythm and flow interweave with the shapes and compositional elements of my work. On a lyrical level, I find music to be an extremely visual medium – It fuels the way I think conceptually and heightens my awareness of how metaphors function.
6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?
Creativity is all-encompassing: It’s hard to distinguish what role it plays, or how it changes the way I view the world because having a creative mind is all I’ve ever known. I guess everything I do directly feeds into my personal creativity: It determines what films I watch (or enjoy), what books I read, what music I listen to. But ultimately I believe that as a creative you have a role to share your personal view of the world with a wider audience. The question I ask myself isn’t how art changes the way I view the world, but how the work I create can alter the way other people view the world. When you’re making something that brings an audience to a new way of thinking or forces them to consider something that has previously never crossed their mind, then that’s when your work is stepping up to the mark and playing its correct role in society: It’s an illustrator’s duty to change or enlighten minds.
7. Where did you study?
I studied BA Hons Illustration at Falmouth University.
8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to be an established freelance illustrator, working in a brightly lit studio with a great sound system at my side.
9. What about in ten?
Still freelancing, studio as bright and airy as ever, sound-system possibly tripled in size and hopefully the proud owner of a plan chest filled with back up portfolio prints – That’s the dream.
10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?
I stand by what I said earlier – I honestly think it’s the role of the illustrator to change or enlighten minds: And I personally think this happens on two levels. The go-to interpretation of anything to do with changing perceptions seems to be attributed to global social change. And yes, as a creative, there are times when I feel obligated to add my own comment on events and society, with the hope of encouraging people to see issues in a new light. That said, whilst some (quite rightly) find this role of illustration empowering, I have found it to be quite creatively exhausting. Dealing with large-scale social issues is quite the weight to carry on your shoulders; on numerous occasions, I’ve broken under that weight and been led headfirst into a creative rut. But that’s where the second level comes in… As an editorial illustrator, I find it interesting that journalism often reflects the nuanced intricacies of society: There’s always weird and wonderful details of the contemporary world coming through in article form (especially in opinion sections). And whenever I see an article that makes me think, “wow, I never looked at it that way before” or “that’s something I’ve never thought about”, I bag it for later with the intention of putting my own personal-visual slant on it. These pieces don’t always relate to the big issues that plague society but are more personal revelations about the little things that make up the world we live in. In the grand scheme of things, these issues sometimes fall under the radar but I hope that, by adding my own level of interpretation and presenting it visually, someone (somewhere) will stop and think, “wow, I never looked at it that way before”.
11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?
Pesto Pasta, no doubt.
12. Favourite book?
Don DeLillo’s Americana (Although I haven’t yet got round to reading ‘White Noise’ and I think that could very easily become a contender). I’m currently reading The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone (and I hope the film does it justice next year).
13. Favourite genre of music?
Music really does drive my creativity, and what I listen to is very much mood dependent. But If I had to choose one genre, I’d probably go with alt-rock – It’s my fail-safe when I’m lost in the dark corners of Spotify. I think it’s safe to say I have an unhealthy obsession with The National; but again, that stems from a very creative place. Matt Berninger’s lyrics have a haunting surrealist quality to them, very much akin to the thoughts that cross my mind as I pluck and pull at ideas for images. That said, I can’t actually listen to music during the brainstorming process – the imagery of the music often distracts and confuses my own thoughts. I can’t close up here without mentioning Dylan (but need I say more?).
14. What are your hobbies?
Although simple, I’ve always struggled to answer this question (and it would be interesting to know if anyone else feels the same). I honestly feel that my work is my hobby. It’s taken me some time to be able to admit this, and I’m aware that it’s not often what people like to hear (there’s always the argument for maintaining distance from your work), but I feel like my whole life intersects with and directly inspires what I do, and visa-versa. I guess this results in me having fads, rather than hobbies. My passions flip erratically: I’m hunting for inspiration, whether visual, audible, or intellectual.
15. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
Lost (dramatic, I know, but true). My work has always and will continue to help me through rough spells. Being creative is an incredibly empowering thing; it’s like a prized possession that can’t be taken from you.