ccasionally, clients ask me why I am not
working in only one illustration style, as opposed to my small handful?
To be sure, such inquiries come from US art
directors exclusively, some of whom like to work with artists with only one
signature style. “We need to know what we get,” is a common thing I hear.
An unequivocal advocate for artistic expression,
I have put together a few thoughts on this topic.
1) Form follows function
I am about concepts, not styles
leopard cannot change its spots, and hence all
the art I create has “that Oliver look” to it. However, I do not define myself
through collage or whimsical line work. Instead,
I am about concepts first and stylistic
A US art director friend labelled me a “problem solver,”
and I think he nailed it right there. I am the guy who thinks about a suitable
visual for a given topic. This isn’t about styles. It isn’t about my unique way
of drawing noses crooked, pointed, or round. This is, first and foremost, about
attempting to conjure up (hopefully) exciting concepts.
While I am happy to follow detailed briefings for my work, in most
cases it is left up to me which technique I come up with—line work or mixed
media. Often, some styles work better for specific topics than others.
2) Art is
all about expanding, not about restricting myself
artist is all about experimenting and trying to find
ways to express myself, and to communicate
with an audience. I couldn’t picture myself doing
nothing but, say, collages for the next 20 years to
come—I would be getting bored of doing one and the
same thing throughout. I hope I will be tackling projects
in my future life that I can’t even envisage just now.
all artists that have inspired me—fine artists and
illustrators alike—have worked in more than one
technique in their lifetime. I would be hard-pressed
to have to limit my artistic expression; it would feel
like having to confine myself to speaking one language
only, to give up playing the piano on the side, or to
stick to drawing cats and dogs, for that matter.
I have always been an
artist, but I have also been professionally engaged in
a great many other fields of interest. I have a
master's degree in science for starters, and have
worked in anything from engineering
to programming to bonobos to phonetics to writing to editing to
publishing to designing to multimedia to music and
whatnot. This is where I am coming from, and I suppose
it shows in my work.
It appears that
illustration is the only creative profession in the US
that is demanding its peers to be restraining their
creativity. This isn’t so for any other creative
profession I can think of. Think fine artists. Think
designers. Think composers, filmmakers, actors,
writers, editors, scientists …
I am amazed at the readiness of many of my cohorts
from the United States to be restricting themselves in
their artistic endeavors—which, in my experience, is
unheard of in Europe.
some will shrug their shoulders and go, “yeah, like,
whatever, that’s the way it is,” while others, keeping
a stiff upper lip, are making every effort to make
this sound like a terrific idea at first, before
conceding that they don’t understand it either, and
that they wish it wasn’t so.
I have seen
US artist friends bring into play their “artistic
integrity” that bans them from exploring new alleys,
because they are known for one specific style, and
wouldn’t want to spoil their “brand.”
feeling is that this is backing the wrong horse. In my
world, artistic integrity is about growing and
maturing. Staying true to yourself, for me, means to
keep adjusting your art to your current state of mind,
as opposed to sticking to what you (or somebody else)
thought was cool twenty years ago.
3) Working in
helps me survive
the very least thing
that you should expect from your profession, apart from
personal gratification, is to have it pay your bills.
In my case, offering multifaceted work allows me to supply for
more than only a small handful of clients.
It seems hard to believe, but
I have met seasoned US illustrators who are barely able to
afford rent, which makes this a pivotal issue that I don’t
think many art directors are aware of. Mind you, I am not
talking about newbies, but about household names who have
built themselves a reputation over time.
So why is that? My guess is
that, while their single-style work may be easily recognizable from afar, it
also stays so consistently and reliably unchanging throughout the decades that
AD’s, careful not to inundate their publication, tend to be reluctant to hire
that artist for many pieces a year—which, unsurprisingly, translates into
overall modest income.
And things seem to be getting
worse still. Young US graduates told me their teachers urge them to develop
their own style before hitting the market.
Now, seriously—develop your
own “style” at twenty-something? A style that you’re supposed to stick with for
50 years to come? Holy moly—that wouldn’t work for me.
4) Have I always
worked in more than one style?
o prizes for guessing—like
everybody else, I started out with one style only, with quite
of bit of success at the time. A few years down the road,
however, I realized that this wasn’t everything that I wanted
from my life as an artist, both intellectually and financially;
and while I did have my set of clients that I used to work
for on a regular basis, I knew that I needed to expand into
new markets if I wanted to feel in sync with my art, and make
a more-than-decent living in the long run.
This is when I went to stay in
Rome for a bit, back in 1993, taking the time to experiment
with two more illustration styles and a comic strip, all of
which would keep me going in the years to come. And it has
been like this ever since—I have been widening my
possibilities, and seen techniques and styles and topics and
focuses coming and going. It’s not that I do it all—but these
days I do
in a modest variety of signature styles.
As I continue to (hopefully)
mature, work that I used to do twenty years ago, I no longer
do. Of course not! Such is life, and my art is only a
reflection of that.
5) So why am I not working under a variety of nick names?
ive me Révilot any time. Or
how about Wolly Fehrice? Sulliver W. Ice? Vice E. Licorice?—Been
there, done that. I know of a number of illustrators who do
this sort of thing—and neither one seems terribly happy about
And why should they?
I don’t see the point of disguising myself from the
public eye, and not be open as to who I am (and what my real
name is, however white-bread it may be).
The publisher isn’t hiding, nor
is the editor, the writer, or the art director. The ad
salesman isn’t pretending to be somebody else either. So why
should I be? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, I find (in a
world that isn’t all black and white).
6) So how do you know
what you're going to get from me?
here is no way I can be dissuaded from pursuing
my multi-style path. However, I do understand some of the concerns that an art
director may have when they are unsure if they will end up receiving what they
are looking for.
you’ll get what you
ask for—no surprises. If you want whimsical line work or collage,
then that’s what you’ll get. Unless you want to be surprised ;-)
Choose any piece from the thousands of samples on
my web site, and I’ll give you just that style, no bells and
However, if you’re not sure about styles or
techniques, or care more about concepts, I will be happy to come up with a
variety of suggestions. In the end, of course, it will always be up to you to
decide which route you prefer.