Interview with illustrator Alan Baker

Slowly driving up a bumpy farm track across a very desolate area on the coast of East Sussex, feeling like I’d some found myself a luck part in lord of the rings sequel, I made my way up to an isolated group of tree’s that surrounded a white fantasy lead mansion where the illustrative genius behind the likes of ‘Williams Dragon’ and the ‘Little Rabbit’ book series lives.

From walking into the very highly hand decorated house of baker and sitting down with a cup of tea you instantly can see that his life has been completely consumed by the art world with every single room having been decorated to in its own theme, with the outdoors being a main inspiration.

When Alan was approached with my main question as to why he got into illustration he spoke of a very long personal whirlwind journey of discovery and intellectually painted his picture of how he found himself at a young age, “I was never very good academically at school and really struggled with life and the world and what was in it and then one day I woke up and finally realised I had control of my life and had a choice of what I wanted to do”

Although like every child Alan struggle knowing who he wanted to be, it was obvious that he had a very intelligent business mind and although a vocational direction was at his heart, he humbly spoke about the sense of a career that was always firmly bolted to his direction of movement as well. “During the 60’s it was always about getting a job and having a job for life and making your way up, a sensible route to take”

“I studied physics, chemistry and zoology because they’re academic and will lead to a good job, I studied a levels in those subjects and then went to university studying zoology. I did a year of that and struggled and it was obvious there were people there that would just leave me behind, and were a lot more intelligent than me in that area”

“I then decided to go travelling and made my way to Afghanistan and while I was there it gave me a real time to think of what I seriously wanted to do”

“I spent most of my spare time drawing and so applied for a foundation course in Croydon which was absolute paradise, and found a group of people I could really relate to”

Taught by Raymond Briggs found his way to doing the career driven down the much more “sensible and secure” path of illustration after being heavily influenced.

By living by what he quoted to me; “If you are determined, you’ll make it”, Alan has a huge variety of skills he has molded and adapted together to create some absolutely staggeringly detailed work.

Engrossing his whole world in his work and spending around 2 days to comfortably create an A4 illustration and composition wise using the age old program of Photoshop to adapt to the hungry need for faster and faster production of work, it was interesting to find Alan’s opinion of the movement into the digital age, how he produces his work and whether he thought it was fair to say the only jobs around were going that way.

“My process starts traditionally with a rough on tracing paper and interestingly I’m not very good at drawing.. In the straight way, so I’ll often draw something and say its like a figure and the arm isn’t right, I’ll cut the tracing paper and move the arm until it feels right, cello tape and then re-draw it. I’ll also take it and manipulate it on Photoshop so the whole process is very much cut, stick and re-do.”

“I then produce the colour with rotary pens and spray paint, sometime crayon and pencil. The last part is that I scan it into Photoshop and use levels and other processes to alter colour, and in this decade of Photoshop I introduce photos for background, like sky is fantastic to use and is better that I can paint!“

“I’m definitely going more digital, in fact the last time I did an illustration as an illustration would have been maybe 10 years ago. What I now use is Photoshop as a tool like you use paint or crayon, and now I think in terms of the last process, I’ll make it all and then piece it together digitally”

“It’s a fantastic process but what I don’t like is how, like you were talking about in-design, hours go by and you still feel like it that same thing even its been altered several times”

“I would definitely say that everything is all moving that way, not a bad thing as you still have the old ways of doing things. Although there are tighter deadlines now due to technological advances it was still the same back then apart from you’d have to send your work by motorbike and wait for your employer to contact you so there was just a lot of dead time in between, so not a lot has really changed”

Whilst completed surrounded by such a hand produced décor full of prized possessions, work and in a thrice extended mansion I couldn’t help but ask due to his success my last question for his advice for any artist breaking the industry, and he answered in a very honest, direct but the most useful way to any artist and telling anybody in any frame of occupation that hope is on its way if it hasn’t already found you.

“Being obsessive. If you’re not obsessive about what you’re doing, its going to be tough, and being bloody-minded, thick skinned and just doing it. If you keep doing something you can’t fail, even if sometimes it’s difficult it will happen. Self belief’s a big thing and almost being scared about money and making it work makes it work”

You can check out more of Alan’s work here – alanbakeronline.com

Words by Michelle Siddall.
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