Alexander Jackson Interview

You’re working in the Illustration field currently but originally studied art. I’d guess that there was a switch early on and the postgrad course helped you develop a way of working to respond to commercial briefs. Is that right or totally wrong? If that’s on the right track could you explain the change and how the courses helped you develop?

I started to become interested in illustration when I was still at school before going on to further education. I already knew that I wanted to pursue art and my background was more in fine art but I was looking for an outlet to use that in a more commercial context and illustration seemed like the most appealing way to go for me. However, back then I still didn’t feel like I’d really found my voice so I continued my further education in fine art, initially to broaden my skill set. I dabbled in sculpture, oil painting, textiles among other things before eventually going on to study illustration at Edinburgh College of Art.


Your characters couldn’t work unless you get a recognisable likeness but that’s only a fraction of the story of a piece - it’s about drawing- the line, the composition and all the things that make a good drawing. How does that work out? Do you often have to alter a good drawing to get a likeness?

There’s probably more work that goes on behind the scenes that thankfully doesn’t get seen. Occasionally it’s comes together straight away but every now and again I have to doodle someone’s face over and over again until I feel that I’m getting the likeness. I have a few subjects that are yet to be finished because I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet. If it’s a commission though there’s normally a deadline on that and you occasionally have to make amendments to meet the clients expectations, but they normally have something very specific in mind so in those cases I’m interpreting their vision as well.


How do you work? Is it all on a computer? Has that changed over time?

Most of the time my initial drawing work is done by hand and then scanned in. My colours are added digitally and a lot of the texture work (halftone effects, old paper, canvas etc) is created from a library hand-made textures that I’ve previously put together, which I digitally manipulate for the piece. I resisted digital stuff for a while because I like to get my hands dirty when I’m doing arty stuff and like keeping the human element in my work because I think that the way I draw is fairly expressive and is therefore the bread and butter of where most of the personality in my work comes from.

That said I feel like way I’ve learnt to digitally process my images still allows me to keep that part of it still present.


Could you tell us about the set up with your work in venues? It sounds interesting- is it something you’d recommend?

I’ve exhibited work in various retail functions over the last few years. Some of them have been at public events that ran for a few days and others have a more permanent set up. I’ve just begun to display a range of prints at Dock Street Studios in Dundee. I’ve been displaying artwork to buy at the Scottish Design Exchange in Edinburgh for 3 years now and also in their Glasgow store since it opened last year. The Scottish Design Exchange is good because 100% of the sale goes to the artist (The artist just pays a monthly fee to exhibit there) so It’s quite helpful in supporting local up and coming creatives.

There’s all kinds of handmade treasures in there too, jewellery, paintings, clothing, furniture, cosmetic/grooming products, photography and loads more.

The good thing about it for me is the public engagement and seeing which of my designs are the most popular. It took me a few months to get a good grasp on what kinds of things people really want to buy and then to tailor my own products around that. But I’m still learning now.


We are always looking for better ways to help the creatives we work with- is there any advice you’d give to us?

For me personally, social media has played a substantial role in helping my work find an audience, even commissioned projects. Firstly, it’s a helpful way of receiving feedback and engaging with an audience but also it has proved helpful in motivating me to keep creating new work for the sake of maintaining people’s interests.

As well as that, I follow mostly other artists on there and their work constantly inspires me to keep working. It can take time gain momentum though, not just on social media but generally, but it’s best just to keep working at it.


Who are you itching to draw next? Or any amazing commissions that you’d like to land?

I have a few portraits that I’m in the process of working on, although it’s still in the early stages and I usually like to surprise people with new work. I’d like to do more stuff that isn’t portrait work as well though, and I have a lot of fun doing music themed artwork, i.e., drawing people playing live music so working within the music industry could be fun.


Do you associate with social commentary illustrators like Skarf or even back to Hogarth? Have you ever had to make a tough decision in the way that you portrayed a person?

To an extent. That inspiration for me comes just as much from film, literature or comedy as it does from visual art. I occasionally create artwork that comes from a place of cynicism if I have something in particular to rant about but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s central to the work that I do, I just enjoy it.


Can you tell us about your music? Is there a link between the two?

There’s probably a loose link between the two. At the moment my main focus is a project which is relatively new but is more driven by synths, where as the previous bands I’ve played in were traditionally rock based. I’d describe it as punk rock songs played on analogue synthesizers, with occasional 80’s style shred guitar.

As far as there being a connection between that and my visual art I’d say that there is an underlying nod to nostalgia and pop-culture running throughout and I think both appear to be avoiding to appear too polished and clean. I would also say that I’m a very visual thinker, so when it comes to writing music I have specific shapes and colours in mind and I envision people moving in a certain way. It’s sort of like how I would create an oil painting, by filling the canvas with rough shapes straight away and just gradually adding layers until the important details pop through. But the composition and the overall mood and tone seems to manifest itself first.


Were you influenced by album covers? Any key influences?

Album covers were an early influence. I remember going to local art exhibition themed on artwork in heavy metal when I was 12. I was a total metal head as a kid so it was definitely my thing. They had a lot of original paintings there that were used in classic metal album covers as well as stage props, famous guitars and costumes for arena shows. It was mostly just imagery of skulls, flames and motorbikes, which is pretty much the only thing you want to draw when you’re 12. As for influences in my current work, a few album covers spring to mind. I like the drawing on the cover for Beastie Boys’ To The 5 Boroughs, Baroness seem to always have lovely looking artwork on their album covers, Seals and Crofts – Summer Breeze, Melvins – Stag, Tool’s 10 000 days album has some really interesting accompanying artwork, Mastodon – Leviathan, the Dub Trio album Another Sound is Dying is a nice vibrant one.


Where do you want to get to on the future with your work?

I’d like to do more editorial illustration. I think mainly because it’s regular periodical work with the same client and you get to build up a relationship with them, plus it can be exciting anticipating what the next project with them will be. I’ve also written a couple of children’s books that I need to find the right publisher for although I originally put out a children’s book a few years ago and in my personal experience it’s a competitive market that’s tricky to break and can also be quite time consuming so lately it’s been a little bit less of a priority for me. I’ll hopefully get back to it soon enough though.


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