1 I left art college in 1985, so I was about three years into my career as an illustrator in 1988. I already had one or two pieces published as a student (maybe one commissioned by you – I can’t remember) when I started. I took my portfolio round to magazines, advertising agencies and children’s book publishers in 1986 and got some commissions straight away. And I’ve had a steady influx of jobs ever since – no ups and downs, really.
2 I felt my college education didn’t do much for me – except it gave me the idea that illustration was a proper job, and gave me the chance to draw for three years. I remember Liz Pyle (on your list as well) asking me why I was at art college (where she taught at the time) and didn’t go straight into the business…
3 It seems to have been a bit of a ‘golden age’ for illustration, so I feel lucky to have started in the late eighties (though I look at some of my work of that period and can’t understand why anybody would have paid me to do this).
4 The work is essentially the same and Cartoonist and Illustrators are still around though they seem to be used less than in that period. But I have largely moved away from editorial to children’s book illustration and don’t know much about the current market, except it’s all digitalised now.
5 My biggest project over the last 30 years has been my collaboration with Julia Donaldson on The Gruffalo and many other picture books.
All things Axel can be found here, in a rather beautiful website. I may have commissioned Axel at The Listener, but I definitely did at The Observer. Even then his brilliance at capturing character was obvious.
1 I did two years in an art college in Brussels (never finished the four years “graphic communication” course there), arrived in London in 1979, worked two years at Pentagram Design, went to New York, worked a month for R.O. Blechman, got caught two years by the social service in Belgium, went back to London in 1983, worked as a freelance graphic designer for Wolff Olins, Michael Peters & others, but because I always had enjoyed drawing, I decided in 1985, when my first son was born, to become a full-time illustrator.
2 There were loads of magazines & newspapers around, with a true tradition of using illustration and photography. The art directors were usually open-minded, unconstipated and prepared to give a chance to young inexperienced artists such as myself. I got to really know the town by going around on my pushbike with a huge black portfolio on my back, either to show my work or to deliver the goods. By 1988s, as an illustrator, I suppose I had slowly become a reliable professional. I gradually felt I was being admitted in the circle of recognised illustrators, with no idea how vain and fragile this notion was. I used to hang around with Jeff Fisher, Jean-Cristian Knaff & Richard Parent, all foreigners like myself. There seemed to be an everlasting supply of well-paid work (another vain & fragile notion). I can say I truly loved my life in those days, fascinated by the British culture, in love with London, and fully aware of my own luck. I moved to France the following decade.
3 Because of my involvement in my own publishing venture, I slowly lost touch with the context of illustration for the press in England the following years. The only reminder of that period was the weekly drawing that The Guardian kept commissioning until two years ago. When it was stopped overnight, with no real explanation or farewell note from anyone, I thought that things had decidedly changed radically.
4 It seems I could never handle prestigious jobs. In the 80’s I did a poster for the Underground (“Fly the tube to Heathrow”). The image is strange, overcomplicated and totally inefficient. In that period, I was commissioned by Swatch to do a “Paris” watch. Putting the Eiffel tower on it was part of the client’s brief. The result is horrible, and I am well ashamed of it.
5 The work I would possibly feel the proudest and happy about is my self-published book, Play it by ear. The first edition came out in 1989, thirty years ago. It is still available and keeps selling well.
Like Axel, for Benoit magazine illustration was just one string to a large bow. Books, puzzles and comics all flow freely from his fertile mind, as you can see if you visit his website.