Thursday 10 June 2010

'You'll Never Know What's Coming Next': An Interview with Andy Smith

Last month we took a look at the beautiful, bold and colourful cover design work of Andy Smith. Andy was kind enough to agree to be interviewed about his background and working methods, so here we go!

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CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: You illustrate for a wide variety of projects, well beyond book covers. What's your favourite area in which to work, and are there challenges unique to book design?

ANDY SMITH: My work has always been quite immediate and bold with a mixture of type and image and so I've always felt it is best suited to posters. Because of this I've always done quite a bit of advertising work. Advertising suits me because it has to be done very quickly and my stuff tends to come together that way anyway. If I have ages on a project I'll um and ah and do it at the end of the deadline or get in done early and then fiddle about forever with it. I like it to be done, out the door and then on to the next one!

By comparison book covers are a little slower in their development which did take me a while to get used to but to me that's the only real difference. I try not to think of them as book jackets but as posters so I don't get all tight and nervous about doing something that's going to be around for a long time.

CCC: How did you come to be an illustrator in the first place?

ANDY SMITH: I kind of got siphoned down towards it at art school. I remember at an early tutorial someone said 'you could try painting, textile print or illustration' and I went for illustration. I didn't really now what it entailed at that point, I quite liked comic books so that was what I was thinking of.

I didn't really look into what an illustrator did until much later on my degree and it really dawned on me on my first day in the real world when art college had ended. Luckily I was in London and some one had given me 3 art directors names, so off I went with a portfolio and continued to do so for about a year--until I'd seen half of London with my portfolio and jobs were coming in

CCC: Do you work as a freelance, and is that as financially perilous as I suspect?

ANDY SMITH: Yes, I've always worked freelance. Because I haven't really had a 'proper' job I don't miss that feeling of pretty much knowing what you'll be doing week in, week out, and one of the things I like about being an illustrator is that you'll never know what's coming next. You can be working on quarter-page illustration for a newspaper one week and a 30ft billboard the next week. It does mean that some projects are very well paid and some aren't--(it always seems that the ones that aren't so well paid turn out to be more demanding) but it tends to even out over the year.

CCC:  How did you come to work on Faber's Vargas Llosa and Connolly covers? They're beautiful!

ANDY SMITH: As well as client work I also silkscreen posters and little books that I sell on my website. I'll occasionally print up a book that I'll send out to potential clients and I think that's probably how Faber saw my work.

The Joseph Connolly covers was a big project as there were 10 or so books to be redone. Joseph is interested in design himself (he edited the '80 years of Faber Book Covers' that came out last year) and had a strong opinion about what was happening, so it took a while to work up a structure as to how they would look as a set but once we'd done that we did them pretty quick. I really like Summer Things particularly. Both they and the Vargas Llosa covers are a little straighter in their style than my newer work but they hopefully have a nice 'printy' feel.

CCC:  What future book cover work is in the pipeline for you?

ANDY SMITH: Right now I'm working on 4 US jackets for books by Ellen Raskin. She passed away in the 1980s after writing many award-winning children's books. These are now being repacked with an additional work from a manuscript that's been discovered. The interesting thing about all this is that she was also a graphic artist and illustrated a lot of her covers herself, the pressures on a bit as they are really nice--I've seen some of them on flickr and they have quite far-out '70s line work that is really great. Have a look at Franklin Stein.

Two pages of Ellen Raskin's art from Franklin Stein

I'm also working on a jacket for a sciencey book by Profile books here in the UK about how the future isn't going to be so bad for us after all--so breathe a sign of relief

CCC:  If you could choose your dream book to illustrate--cover and interior art--what would it be?

ANDY SMITH: That's a difficult one, I always find that the less you know about a book the easier it is to illustrate it--it's very easy to over-think it when really your job is to just come up with a great cover. Of all the books I've done I've only actually read 2 or 3 (sorry, Joseph) and many have still been at manuscript stage so it's just not possible. I'm not much of a reader either--I just like looking at the pictures. I guess the little books I print myself are my dream jobs as I do them just for fun.

CCC:  Is there any lost or neglected book you'd like to take this opportunity to press on people?

ANDY SMITH: I think you've probably pointed out all the good covers on your blog but how about this one. Pig Tales by Paper Rad. I love the way its so busy you can't really even see the titles.

CCC:  Thank you, Mr Smith!


Matthew Adams said...

I really like his work, and for someone who doesn't seem to like reading all that much (shudder), he seems like a smart cookie (maybe thats the way it is these days. I have a friend who wins almost all the time at trivial pursuit, and all his knowledge comes from watching the simpsons).

And Ellen Raskin is another illustrator/writer I am going to have to check out.

JRSM said...

I know! Those books I have read which he has covered have cover so right that it's hard to believe he doesn't know the text backwards.

Robert said...

Aha! Assuming it's the same Andy Smith, I bought a handmade book of his at the Artists' Book Fair in London, ooh, must be well over 10 years ago. I'll make a note to dig it out and see if I can get a decent scan to send you.

JRSM said...

That would be great--thank you!

ghrency said...

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