|me aged young and ambitious holding air and sable brushes|
I was watching Netflix tonight- a series called Abstract. Looking at the illustrator Christoph Neimann, and it made me think about my influences as a new gal on the illustration street.
When I was a design student more years ago than I care to admit to, there was a guy in the year ahead of me, quiet, gentle, kind and so very talented. His name was (and still is) Nigel Buchanan.
He was the top illustration student- there weren’t formal places you understand, but everyone knew he was the best. There were almost-as-good-as, and they were pretty stunning, but Nigel had that something. A way of looking at the world and producing imagery in a way that we all envied and tried to copy. And on top of that, he was one of the nicest people in the School of Design. Back then, it was Wellington Polytechnic, now it’s Massey University and about as far removed from our faux Bauhaus days as it can be. That might be a good thing, though I have an enduring fondness for the old school that will never fade.
One of the hardware features of our pre-computer-age classrooms, were compressed air outlets for airbrushes. One student did a deal with the then, Niven's Art Supplies (became Littlejohns) and got us a collective bargain on Aerograph DeVilbiss super 63 airbrushes; state of the art equipment. Temperamental as hell and fiendishly expensive; I still have mine, thrashed to death over the years. Nigel bought one, and whilst we, the inept, cursed over splatters and bleeding ink, bent needles and clogged tip assemblies, Nigel started producing the most beautiful illustrations, just for fun and to see what ‘that mechanical hand’ (our tutor Roger Hart’s nickname for his pet hate) could do.
I remember one evening (all our best work was done at night when the tutors had given up on us for the day) watching him spray, remove a mask, spray, remove another mask and again and again until the final reveal. A woman in a 1920’s bathing suit, rosy cheeked, curls escaping from a cloche cap. I was entranced, it was perfect. For Nigel, it was merely a test piece.
A year went by, he graduated. Another year went by, I graduated. I started trying to find work as a graphic designer. I was terrible at it and making no progress at all. One day I visited Nigel in his studio, surrounded with his airbrush, gouache and illustration board. He told me he JUST did illustration work. ‘What?’ I said ‘no fiddling about with getting things ready for print? No type spec’ing? No Bull gum? No waxer? No overlays?’ (note, only designers over the age of 50 will understand any of this terminology). ‘No’ he said ‘I draw and airbrush stuff,' then pulled out some of the work he was doing. I knew in that instant that if I couldn’t actually BE Nigel, then that’s what I wanted to do, and set about mastering the Devil(biss), by trial and error, practicing, practicing and practicing until I had some idea of what I was doing. It finally led me into all kinds of illustration work from photo retouching and product pictures to book illustration and the occasional portrait commission. I worked through the 80’s and 90’s and retired the mechanical hand when pixels became the paint medium of choice. I wasn’t world famous, but I enjoyed a good and varied living as a commercial artist, TV presenter, writer and illustrator.
My body of work spanning nearly 40 years now, has morphed and changed until it’s barely recognizable from my first ambition (to be him). I still have my trusty old compressor but I use a cheap Trademe airbrush on occasion to work magic on wearable art and props commissions. I could not have imagined, all those years ago, looking over Nigel’s shoulder, in awe, where my creative skills would take me. I never got to illustrate the cover of the New Yorker, but I’m glad I’ve taken the paths I have. Later this year, I've been invited to show a retrospective of my work (more on that in a few months) and I will have fun trying to make sense of my many layered career.
Nigel went onto live in Sydney, than back to new Zealand I believe, and carry his on his work as a highly-regarded editorial illustrator. The airbrush made way for the Apple Mac. His client list includes The Wall Street Journal, MTV, The New York Times, TIME magazine and the New York Observer. He is still a genius in the art of illustration. He’s still my hero and you can see his work here.
|Nigel Buchanan https://www.behance.net/gallery/4331127/Total-Editorial|