• #FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Philip Longson

    by  • 20 May 2015 • Children's Books, Design and Illustration, Floris Design, Traditional Scottish Tales • 0 Comments

    Illustrator of… This week #FlorisDesign is interviewing Philip Longson, the brilliantly talented illustrator of Lari Don’s The Tale of Tam Linn. Read on to learn about where he found his inspiration, his favourite illustration in the book, and what advice he would give to his younger self.

    Hi Philip, thanks for taking the time to tell us about your beautiful illustrations for The Tale of Tam Linn. So where did you look for inspiration when preparing to illustrate this tale?

    I always try to take inspiration from as many diverse sources as I can. For this book I looked at some of the classic illustrators of fairy tales (Arthur Rackham, Ivan Bilibin, Edmund Dulac) as well as paintings, landscape photography, books on Scottish history, concept artwork for films and lots of other things.

    What a great variety of sources! You can really see the influence of classic fairy tales in your Tam Linn illustrations. The Tale of Tam Linn is a compelling tale with dramatic illustrations to match – do you have a favourite?

    Probably the page where Tam is turned into a swan and Janet is holding on. That piece came together pretty smoothly and I think it came out well.

    tam as swan

    We love the movement in this one, and the brightness of the swan against the ominous dark background is striking. The colours in The Tale of Tam Linn really stand out; how did you decide on the colour palette for this tale?

    Besides looking at the Scottish countryside I also looked at concept artwork for films like The Lord of the Rings and Pixar’s Brave.

    The Dragon Stoorworm illustrator, Matthew Land, looked at Brave for inspiration too – it seems we owe Pixar a thank you! Now, we’ve been asking all of our Traditional Tales illustrators if they have a favourite fairy or folk tale; what’s yours?

    I always struggle to choose favourites. I have previously made some illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, I find them particularly interesting. Especially The Wild Swans and The Tinderbox.

    Hans Christian Andersen wrote so many iconic tales that we find it hard to pick just one favourite as well. Could you tell us if life as an illustrator has been as you expected?

    In many ways yes and in many ways no, But there’s always something to learn from each project.

    And do you find it different working under contract than for personal projects?

    It definitely is different, but that’s good, I think it offers a good balance. Personal work is open to infinite possibilities which can be paralysing sometimes, so having a project with definite objectives and limitations helps to counterbalance that. I often find that I have lots of ideas for other pieces while I’m working on a commissioned project.

    That’s a great insight. We have some stunning examples of roughs for The Tale of Tam Linn that show the process of the project, but if our readers are interested in reading more about the creative process you went through to illustrate this book, then they can read about it here.

    Page 25 2nd rough

    Coloured final

    Is there any advice you wish you could give to your younger illustrator-self?

    Far too much to write here! Probably two main things though:

    1. When planning your time, everything will take twice as long as you think.

    2. “Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.” – John Cleese.

    I’m sure all of our younger selves would appreciate some wisdom from John Cleese! Can you tell us about where you like to work?

    I’ve had to move around a bit over the past few years, so I don’t have a permanent set-up just yet. But usually somewhere light, spacious and quiet. I also like to share studio space with other artists, it’s really helpful to have others around to bounce ideas off and get some second opinions.

    It’s always good to get feedback on your work and it must be inspiring to work in a creative environment. Do you have any influences that made you want to become an illustrator?

    Well, I love art and I love stories, and illustration has both of those things. I was never particularly interested in making images of still life or landscapes, I always wanted to tell stories.

    The Tale of Tam Linn is a great example of this! We’re very glad you illustrated this fantastic tale. With it being such a traditional Scottish tale, did you want to illustrate it using traditional methods or were some digital methods used too?

    Working digitally gives you a huge amount of freedom and an ability to try things out quickly in a non-permanent way. However, drawing is the basis of everything I make and I couldn’t do that digitally. So, it was just a case of using the tools that work well for me.

    We were lucky enough to record you working on one of the original drawings for The Tale of Tam Linn — our readers can watch it here!

    time lapse

    Is there anything in particular that you love to draw?

    Like I said, I’m not good at picking favourites. But, I always love drawing trees, especially old, twisted ones like those of the Caterhaugh Woods in this tale.

    We love these wonderfully twisted and gnarly trees in the opening pages of The Tale of Tam Linn. We were wondering if you had any tips for when you have illustrators’ block on a brief?

    Well, the worst thing to do is stare at a blank page waiting for an idea. I usually dive into the research and pretty soon I’ll find something that sparks my interest. Getting the ball rolling is the hardest part, but the good thing about working from a brief is that it usually gives you a few things to latch onto to get started.

    A blank page can certainly be very intimidating! So when you’re looking for inspiration do you have any particular illustrators you look to?

    Probably James Jean. He’s had the biggest influence on my work and me. The first time I saw his work it just blew me away, it showed me the sort of things that are possible.


    DonTale of Tam Linn

    Philip Longson studied at Edinburgh College of Art. To see more of his wonderful work you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter. Philip illustrated The Tale of Tam Linn, one of the Picture Kelpie Traditional Scottish Tales.


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