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Friday, August 8, 2014

Richard Carroll - An Australian Illustrator On The Rise And One Of The Truly Well Dressed Gentlemen In Sydney

Once upon a time I was considering becoming an artist and for a number of months I drew and drew and traced and drew and spent hours of an evening trying to become something of a pencil illustrator. Part of that desire sprung from watching a class mate draw pictures of his horse which was called 'Titian' and they were sublime drawings and I was very envious because I had taste but not a drop of talent in this area. A few years later I approached my high school art teacher Ms. Palmer and asked her whether she thought I ought to continue with my art studies. I asked the age old question to the master "but do I have talent?" to which I got the same response that Nick Nolte's character gives to Rosanna Arquette in that Martin Scorsese classic "Life Lessons" which was part of the movie New York Stories, when he said to her "only you know whether you are an artist". I let go of my dreams that day and I have found other pursuits but when I see people who can draw I am filled with a pang of regret.

The talent of drawing is so unique because it allows someone to express something complex so succinctly. I once saw Ridley Scott on set of the movie Black Hawk Down drawing by hand an emotive story board so that they might shoot the movie accordingly. His drawing skills were superb.

Therefore, I jumped at an opportunity recently to engage with a Sydney based illustrator named Richard Carroll who some of you might have seen on this blog before in our portrait competitions. Richard is affiliated with the store "The Strand Hatters" which is run by his uncle Robert. He is also one of the better dressed gentlemen in Sydney and so I asked him if he could make something tongue in cheek related to the art of tying a bow tie which might give it an Australian flavour. You will see the result below - it has an irreverent Australian charm about it and I look forward to seeing more of Richard's work as he progresses.

What are the constraints when illustrating a cartoon for print and how do you approach the subject matter?

For me a large part of it is taking into account the size that the final illustration will be, I usually work quite a bit larger than the final image with the intention to scale it down for print. It’s important to always keep in mind if the image will be readable at its printed size.

I try and look at any subject subjectively, I like the idea that everything I do has my fingerprint. Sometimes that comes easily, and sometimes its a little harder, its pretty important to me that most of what I make is funny and feels cheekily Australian.


How long does it take you to make an initial sketch after a client briefs you?

 It really depends on the deadline for the project, if the client needs it very quickly then I can usually have initial sketches the same day. But if its a much more open ended timeline then I usually dont give the project preference until I feel really ready to do it.

I think I’m in the same boat as most creative types in that we really need a deadline to push us along.


What is the most alluring aspect of drawing a cartoon – is it more the story or the
characterisation?

For me, and I think probably most cartoonists, the allure is the combination of story and characterisation or maybe more succinctly the idea that characterisation informs the story and vice versa. If a character looks a certain way then the audience will read them differently, the language of signs and images is as important as written language.


Why are some cartoon characters much more easily identifiable than others and what is it a publisher might be looking for in a new character?

Most of the golden age comics and cartoon characters are basically easy to identify and iconic largely because they were the foundation of the genre (or maybe I'm being cynical) but for contemporary print cartoons there isn’t so much characterisation as there used to be. A large segment of new comics and cartoons are rooted in believability and not in caricature and given that my work is mostly caricature maybe I’m up trying to go up creek without a paddle. I guess that publishers are probably looking for something that they haven’t really seen before but that also won't alienate their audience.


Can you tell us what instruments you use to create your work in terms of say rulers, pencils, crayons etc?

I’m always expanding and experimenting what I use to draw with, I just came back from America with a bag full of amazing tools that can’t be bought in Australia, 3 and 4 ply bristol board, hard pencils, sorrel brushes, really opaque ink, kneadable erasers expensive gouache and cheap watercolour. I do most everything by hand, all on the same piece of paper, for me the incidental mistakes made by being confined create a much more interesting drawing than a perfectly composited digital piece.


What is the holy grail for a cartoon illustrator to achieve in terms of work published?

The grail is honestly still probably a New Yorker cover, but largely for me the real end goal is just to get a book professionally published. It’s not an especially fiscal enterprise, but I love physical printed objects and the idea that people around the world could hold and show around something I made is pretty alluring.


Can you tell us who are the most iconic Australian’s that lend themselves to being illustrated as characters?

Probably one of the greatest thing about iconic Australians is that they are all characters by default. There's that long standing Aussie ideal of the underdog and the working class hero, it's such a huge part of our subconscious whether its still vital or not. I’ve always had a lot of time for those larrikins like Bob Hawke and Paul Hogan and Sir Les and there is a certain expected ruggedness in Australian masculinity that is really easy and funny to send up. Also I’ve been going through a spot of bushranger mania, the stories about those guys are so incredible.

An Australian version of 'How To Tie' a bow tie by Richard Carroll for Le Noeud Papillon

What’s next for you?

I'm just putting the finishing touches on the second issue of my short comics anthology “Yeah, Nah” and also a bigger book of my travel strips from a recent 6 month stay in New York. Between organising a launch party for those two books and studying and also doing a little freelance work when i get it pretty much takes up most of my time.



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