"When you work on something for ages, it can be really disheartening if it doesn’t receive the positive (or any) feedback you were hoping for, but you have to persevere because it will pay off in the end. Keep on putting your work out there, getting feedback, and always try to improve."
Artist Alex G. Griffiths creates magical, thought-inspiring worlds within his incredibly detailed illustrations. His artwork is filled with imagery that is equal parts disturbing and adorable featuring such characters as a suit-clad fox smoking a pipe, a long-limbed and somber monkey, and gloomy-eyed children scamping after bees and spiders amidst haunting landscapes. His work is a distinctly new take on the sort of innocent illustrations you would find in a children’s fairy tale picture book.
And fortunately for us, Griffiths had a free moment to discuss with us his inspirations, the themes often found in his work, and his current marketing techniques.
Your artwork is filled with imagery that is sweet and charmingly macabre all at once. Where do you find inspiration for these visuals, and the themes that you incorporate in your art?
I guess I take inspiration from a lot of places, such as storybooks, animations and computer games. Ambient music like Boards of Canada has definitely had a big affect on my work over the years. But the actual ideas themselves are usually just me trying express a thought or a feeling, and as you mentioned, they do tend to have a bit of a macabre edge to them, which is something I try to use throughout my work. When I started drawing originally I didn’t have a goal, it was simply a form of escapism and I never dreamt of showing them to anyone. If I ever lose focus or inspiration, I always try to remember why I started in the first place, and that always seems to help me see things more clearly.
How would you say your art style has evolved during the course of your career as an artist?
I think my style has evolved a lot in certain ways, but also not a lot in others. I have always been obsessed with drawing and love pen and ink illustration, which is what I’ve tried to reflect in my work. I don’t have a huge interest in digital techniques, so in that sense, my style hasn’t changed too much over the years. Where it has changed though is in the detail and the way I draw. I’ve developed much more confidence in my work in the last few years, and am more content with what I’m producing. Of course, like a lot of illustrators, I’m never totally satisfied with my finished work, but I’ve learnt not to get too hung up on it. I like my work to have a spontaneous, sketchy feel, so often it’s more about not trying to perfect every line and accepting it for what it is. Looking at great illustrators like Quentin Blake and E.H. Shepard has helped me a lot too.
Your artwork is incredibly detailed, and I’ve noticed that you favor fine-point pens as your choice weapon. How long, on average, does it take for you to finish one of your pieces?
Thank you! Yeah it can definitely be a painstaking process. I really love detailed drawings, ones that you can get lost in and see something new each time you look, so I have tried to bring an element of this into my own work. I used to work on A3 paper, which took me forever to complete a finished drawing, but lately I’ve learnt to condense everything to A4, which saves a lot of time. My attention span is surprisingly short and my mind always wanders to my next bit of work, so I had to find a way to cut the number of hours I was spending on each piece. I’ve realized that I don’t actually love spending hours and hours drawing one thing, so adapting my style to allow me to work quicker without losing the detail has been a big step for me. A small character drawing could take between 30 minutes to a couple of hours (not including the initial sketches), but a larger one with background elements could take more than a day. I’m also starting to become less obsessed by the fine details and more focussed on getting the idea and feeling across clearly. If I think I’ve achieved that, then I can overlook a misplaced line or two!
Wildlife, especially foxes, monkeys and insects, seems to feature heavily in your artwork. Is there a specific reason you chose those animals to incorporate into the illustrations?
Wildlife and nature in general is a big interest of mine, so it always ends up featuring heavily in my work. I guess I end up drawing more foxes and monkeys than anything else because I find they lend themselves well to anthropomorphism, and especially the style I work in. Actually I’m working on a book at the moment about a fox, and I think that once it’s finished I need a bit of a break from drawing them!
Are there any new themes or motifs that you are dying to incorporate into your work, that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Not a theme exactly, but I want to focus more on telling stories with my work, and move away from one-off pieces. I want to add more depth and narrative to what I’m doing, and because of this, I need to broaden my skills at drawing things like landscapes, buildings etc. Experimenting with adding some subtle colour is something I’d like to try as well.
What first pushed you to market your art online, and what are some of the most important things you learned while doing so?
I’ve had a portfolio website for years, but because I never really pushed it out there, no one apart from my friends would see it. Then someone convinced me that it would be a good idea to set up my Facebook fan page, which was one of the best things I decided to do. I realized that if I wanted to get noticed as an illustrator, I’d need to be more proactive with regards to online marketing, which is something that really doesn’t come naturally to me, and I definitely had to learn how to be better at it. Keeping a regular dialogue going was one of the hardest things to do, as I don’t always have new, finished art to show. So instead of just showing the finished product, I’ll often post sketchbook pages and rough drawings to show the process and how I work, which often end up being more popular than the finished piece! Things are going really well right now, but I have to remember how long it took me to get to this stage. When you work on something for ages, it can be really disheartening if it doesn’t receive the positive (or any) feedback you were hoping for, but you have to persevere because it will pay off in the end. Keep on putting your work out there, getting feedback, and always try to improve.
Are there any recent or upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?
Yeah definitely, my main project that I’m working on right now is the book I mentioned before. I’m trying not to reveal too much before it’s ready but basically I did an illustration a while back that ended up being quite popular, so I decided to create a narrative around it. I guess it’s more of a comic than a book, but it doesn’t have any words, just illustrations. My goal is to be a children’s book illustrator, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some positive attention off the back of it.
If you could share any one piece of advice with the Redbubble community, what would you say?
It probably sounds obvious, but I guess I’d say that focussing on creating your own style is really important, and making work that people will recognize as yours. I think that with the amount of incredible art out there, combined with social media, it’s easy for young illustrators and artists to almost see too much, and end up feeling overwhelmed and confused about what they want to achieve with their own work. I find that sometimes it helps to stay away from the Internet, and focus on why you love making art in the first place.