Andrew Henry lives and works in Brooklyn, New York spending his days drawing away with other artists. He’s never too far from his roots, with his illustrations often referencing his upbringing in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest. With heavy comic pop-surrealist influences in his artwork. I had the pleasure of chatting to Andrew about his quirky and electric illustrations.
"That may be my whole aesthetic right there – beauty and weirdness. I don’t draw things just because they’re pretty..."
Could you tell us about being a self-taught artist, and how has your style or aesthetic changed over the years?
I’ve always been pretty self-driven when it comes to art. I’ve never liked to be told what to draw and how to draw it. I had some artistic training in high school and college, but for the most part what I’ve learned has come from practice on my own. I remember taking a drawing course in college and the instructor declared me a “master draftsman” on the first day. That came from practice and a childhood determination to be able to draw naturalistically. Over the years I’ve gone from naturalism to a more graphic style, and it has taken me some time to find the balance between the two that I like. My style tends to be more cartoonish these days, but the characters I draw have bones and wrinkles.
How did growing up around forests and nature in the Pacific Northwest inform your artistic practice?
Nature is beautiful and weird and I had a lot of access to it growing up near Seattle. That may be my whole aesthetic right there – beauty and weirdness. I don’t draw things just because they’re pretty, and the landscape of the Pacific NW and the creatures you’ll encounter there aren’t just pretty either. There’s a melancholy or edginess to things there. The forests are dark and damp and have a haunted feeling, but they’re also very beautiful. I love that. I think that my depictions of nature or animal life are like that too. There’s beauty there, but there’s also a bit of an edge to them. I think it makes them more authentic.
I miss the quiet and that haunted feeling in the woods. I don’t get a lot of that in Brooklyn. There’s a different kind of edge here.
"My style tends to be more cartoonish these days, but the characters I draw have bones and wrinkles."
Why do you think humor works so well as a mechanism to communicate visually?
I think anytime you can make communication more enjoyable it’s going to be more effective. Humor also has the advantage of putting people’s guards down, which makes them more receptive to what you have to say, though I usually don’t have a political or social message I want to get across. I do have a somewhat pessimistic worldview – hence the dark humor. I think we live in an ambivalent universe where civilizations can be wiped out because one space rock bumped into another – we are all at the mercy of forces much much bigger than we are – but oddly enough I find humor in that. It’s just all so absurd.
Have you made comics in the past?
I have self-published a comic called “Venus” and sporadically post strips on my comic blog Hell Knows. Both are about the comic/cosmic absurdity I just mentioned. In “Venus” a goddess who embodies the ambivalence of the universe runs amuck. She’s basically a walking natural disaster. Hell Knows is pretty random – definitely surreal. Making comics is pretty similar to making the rest of my art really, there’s just more of a narrative to them, obviously. That gives you more opportunities to load ideas into your work though, and develop your characters. Every panel is a new opportunity to do that.
What’s been the hardest part of becoming a freelance illustrator?
Networking is the hardest bit. It’s not easy finding clients with a common vision. But when you do there is nothing more gratifying than seeing something in print that you’re really proud of.
When was the moment for you that you realized your interest in drawing could be taken to a professional place?
I have seen the work of great illustrators/authors like Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak, and Edward Gorey since I was a child, and there is so much hand-drawn authenticity in their work. I figured if they could do it why not me?
"...you have to embrace the weirder aspects of your mind. Pay attention to your dreams and practice free association of ideas and imagery. "
What advice would you give to other artists that want to make more experimental or surrealist works?
That’s a hard one. I guess you have to embrace the weirder aspects of your mind. Pay attention to your dreams and practice free association of ideas and imagery. Think 3-dimensionally even when you’re drawing. Think of your subject in terms of its form, and then manipulate that form, stretch it and pull at it, and combine it with other forms. Most of this happens in your head, not on paper, although you can have a good dialog between the imagery in your head and what’s happening on the paper, and that often has the most interesting results.
What’s your favorite tool to draw with?
Definitely micron pens. I use them all the time.