Tony Fyler talks with illustrator Richard Young.
Richard Young, a professional illustrator, has been supplying almost spookily photo-real artwork for geeks and fans of pop culture for only a few years, but has quickly made a name for himself and his company, Tiny Turtle Designs. Now his work is in the ascendancy, and if you’re a fan of Candy Jar’s Lethbridge-Stewart novels (and frankly, you should be, they’re the Big Finish of the printed word), you’ll be seeing a lot more of Richard’s work on their covers in the months and years ahead. He took time out to talk to WarpedFactor.
Richard, thanks for talking to us. How did you become an illustrator? Were you encouraged as a child?
I wasn’t really encouraged to be honest. I was brought up in pubs, so I spent a lot of time in my bedroom. My father was very, shall we say, ‘traditional’ in his thinking and couldn’t understand my wanting to draw for a living; he thought I should get a ‘man’s’ job. But basically if I wasn’t playing with my Star Wars figures I was drawing. It was something that I could do that I could lose myself in. I loved reading comics as a kid, and I loved reading the old Target Dr Who novels. The artwork, especially for the Target novels, really drew me into the story. I’d sit there drawing and trying to re-create the covers.
Who first inspired you, artistically? Who were your favourite artists and illustrators and why?
As I say, I loved the old Target novels, it was initially the likes of Chris Achileos, Jeff Cummins and Roy Knipe that really inspired me. Later, as I got into comics, the likes of Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquara, Brian Boland… the 2000AD artists, Steve Dillon, the list is endless. Then I discovered Frank Bellamy and Frank Hampson who worked for the Eagle and Radio Times, and that was it!
If you weren’t encouraged as a youngster, how did you discover you had this talent?
Well, I was drawing my own versions of the Target covers as a kid, so it was always something I did. People always said I could draw, but I never believed them, as I’d had it drummed into my head as a teenager that I was crap. But my wife and friends kept telling me I could do it. But you know how it is – friends and family, you tend not to take their opinions that seriously, because they like you for you, and they want you to feel good. But it was when I met the illustrator Jeff Anderson (Transformers, Judge Dredd, Ghost Rider) and showed him my work that things really changed. His comments finally pushed me into trying to do something properly with art. (Thanks, Jeff!)
What excites you about illustrating? The interpretation of elements? The act of creativity?
All of it really, there’s always something exciting about creating a piece of art, from the initial composition, to choosing the best style of creating it, to seeing the final finished piece.
It’s also quite relaxing as well; I run a web design business as well (and I’m a daddy to a 4 year-old boy and a 15 year-old girl, and also a husband), so of an evening I’ll stick some old telly programme on in the background, or a film, or music (depending on my mood) and just start drawing. It’s dangerous doing that, mind you, as there’ve been a few times I’ve just got lost in what I’m doing and before I know it, the sun’s up and I’ve had no sleep.
You do a lot of work with ‘geeky’ subjects. What’s the fascination? Is it just a natural bleed-over from your own geeky interest, or is there something about sci-fi subjects that you find especially inspiring?
I love sci-fi, so the more I can do that’s of an interest to me the better. It’s the ability to just immerse yourself in something that’s not bills, war, doing the dishes etc.
I also do portraits and animal portraits. It’s a different market and a different way of thinking as there isn’t as much imagination needed, but the style of drawing has to be more exact as you can get away with ‘artistic Interpretation’ sometimes on a sci-fi piece, but if you are drawing someone’s children you don’t have that flexibility.
Your work frequently has a hypnotically photo-realistic quality. Is it true that you’ve had people accuse you of simply Photoshopping existing images? Now that your work is in an ascendancy, what do you say to those people?
Yes I have been accused of that by a certain fringe group of people on Facebook mind. I think it must be jealousy. I don’t know why this is being said, but it seems more of a personal vendetta against me rather than constructive comments. It does hurt though, especially when it’s taken me over 25 years to actually have the guts to put myself out there. Even more so when other artists and illustrators confront me face to face about it.
The thing is that I do use Photoshop, but only when it’s needed! I’ve done 2 covers for Candy Jar that had to be done in Photoshop due to the time that I had to do them and what they were (two free digital downloads), plus I was actually told to do them in Photoshop! But everything else I do it’s all done using pen, ink, pencils and paint.
Obviously I’ll use reference material in order to get the best possible likeness of a monster or character – but 99.9% of artists and illustrators use reference material, so it’s not like I’m special that way.
Art is supposed to create an emotional reaction, so if my work is creating a reaction in people then it’s doing its job, whatever the reaction actually is.
As you mentioned, you’ve begun a happy artistic marriage now with Candy Jar books and their Lethbridge-Stewart series. Given the lack of a Target series of novels for the New Who series, is that the equivalent of achieving a young dream?
I suppose it is a realization of a dream, yes. I did try to attract Target’s attention when I was about ten, but they politely declined my work. But Candy Jar are great. No, seriously, they really are! I love working with those guys and they have been so supportive of me as well, not just with my first steps into the environment of a commercial illustrator, but with the ‘You photoshop stuff’ nay-sayers. I hope to do many more for them in the future.
Plus they actively encourage new talent, Which when you consider how difficult it is for artists and illustrators to get a break these days means I have to take my hat off to them.
You’ve done covers for other books too (Quantum Leap), and also
done some US trading cards. What are your remaining artistic ambitions?
I’d love to do a cover for the re-issued Target books, and maybe do an exhibition one day.
Who are your favourite modern illustrators and artists, and why?
Too many to list! Erm… Steve Caldwell, Andrew Skiletter, Alistair Pearson, Colin Howard, David Roach, Colin McNeil, Adrian Salmon…the list goes on… I love photo-realism, I love clean black and white line art, I love simple compositions. I could write a full essay on this question alone.
If you had to choose a top three pieces you’ve done so far, what would they be? Do you have particular favourite subjects that you go back to time again?
I never like to choose favorite pieces as I always see faults. I’m most proud of The Showstoppers front cover as this will be my first published cover, but then I’m happier with the art work that I’m doing for the back cover. There’s a new piece that I’ve done for the Celestial Toyroom that I quite like as well, but I’m sure that I’ll start disliking that soon. I love Doctor Who – especially the Classic series, so I keep coming back to that.
Why don’t you choose your favorite pieces?
We did. It was ridiculously difficult. Here they are.
People can commission a Young original – how do they do it? What sort of prices are they looking at, and what’s the process of getting a piece done?
The best way is to contact me via my Facebook page. Prices start from – I’m not saying as each piece is unique and it all depends on how big you want it, what it’s done in, what style, how many elements are required.
Best is to just drop me a message telling me what it is you want and I can take it from there.
Richard Young, thank you.
Remember to check out the Candy Jar Lethbridge-Stewart novels here.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk