When working with art directors and other creatives at the decision-making phase of a project, do you find yourself bringing a lot of your own suggestions to the table, or do you find instead that concepts tend to be fairly fleshed-out by the time you get involved?
I guess every project is different so it's hard to gauge how much of my own input I would have in general. That's also the fun part of it too. I have been freelance for about 10 years but it's really only in the last 2-3 years that clients have been coming to me for my work specifically rather than giving me a brief with samples of other peoples work as a reference (I would then invariably have to fight my corner to do the projects in my own style). I really enjoy working on the process with agencies rather than coming in at the end of a project as one of the last components.
You've just released an iPad app - The Alphabeast. What was the vision behind creating the app? Why did you decide to venture into this space?
My brother Simon and a mutual friend James Kelleher came to me with the idea for the Alphabeast app and I was immediately excited about the project. I really loved that it was an ABC flashcard app which meant I could explore more of the world I had created in the book The Lonely Beast. James had noticed how friends kids had adapted to the touch screens of smart phones and tablets so quickly and how they could work as a great learning tool so that was a huge incentive too.
For The Alphabeast, how did your workflow differ as compared to working with print/publishing houses?
The workflow for this was actually great fun. Myself, Simon and James sat around a table laughing our heads off coming up with ideas for each letter. Most of the suggestions were completely daft so it took a while to edit them down. Once we knew what each letter was we then had to figure out what bits needed to animate and what bits would be interactive. It was similar to working with my publisher in a way as there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with ideas and concepts which I find a great help.
While your focus is illustration, you have an educational background in design as well. Working on The Alphabeast, how much input did you have in the interface design, and what was working with interactive elements on the iPad like for you?
Yes I studied graphic design in college which has been a great help with my illustration work, especially when working with other designers in ad agencies etc. James Kelleher is a fantastic designer so I was more than happy for him to design the interface. I really like that it fits in with the design of the book but has it's own personality. Working with the interactive elements was so much fun, stuff like: Me: 'Hey can we have his bow-tie spin around with a whizzy noise?', James and Simon: "Sure no problem!"
Branching out from printed children's books to e-books and applications, do you see the climate changing with regard to parents attitudes towards introducing their children to technology from a young age?
I think it is an inevitable and natural evolution and I for one am very excited about it and really want to embrace it. I think there are lots of people worried about digital publishing and technology taking over regular books and education but I think they will end up working in tandem with each other as the dust settles. It will be very exciting to see how it all evolves during the next decade.
With two books in print, an iPad app in the App Store and your usual illustration work, how do you balance your time between personal and client projects? How do you make decisions as to which to focus on more?
It can be quite difficult at times but my main focus for now is the commercial work. When I don't have projects on I love jumping over to the book and app projects though, but I mostly work on those in the evenings outside of work hours. I'm hoping that someday I'll find a balance for both soon so that I can have my evenings and weekends free!
Your contribution towards Lisa Hannigan's "Safe Travel (Don't Die)" music video shows that you're more than capable of executing your ideas across mediums. Would you agree that your visual imagination and mind's eye are the limiting factors for any project, more-so than your familiarity with the modalities of whatever medium your working in?
My girlfriend Cliona O'Flaherty (also a 4ormat user) is a photographer and has just started making videos and short films. She is very conscious of having narrative in anything she makes, still photography and more recently film making, so I was really excited about collaborating on the Lisa Hannigan video. I have always loved making comics and making my picture books so it felt like a very natural progression telling a story on film. I really enjoyed working on it but it was a monumental amount of work!
You've succeeded at making The Lonely Beast character highly memorable and brand-worthy. Was this something you considered at the outset of working on the book, or was it a fortunate coincidence?
I have been drawing all sorts of characters over the years, one of which was the Beast character (who I used to draw mainly over photographs) and when I went to make my first picture book he really stood out as a character with a sad or poignant story to tell. I don't think I could sit down and try to deliberately create a brand worthy character though. I think there is a lot of luck when it comes to characters becoming popular.
You work out of an illustration studio space instead of from your home. What prompted this decision, and how have you found it's helped the work/life balance?
I used to work at home for years. I think every freelancer starts out working in a spare bedroom but there came a time when being at home was driving me nuts. Some people can find the balance working and living at home but I really need a space to work and a separate space to live. Being able to lock to door in the evening and cycle home is very important to me psychologically.
As an illustration instructor you help people by passing on skills and know-how. What advice would you give to those just getting started in the field, having the benefit of your experience behind you?
I have been teaching evening classes for the last 2 years or so and I really love it. I am part of [Illustrators Ireland] which is a group of about 60 professional illustrators in Ireland. When I was starting out they were a huge help and incredibly generous with advice and tips so I am more than happy to help younger illustrators starting out if I can. The classes I teach are a great way for me to pass on a bit of the knowledge I have learned over the years. It also makes me realize how many brilliant illustrators there are emerging in Dublin which is great.